In an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo Wednesday, Ben Carson argued that homosexuality is a choice, using sex in prisons as a primary example to prove his point.
Carson, who announced the first step toward a presidential bid Tuesday, told CNN that he “absolutely” believes homosexuality is optional. He said, “[A lot] of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.” He also maintained that states should be responsible for implementing same-sex marriage laws, as opposed to the federal government.
Carson’s comments belitte a major problem within the incarceration system: high rates of prison rape. Regardless of their sexuality, thousands of inmates are victimized by fellow prisoners and guards every year. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics findings published last year, correctional administrators reported 8,763 instances of sexual victimization in 2011. Of the 537 cases that were substantiated, 52 percent involved inmate-on-inmate violence, and 48 percent involved a prison staff member. But those were just the reported cases, and authorities often turn a blind eye to prisoners’ complaints of sexual misconduct.
Sex in prison is also a survival tactic, as many inmates engage in sexual activities to avoid brutal treatment behind bars. Just last week, the Marshall Project published a story about a 17-year-old boy who was repeatedly raped before he agreed to touch and kiss boys to avoid violent encounters in the future.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was unanimously passed by Congress in 2003, was enacted to “provide for the analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape in Federal, State, and local institutions and to provide information, resources, recommendations and funding to protect individuals from prison rape.” In 2012, after a thorough investigation into prison rape trends, the DOJ issued additional guidelines to prevent and respond to rape cases, and the law officially went into effect in 2013. However, prison officials only have to say that they’re in the process of changing their policies to avoid federal backlash, so there’s no guarantee that they actually comply with federal law.