Wisconsin will become the first state to post its prison sexual assault statistics online. Marion Morgan of the state’s Department of Corrections told Wisconsin Public Radio that making this information widely available could help change public attitudes on sexual assault by drawing attention to an issue that is often hidden from view.
“People believe that what happens behind the walls stays behind the walls,” Morgan pointed out. “The reality is 95 to 97 percent of our inmates return to the community, and if they’re sexually traumatized while in detention that’s going inhibit their ability to successfully reenter.”
The Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act mandates that all states publicly post statistics on sexual assault, abuse, and harassment committed in prisons. Posting them online could help raise awareness for the issue and ensure that cases are properly reported and investigated, which is Morgan’s job for the state.
As of July, there were 354 allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, or sexual assaults between inmates or inmates and staff in Wisconsin’s prisons this year. But only one allegation of rape and three sexual misconduct charges were actually substantiated. Nationally, 80,000 prison inmates reported at least one incident of sexual abuse by an inmate or prison guard in 2011. Sexual abuse is rampant even in juvenile prisons.
The issue raises larger questions of whether other institutions should widely disseminate sexual assault statistics online or through other public means. Sexual assault cases often go unreported, and statistics are often inaccurate, as evidenced by the flawed data in a recent report on sexual assaults in the military, as well as high profile cases at Swarthmore College and Yale University. Both schools were found to have under-reported instances of abuse.
Morgan noted that other institutions might want to follow in the footsteps of state prisons, which are mandated to publicly release statistics on sexual assault, abuse, or harassment.
“There is nothing that mandates that it be done out in the community,” she said. “There’s nothing that mandates that it be done in our schools, churches, [or] other institutions where you see rampant sexual abuse occurring. Corrections is the only institution that is mandated to address this issue.”
Marina Fang is an intern for ThinkProgress.