Aftershock of Inmate Rape

Michael Robtoy says he is living proof of why people should care that tens of thousands of men are being raped behind bars every year.

When inmates who have been sexually violated repeatedly are finally freed from their incarceration, they will be "time bombs," and they will one day "explode," he says. And that's exactly what happened to Robtoy.

Prisoner rights activists say more than 90 percent of inmates return to the community within a year, so prisons are, in effect, churning out people who may be more violent than when they went in.

"It's really clear that the most effective way to turn a nonviolent person into a violent one is to send them to prison," says Harvard University criminologist James Gilligan.

Robtoy says his story begins with a sexual assault at a youth facility in California.

"I was beaten and then subsequently raped," says Robtoy. "There [were] five that came in my cell and I was physically raped by three, repeatedly."

Robtoy describes the experience as "humiliating, degrading," and "something that's not supposed to happen."

And that violence on the inside, he says, led to violence on the outside.

'Regaining' One's 'Manhood'

When Robtoy got out of the juvenile facility, he went on to what he describes as a "homophobic crime spree," beating and robbing gay men in an attempt, he says, to regain his manhood. It culminated in murder.

He strangled David King, a gay man, and is now serving a life sentence in Washington state. Robtoy says prison rape can turn victims into victimizers.

Gilligan agrees completely. He says inmate rape — which is about power, not sex — has helped turn America's prisons into "monster factories."

"Rape is a crime of violence," says Gilligan. "It's a way of exerting dominance over another person and humiliating them totally. And nothing stimulates violence as much as feeling humiliated.

"The man who's been raped feels his manhood has been taken away from him. The only way to restore their sense of being an effective, dominant person — rather than the dominated — is by means of violence against other people."

Threat of AIDS

Prison rape is not only a public safety issue, but a public health issue.

Former inmate Kendell Spruce is now being treated for HIV, with which he says he was infected after being raped in an Arkansas prison. Spruce is suing the warden for failing to protect him from a known predator who had AIDS.

"They deliberately put me in a cell with him, knowing that he was a rapist in prison, knowing that he preyed on young guys," says Spruce, "because I was little and skinny. I looked like I was 16." The warden denies the allegations.

Spruce, who had been convicted of a misdemeanor, says he left prison a doomed man. "I got a death sentence," he says.

The vast majority of the people incarcerated in this country will be released. And, with the incidence of rape as high as it is, their problems will eventually spread beyond prison walls.

"If the public is interested in reducing the amount of violent crime in our society, if the public is interested in its own safety, then it's going to care about this issue," says Gilligan. "It only endangers us all."

"A lot of people think if you commit a crime, you're in prison," says Robtoy. "Let the chips fall where they may, rape that person every day. But yet if that person is in prison and if he is being assaulted, when he gets out, what is he going to do?"

Tune in to World News Tonight Wednesday for the next story in our series on prison rape: The Solutions.

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