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How Incarceration Sexually Re-Traumatizes Black and Brown Men


The sexual abuse of black and brown boys is a major social problem that often goes unacknowledged. This type of abuse has been shown to fuel violence, teen pregnancy, and incarceration rates. Once incarcerated, prison often sexually re-traumatizes black and brown men, which fuels many of the social ills that black and brown boys fall prey to.

Sexual abuse is a driver of many social problems in black and brown communities. Studies have shown that boys who are sexually abused are more likely to experience violence, become teenage fathers, and end up in prison. Unfortunately, once these boys enter the prison system, they are often subjected to further sexual abuse, which exacerbates the cycle of violence, unwanted or unprepared pregnancies, and incarceration.

The high rates of sexual abuse in black and brown communities can be traced back to historic trauma. For centuries, black and brown bodies have been objectified and used for sexual gratification with no regard for their humanity. This history of sexual violence has had a ripple effect on black and brown communities, causing intergenerational trauma that manifests in many different ways.

One way that this trauma manifests is through higher rates of violence. Boys who have been sexually abused are more likely to act out violently as teenagers and young adults. This is likely due to the fact that they internalize their trauma and view themselves as beings who are only worthy of violence. Additionally, these boys often don’t have any positive role models in their lives to show them that there are other ways to deal with their pain. As a result, they resort to the only thing they know—violence.

The cycle of sexual abuse, violence, unwanted or planned pregnancies, and incarceration is a vicious one that is all too common for black and brown boys. According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black and Hispanic males made up 56% of state and federal prison inmates in 2008 even though they only made up around 30% of the general population. Furthermore, a study by the CDC found that 38% of black males and 22% of Hispanic males reported being sexually abused as children. This is compared to just 7% of white males.

This pattern begins with the sexual abuse of black and brown boys. This abuse often goes unacknowledged and unsupported which can lead to feelings of powerlessness and worthlessness. In turn, this can lead to acting out in violent ways as a means of regaining control. This violence often leads to involvement with the criminal justice system which can further traumatize victims of sexual abuse.

Once incarcerated, black and brown men are often subject to higher levels of sexual abuse by both guards and fellow inmates. A study by the Prison Rape Elimination Act found that 4.4% of incarcerated men reported being sexually abused in the past year. This number jumps to 8% for black men and 6.1% for Hispanic men. Furthermore, 77% of those who reported being sexually abused said that their abuser was staff, while 23% said it was another inmate.

This sexual abuse can have a lasting impact on its victims. Trauma expert Dr. Julie Kantrowitz says that "sexual trauma within the criminal justice system can cause symptoms similar to PTSD such as anxiety, depression, flashbacks, nightmares, dissociation, and risky behaviors." These symptoms can make it difficult for survivors to find employment, housing, or stability, putting them at risk of reoffending and returning to prison. In fact, 65% of prisoners report having been previously incarcerated.

The cycle of sexual abuse, violence, unwanted or unprepared pregnancies, and incarceration is a vicious one that is all too common for black and brown boys. This cycle is fuelled by the lack of acknowledgment and support for victims of sexual abuse as well as the high levels of sexual abuse that occur in prisons. Trauma experts have stated that this type of sexual abuse can cause symptoms similar to PTSD, making it difficult for survivors to find employment or housing upon release from prison. This increases the likelihood of reoffending and returning to prison, which only perpetuates the cycle.

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