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Call to tackle prison rape

Hundreds of prisoners may have been sexually abused behind bars, campaigners have said, prompting calls for more to be done to tackle prison rape.

An independent commission on sex in prison, set up by charity t he Howard League for Penal Reform, discovered the rate of sex crimes in prisons in England and Wales is broadly similar to the United States.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) data shows that 1% of prisoners report being sexually abused in prison, the Howard League said, meaning between 850 to 1,650 prisoners could be victims of sexual assault while inside.

Research interviewing 208 former prisoners carried out 10 years ago in England and Wales produced similar findings, with 1% reporting they had been raped and 5.3% reporting they were victims of coerced sex.

Data from the most recent survey in 2013 shows that 2% of prisoners in the US had been the victim of a non-consensual sex act and 4% had been sexually victimised.

In the US, the problem of sexual violence behind bars is much more widely recognised, with federal legislation - the Prison Rape Elimination Act - passed with bipartisan support in 2003.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "Prisons are meant to be safe places where the law is enforced, not places where people are under threat of sexual violence and rape.

"The focus and energy of both American Republicans and Democrats on tackling the issue of prison rape shames Westminster.

"The broadly comparable proportions of prisoners reporting sexual victimisation in the US and in England and Wales suggest that this issue is much more serious than previously thought."

The Commission said there has been minimal research on sexual abuse and sex crimes in prison and the nature and full extent of the problem is not known, with sexual violence in prison often hidden and under-reported.

The Commission added it was unable to interview current prisoners after being blocked by the Ministry of Justice.

Prisons Minister Andrew Selous said: "Sexual relations between prisoners are not common place. We do not condone sex in prisons or believe that prisoners in a relationship should share a cell.

"Reported incidents of sexual assault in prison are rare. Where an alleged sexual assault is reported or discovered it will be investigated and reported to the police if required.

"We continue to work hard to understand the reasons for the increase in assaults, including sexual assaults, and we are comprehensively reviewing how we manage violence, including sexual violence, in prisons and working with the police and CPS to introduce a new approach to the investigation of crime."

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