Rates of sexual victimization in prison for inmates with and without mental disorders

Psychiatr Serv. 2007 Aug;58(8):1087-94. doi: 10.1176/ps.2007.58.8.1087.


Objective: This study estimated the rates of sexual victimization among prison inmates with and without a mental disorder.

Methods: The study sampled inmates aged 18 or older in 13 prisons within a single mid-Atlantic state prison system (12 facilities for men and one for women). A total of 7,528 inmates completed the survey instrument, which was administered by audio-computer-assisted technology. Of the 6,964 male respondents, 58.5% were African American, 16.2% were non-Hispanic white, 19.8% were Hispanic, and 5.5% were of another race or ethnicity. Of the 564 female respondents, 48.4% were African American, 30.9% were non-Hispanic white, 14.4% were Hispanic, and 7.3% were of another race or ethnicity. Mental disorder was based on self-reported previous mental health treatment for particular mental disorders. Sexual victimization was measured by using questions adapted from the National Violence Against Women and Men surveys.

Results: Approximately one in 12 male inmates with a mental disorder reported at least one incident of sexual victimization by another inmate over a six-month period, compared with one in 33 male inmates without a mental disorder. Among those with a mental disorder, sexual victimization was three times as high among female inmates (23.4%) as among male inmates (8.3%). African-American and Hispanic inmates with a mental disorder, independent of gender, reported higher rates of sexual victimization than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

Conclusions: Prisons are hazardous places. Steps must be taken to protect inmates from predators inside prison, to screen them for posttraumatic stress disorder, to provide trauma-related treatment, and to keep them safe.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Continental Ancestry Group / psychology
  • African Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data
  • Crime Victims / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Hispanic Americans / psychology
  • Hispanic Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mid-Atlantic Region
  • Middle Aged
  • Prisoners / psychology
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Sex Offenses / psychology
  • Sex Offenses / statistics & numerical data*
  • Violence / psychology
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data