A History of the PREA

The Prison Rape Elimination Act was put into effect in 2003. Although sexual assaults in prison were a known problem for centuries, it wasn’t until the 1970s that public awareness of the problem in the United States reached levels where action was demanded. And even then, it would be decades before drastic legal action was taken on a national level to eliminate sexual assaults on incarcerated people.

The 2001 publication of  “No Escape: Male Rape in US Prisons” by the activism group Human Rights Watch marked a tipping point. This report, featuring several graphic case histories in a book-length publication, made it plain to see that the problem was increasing, and that indifference to it was a real threat to the lives and well-being of prisoners, making not only their rehabilitation harder, but also a more dangerous environment for prison staff. This report has been called the most important catalyst in the passage of the PREA in 2003.

With the PREA in place, grants are now given to states to be used for training, personnel, hardware and software and other expenses as long as they are proven to have been used in the prevention and study of rape in institutions. It has been an important data collection tool, as prior to the PREA, there was no concerted effort on such a scale to study prison rape.

For medical staff, prison rape is an extra challenging fact of the job. They have extra responsibilities and pressure as it relates to the elimination of sexual assaults. Health care staff must partner with the administration as well as state and local resources to be effective in their role as it relates to sexual assaults.

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