An old story: the cruel and unusual punishment of prison rape

I missed this story in January due to being on hols, but it came to my attention just now while reading this post over at OLO (discussing the Kyle and Jackie O scandal and what exactly brought on the public outrage). Chris Lloyd asks why the outrage seems selective, in particular why more people weren’t outraged back then by the comments of a judge to a young defendant which aimed to scare him straight by telling him that if he went to a real jail he should expect to be raped on his first night (and presumably repeatedly thereafter).

“You spent three days in the Sydney police centre at Surry Hills. That’s not jail,” he said.

“I’m giving you another chance to go back out there but if you do it again that’s it. Nope. Payday. Have you got any idea what it’s like in there? Any idea at all? You wouldn’t last a night.

“You will find big, ugly, hairy, strong men who’ve got faces only a mother could love that will pay a lot of attention to you – and your anatomy. Scary, isn’t it? But that’s what will happen.”

So yes, Chris Lloyd, I do find the comments of Magistrate Brian Maloney offensive and outrageous. I wish I’d known of them at the time, which is very much part of your point – these comments were not highlighted by the media due to an upswelling of community outrage – they passed by virtually without comment other than tacitly approving editorial cartoons.

Editorial cartoon from the Melbourne Herald Sun 08/01/09
Editorial cartoon from the Melbourne Herald Sun 08/01/09


As Jeremy says:

If the magistrate genuinely believes that kids are being raped in prisons, then he has an obligation not to send them there

Over the years I’ve linked on several occasions to posts that highlight how the fact that so many of the world’s prisons are rape factories is routinely acknowledged as if it were some natural environment that cannot be changed, and how people routinely make jokes about prison rape as if it is a deserved punishment for any crime instead of being a human rights abuse. Just like other rape jokes, prison rape jokes are not funny (and although most of the prison rape “jokes” are about men’s prisons, rape occurs in women’s prisons as well).

The distinctively memorable phrase “cruel and unusual punishment” may only appear in the USA’s bill of rights rather than within our own legal system, but surely that is something that any prisoner should be protected from when deprived of their liberty by the State? What else is a routine expectation of sexual assault within prisons but cruel and unusual punishment?


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tigtog (aka Viv) is the founder of this blog. She lives in Sydney, Australia: husband, 2 kids, cat, house, garden, just enough wine-racks and (sigh) far too few bookshelves.

6 Responses

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  1. Rachel_in_WY
    Rachel_in_WY at |

    In the U.S. we have an anti-meth campaign that tries to “scare kids straight” using billboards like this, not only playing off the offensive prison rape meme, but equating rape with romance. There are a number of other pretty offensive ads of theirs as well, like this one and this one.

  2. Mary
    Mary at | *

    [Sorry if this is a repost, I thought I was stuck in moderation, but perhaps not.]

    Actually “cruel and unusual punishment” has a history in the Commonwealth legal system, Geoffrey Robertson talks about its British history here and it was that principle he used to successfully argue that spending more than five years on death row should result in a sentence being commuted.

    Incidently, the death penalty itself couldn’t be argued to be cruel or unusual, because the standard is to prove that it would have had to be considered cruel and unusual in 1689, when execution certainly wasn’t. (A chapter of Robertson’s The Justice Game is devoted to anti-death penalty cases he worked on.) I am not remotely competent to give an opinion on how prison rape was considered in 1689, but on moral grounds I completely agree. Prisoners should not be deprived of their expectation to be free of sexual assault.

  3. tigtog
    tigtog at |

    The spaminator ate your comment! It does that sometimes. At least now with commentor registration most of what we see in the spaminator are the rare false positives.

    Thanks for the background on cruel and unusual – I hadn’t realised it was an older British term.

  4. Helen
    Helen at | *

    Oh, the same Chris Lloyd who said Kyle Sandilands was “thrown to the wolves”? (Is that a tiny, tiny violin?)

    The observation that threats of prison rape are unacceptable are simpy proof that a stopped clock can be right once a day I suppose!

  5. tigtog
    tigtog at |

    @Helen,

    The stopped clock analogy may well be right, I haven’t read enough of his posts to judge. His reference to this particular magistrate’s comments just struck me simply because I did miss it entirely at the time, and that was because there simply wasn’t much media attention paid to it other than some approval from the Hun et al.

  6. lil sis
    lil sis at |

    evil, and he is the one in charge of at risk youth….fantastic

    rape is not a punishment, rape is evil and it will not turn anybody straight. rape makes for fucked up criminals who will probably act out.

    tigtog, i think you and lauredhel should be president of australia together.

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