WASHINGTON, July 31 (UPI) -- At 16, Rodney Hulin was small, five foot two inches tall, weighed 125 pounds and had a boyish face but that didn't prevent a Texas judge from "making an example" of him, his mother said, and sentencing him to eight years in an adult prison for setting a dumpster on fire.
"We were frightened for him from the start," she told a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, her voice often catching with emotion, because as "first time offender, we knew he might be targeted by older, tougher adult inmates.
"Then our worst nightmares came true. Rodney wrote us he'd been raped." A medical examination confirmed the boy's letter. The doctor found "tears in his rectum" and ordered an HIV test.
Rodney's mother, Linda Bruntmyer, was one of a panel of witnesses that told Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and other members of the Senate committee that Rodney was one of an estimated 250,000 to 600,000 male inmates in the U.S. jails, prisons and detention cells who are raped, sodomized or sexually violated every year.
Thousands of these rape victims are traumatized for life, often leaving prison physically scarred, infected with the HIV virus or dangerous venereal diseases and filled with anger. Many never report what has happened, or allow themselves to be violated for fear of beatings or torture.
Rodney Hulin was not so lucky. He knew if he was sent back to the prison's "general population" he would be vulnerable to further assaults and pleaded to be segregated from the older prisoners.
"After the first rape," his mother said, "he was returned to the general population. There he was repeatedly beaten and forced to perform oral sex and raped."
Desperate, he wrote to prison authorities again: "I have been sexually and physically assaulted several times, by several inmates. I am afraid to sleep, to shower, and just about everything else. I am afraid that when I am doing these things, I might die any minute. Please sir, help me."
The family tried everything to get him help. His mother said she called the warden. "He said Rodney needed to grow up. He said 'this happens every day, learn to deal with it. It's no big deal.'"
She said Rodney began to violate rules so he would be put in segregation. And when he was in a segregation section, she finally reached him for a 10-minute telephone call. He told that he was "emotionally and mentally destroyed."
"That was the last time I heard his voice. On the night of January 26, 1996, my son hanged himself in his cell," she said.
Based on thousands of reports like this, Kennedy and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., sponsored the "Prison Rape Reduction Act of 2002," which for the first time directs the federal Department of Justice to take a role in assisting states to reduce the incidents of rape and sexual violation in their prisons.
Calling prison rape an "epidemic," Kennedy said the bipartisan bill directs the Department of Justice to conduct an annual statistical review and analysis of the frequency and effects of prison rape. It calls for the department to conduct hearings where incidents of rape are high and to assist the states in information and training to help prison authorities and provides $40 million grants for this.
Wednesday's panel gave Kennedy and Sessions a stark picture of the problem.
-- There are no hard figures on male rape. However, former Virginia Attorney General Mark Early, now an official of Prison Fellowship, a major prison ministries group, testified that according to authoritative studies "anywhere from 250,000 to 600,000" of the two million people behind bars are victimized every year, and one study in Nebraska state prisons found that 22 percent of inmates said they were forced to have sexual contact while incarcerated.
-- One southern state was studied under an agreement to keep the state's name secret, Early testified. According to the study's findings, prisoners estimated one in three of those incarcerated had been raped; guards estimated one in five prisoners had been raped and officials said one in eight. "Even the lowest estimate pinpoints an astonishing 250,000 prisoners as rape victims," Early said.
-- In 1996, Human Rights Watch conducted what is regarded as the most thorough examination of the problem. It said the rapes occurred because of overcrowding and lack of control of prison populations, but the report also charged that prison officials like Hulin's warden were indifferent to the situation.
-- Early also quoted a Prison Fellowship colleague who is former warden in the Oklahoma State Prison system: "Prison rape to a large degree is made more serious by the deliberate indifference of most prison officials. Oftentimes these officials will purposefully turn their back on unspeakable acts in order to maintain 'peace' allowing aggressive predators to have their way."
-- Finally, Early cited a Los Angeles case where a young inmate sentenced for burglary kicked a female guard. As punishment, Los Angeles authorities later discovered, he was put in a cell with an older, powerful convict who beat him and sodomized him for days.