A Little Extra "WTF" for Your Friday

Last week the internets were briefly abuzz with the news that the Iranian government was encouraging the rape of jailed political dissidents by distributing condoms to imprisoned criminals.

We’re a bit perplexed by this one. Undoubtedly, Iran has a prison rape problem deserving of internet buzz. But, the condom thing? What’s the logic here? Do we think there’s a sizable class of prison rapists who were previously refraining on account of the lack of prophylactics?

Or, alternately, if we believe the condoms are operating more as a symbol of regime sanction than a disease-prevention method, do we think there’s a substantial number of prisoners who are otherwise disinclined to rape, but will do so upon receipt of a signal of regime approval only slightly stronger than the usual guards-looking-the-other-way complicity?

Neither of these explanations seems particularly plausible to us. Additionally, the Guardian article that broke this story (based on letters written by jailed activists and their families) does not suggest that political prisoners are the primary targets of rape. In fact, one of the letters describes the targets of violence as “those who have pretty faces and are unable to defend themselves or cannot afford to bribe others.”

This sounds to us like a terrible situation, but one that is perhaps not that different from the way that prison rape is terrible all over the world – even in places where a regime is not currently engaged in a brutal crackdown on legitimate political dissent. We’ve read enough civil-rights cases involving prison rape to know that there’s usually an element of complicity by the guards, who either actively participate or fail to intervene despite knowing what’s going on, often because they are afraid of the prisoners committing the rapes. We wonder whether the condoms here are just a sign of status vis-à-vis the guards, rather than the result of a coordinated policy.

(That said, it’s nice to see prison rape discussed as a horrible crime for once, rather than a joke/legitimate feature of the prison experience.)

Amanda and Kate


  1. I am glad that I was at least spared this experience during my short stint in an Iranian prison (http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/reports-about-my-trip-to-iran-in-junejuly-2009/).

    I would however like to point out that being raped in the prison of a dictatorship without any rule of law, without access to lawyers often, and without anybody knowing of your whereabouts is maybe still worse than suffering the same unfortunate experience in the prison of a rule of law democracy.

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