- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006


A bitterly disputed, government-sponsored study has concluded that rape and sexual

assault behind bars may be rampant in movies and books but are rare in real life.

When inmates have sex, it is usually by choice and often is used as a way to win protection or privileges, said Mark Fleisher, a cultural anthropologist who specializes in prisons and crime at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

He said inmates who cry rape usually are lying and looking for a transfer, money or publicity. “Inmates say it may happen, but the conditions under which it happens are rare,” Mr. Fleisher said.

The two-year study, commissioned by the U.S. Justice Department for $939,233, has come under withering attack from other researchers. The department has not endorsed the study, saying Mr. Fleisher has yet to turn over his data for closer examination.

“To take the position that it’s not a problem and prisons are safe places is asinine,” said Reggie B. Walton, a federal judge and chairman of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, set up under a 2003 federal law. He said Mr. Fleisher’s conclusions are “totally inconsistent” with what he has learned during 30 years in the criminal justice system.

Cindy Struckman-Johnson, professor of psychology at the University of South Dakota and one of nine commission members, said Mr. Fleisher’s 155-page study is not in scientific form. She said there is no literature review, no raw data, and no in-depth explanation of his subjects or research methods.

Mr. Fleisher said he spent more than 700 hours interviewing 564 randomly chosen inmates at dozens of institutions across the country, but never met anyone who claimed to be a victim of sexual violence.

He said he found that inmates’ sexual activity is not “routinely or overwhelmingly violent or aggressive” and sex is “engaged in by men and women who choose it.” In his report, he suggested that what outsiders see as rape is regarded differently by inmates.

“Prison rape worldview doesn’t interpret sexual pressure as coercion,” he wrote. “Rather, sexual pressure ushers, guides or shepherds the process of sexual awakening.”

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