PREDATORS: On Rape and the State
This article deals primarily with the state's intervention in cases of sexual violence. Many studies have shown that most acts of sexual violence go unreported and are thus far more common than crime statistics show. It is also worth noting that the justice system has proven itself over and over again to be extremely racist and unreliable; there are doubtless many so-called “sex offenders” who were convicted of crimes they did not commit.
A few miles from the former McNeil Island Corrections Center, a lonely fortress sits surrounded by razor-wire and tall trees. It is often described as a mixture between a college dormitory and a prison. Compared to its defunct neighbor, this facility's security features have a more low-key quality. There are lounges with comfortable couches in pleasant colors, and the lighting is designed to beat back the winter grays and blues. It's called the Special Commitment Center (SCC), home to 282 legally-defined “sexually violent predators”.
All of those committed to the SCC have already served the prison sentences that were supposed to re-balance the scales of justice. But upon evaluation for release, an End of Sentence Review Committee determined that these prisoners presented a very high risk of re-offense due to serious pathological problems. They were thus referred for possible “civil commitment” to the SCC.
In a civil commitment process, a court or jury must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual meets the legal definition of a sexually violent predator. If so, the individual is committed to the custody of DSHS for placement in the SCC, “a total confinement facility for 'control, care, and treatment.'”(1)
From 1994 until 2007, the SCC was operating under federal injunction due to allegations from inmates that the facility was not really fulfilling its purported mission. Today, a full 40% of SCC inmates refuse treatment and are expected to remain at the facility for as long as it exists. Only seven inmates have been unconditionally released from the facility after fulfilling all treatment and release requirements. Others have been released by courts for various reasons including medical conditions which severely limit their ability to become sexually violent.
As stated above, the Special Commitment Center has very limited capacity. With over one thousand sex crimes reported and over 800 convicted sex offenders released every year in Washington, the state must have other strategies to deal with sexual violence, right? Sure, it does.(2) But because prison is for punishment and not rehabilitation, the treatment options available to incarcerated sex offenders are extremely limited and often fail completely.
There are currently two programs in WA state prisons—the 200-bed Twin Rivers Sex Offender Treatment Program at Monroe Correctional Complex and a similar program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. Both programs are strictly voluntary and most participants only enter treatment within the last 18 months of their sentences due to long waiting lists. And then, even when admitted, they face the constant risk of ejection if they engage in “sexual behavior” or are otherwise unruly or disobedient. As a result, many of those convicted of sex crimes leave prison without having received any treatment whatsoever. After having made it through a gray, stainless steel hell, they re-enter the world, arguably even more unstable and potentially dangerous.
That said, it doesn't really seem to make much of a difference whether sex offenders receive treatment from Washington state prison programs or not. According to a report released in June of 2006 by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, sex offenders who participated in the Twin Rivers program were actually re-incarcerated for sexually violent felonies at a higher rate that those who volunteered for but were not admitted to the program.(3) In other words, the program does not work. But really, it's not a big surprise that a sadistic institution is completely incapable of healing sadistic people.
Prison is a method of social control that serves to warehouse undesirable and unpredictable populations. This is its primary function as part of the United States' democratic capitalist system. Prisons are designed to break the spirit and dull the mind, and imprisonment threatens the defiant, the restless, and all of those who long for freedom and an end to slavery. That rapists, child molesters, and psycho killers sometimes get caught and locked-up is merely a side effect of a system that is primarily structured to protect the interests of the rich at the expense of the exploited.
The existence of prisons and police, as well as increased funding for their new toys and technologies, are always justified by the need for “community safety”. But the fact is that prisons and police only deal with sexual violence after it has already happened. Meanwhile, this sociopathic culture creates new “sexually violent predators” every day.
In the 1970's, second-wave feminists coined the term “rape culture” to describe American society. The term, despite the vast limitations of second-wave feminism, is still applicable today, when rape and other sexual violence remain commonplace and when attitudes, norms, practices, and media continue to condone, normalize, and excuse sexualized violence. One reason so little has changed is that anti-sexual/domestic violence advocates have for so long forged dependent relationships with law enforcement and courts, turning to them for protection. Some organizations have broken from this trend and now recognize that police and prison guards, as perpetrators of coercive violence and racism, are fundamentally unfit to ensure “community safety”.(4) Anarchists, meanwhile, have always known that the state is the biggest, most dangerous predator on the block.
The fact that rape and other acts of sexual violence continue to happen in great numbers every day is proof that the state and its systems of crime and punishment are entirely incapable of stopping sexual violence. In fact, sadism and sexual violence are part and parcel of prison culture. Beyond outright instances of guards raping prisoners or looking the other way when prisoners rape other prisoners, the threat of sexual violence comes in both blatant and insidious forms. Earlier this summer, a group of young people arrested at a party were told by sneering police officers that they would be raped in jail.(5) One can only assume that this is a common, unofficially accepted tactic used by police to intimidate their captives. On the subtle side, consider the Prison Rape Elimination Act videos played on repeat in the holding cells at many jails across the country. It would be easy for jail officials to insist that this is a legitimate attempt to stop prison rape, but ask anyone who has spent time in these jails just how reassured those videos made them feel.
Sick, Sad World
This is a sick, sad world that churns out sick, sad people. There can be no end to sexual violence as long as sadists continue to run the show. McNeil Island may well be teeming with very dangerous men and women, but many of them get to ride the ferry home every day at the end of their shifts.
When everything, including our bodies and minds, become objects to be bought and sold in the market of everyday life, it becomes very easy for some to use and abuse others. Some wear uniforms and get paid to do it. Others use their positions of trust and authority to wield power over their victims. Broken relationships and the rising sexualization of young children, as just two examples, contribute to a culture within which sexual violence is encouraged, fought, and feared all at once.
It is in this climate that state and local budgets, even for jails and prisons, are drying up. Maple Lane School, a juvenile detention facility in Centralia, WA, and McNeil Island Corrections Center have already closed. There was a proposal earlier this year to move the Special Commitment Center to the site of the former Maple Lane School due to budget concerns. The costs to DSHS of operating an island prison, with its ferries and barges, are certainly much higher than those of a regular land-locked prison. The DSHS budget is already extremely tight, with more and more cuts coming every year, it's easy to see what sort of “tough choices” lie ahead. Which will it be, the Food Assistance Program or the Special Commitment Center? Hunger or rape?
The danger of continuing to rely on prisons, courts, and police to keep us safe should by now be blatantly clear. The state that every day hurts, murders, and imprisons our friends, neighbors, and loved ones is no humble guardian. Laws and standardized sentences only serve to smooth over the complexity of each instance of sexual violence. Safety comes from people forming relationships of reciprocal trust and protection against all aggressors—those with badges as well as those without. It is in these types of beautiful, painfully rare communities—real communities—that sexual violence is handled best: with care, compassion, and, when deemed necessary, swift and sweet revenge.
1.According to DSHS itself.
2.There are also post-release programs (like sex offender registration and halfway houses) and treatment-based alternatives to incarceration.
3.“Sex Offender Sentencing in Washington State: Does the Prison Treatment Program Reduce Recidivism?” - http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/rptfiles/06-06-1…
4.INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence is one good example.
5.See “Police Vs. Party,” Tides of Flame #3.