HUNDREDS OF prisoners may have been sexually abused behind bars, campaigners have claimed, prompting calls for more to be done to tackle rape in jails.
An independent commission on sex in prison, set up by charity the Howard League for Penal Reform, discovered the rate of sex crimes in prisons in England and Wales is broadly similar to the United States.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons data shows that one per cent of prisoners report being sexually abused in prison, meaning between 850 to 1,650 prisoners could be victims of sexual assault while inside.
The Howard League for Penal Reform’s chief executive, Frances Crook, said: “Prisons are meant to be safe places where the law is enforced, not places where people are under threat of sexual violence and rape.
“The focus and energy of American Republicans and Democrats on tackling the issue of prison rape shames Westminster.
“The broadly comparable proportions of prisoners reporting sexual victimisation in the US and in England and Wales suggest that this issue is much more serious than previously thought.”
Research interviewing 208 former prisoners carried out 10 years ago in England and Wales produced similar findings, with one per cent reporting they had been raped and 5.3 per cent reporting they were victims of coerced sex.
Data from 2013 shows two per cent of prisoners in the US had been the victim of a non-consensual sex act.
In the US, the problem of sexual violence behind bars is more widely recognised, with federal legislation, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, passed with bipartisan support in 2003.
The Commission said there has been minimal research on sexual abuse and sex crimes in prison and the nature and full extent of the problem is not known, with sexual violence in prison often hidden and under-reported.
Prisons Minister Andrew Selous said: “We continue to work to understand the reasons for the increase in assaults, including sexual assaults, and we are reviewing how we manage violence, including sexual violence, in prisons and working to introduce a new approach to the investigation of crime.”