Sexual Coercion and Violence in Federal Corrections
Interim Report (December 2021)

The Interim Report is dated December 2021, and is reflective of the information that was available at that time. Some of the information contained in the report may now be outdated, and the timelines for the prevalence study outlined in section 6.2 have shifted since the report was initially drafted.

Executive Summary

In its 2019-2020 Annual Report, the Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) released a report on a national investigation into Sexual Coercion and Violence (SCV) in Canadian corrections. In this report, the OCI addressed two recommendations to the Minister of Public Safety, calling for the introduction of legislation that endorses a zero-tolerance approach to SCV and the designation of funds for a national prevalence study. The OCI also addressed recommendations to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) on this issue.

SCV remains one of the most underreported crimes in the general public, a situation that is likely exacerbated in the correctional context where issues such as the significant power imbalance, organizational culture and other factors likely impact reporting. While SCV, particularly in correctional settings, is not a new phenomenon, recent public attention seems to reflect a renewed consciousness of its importance. As it continues to become clear that public institutions are not immune to the issue, it is important to have a fulsome understanding of the true magnitude of the problem in order to appropriately and meaningfully respond to it. That is why Public Safety Canada (PS) has committed to undertaking the first national prevalence study into SCV in Canadian federal corrections which will help to provide an understanding of the scope of the issue and risk factors for sexual victimization. The results of this study will support ongoing policy and program enhancements to combat SCV, striving to ensure that offenders can serve their sentences in federal institutions free from sexual harassment, violence, and misconduct.

There are some challenges to developing and conducting an ethical and methodologically sound, national study that will provide us with the data we are seeking to further inform our approach to SCV in federal correctional facilities. However, the foundational work done to date will help address these challenges and inform the way forward as we continue to refine our approach for the national study.

Given that the OCI's recommendations on SCV addressed to CSC and PS are closely linked, PS and CSC have been working collaboratively to implement responses. As we continue to develop the approach for the national study, Public Safety and CSC have undertaken several parallel steps to both address SCV immediately and inform the way forward for the study itself. CSC is currently drafting a new Commissioner's Directive (CD) that establishes a framework for preventing, detecting, responding to, reporting, and tracking incidents of sexual assault towards inmates in federal custody. The CD is expected to be promulgated in spring 2022, following engagement and consultations with several partners and stakeholders.

CSC will also explore amplifying training and awareness of SCV, and ensure that staff are  appropriately trained to respond to incidents of SCV. This will include: strengthening the Correctional Training Program (CTP) to ensure all employees and managers are aware of the issues surrounding SCV; adding SCV content to the Parole Officer Continuous Development training, and the Correctional Manager Training Program; reviewing CSC's New Employee Orientation Program, and exploring mandatory annual training on the issue of SCV and harassment to all frontline Correctional Staff who interact with offenders.

CSC will also examine existing reference material for offenders to ensure they are provided with readily available information on SCV and how to report incidents of victimization. CSC has also been exploring the development of anonymous reporting tools such as the anonymous reporting hotline used in some U.S. prisons and will consult with offenders in the development of prevention strategies and reporting approaches for incidents of SCV through inmate committees.

To complement ongoing work and to further inform both the approach to SCV and the development of the national study, PS and CSC have also undertaken the following activities: writing to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU) to request an independent study of the issue, undertaking an international review of prison sexual violence, and consulting with federal, provincial and territorial partners on their approach to SCV in their respective jurisdictions. Results from this work have underscored the need for reliable national data to further understand the scope of the issue and inform a comprehensive strategy to continue addressing SCV in federal correctional institutions. Gathering this information through the study will complement the ongoing work and inform any enhancements to policies, procedures and guidelines that are developed as the study is implemented.


SCV of any kind is a deeply personal, traumatizing experience that has long been underreported in official statistics. As such, it is difficult to understand the true prevalence of the problem. According to three studies completed by Justice Canada with survivors of sexual assault, approximately two thirds of sexual assaults remain unreported. This signals a significant gap in understanding the true prevalence of sexual assault in Canada and underscores the difficult nature of capturing a fulsome picture of sexual victimization.

However, what is known from the current data on the general population, is that certain groups are more likely to experience sexual violence than others. Women are the victims of sexual assault at a substantially higher rate than men. Rates of self-reported sexual assault of Indigenous peoples is almost triple that of non-Indigenous peoples. Moreover, research suggests that LGBTQ2S+ individuals are more likely to have experienced physical or sexual assault than non-LGBTQ2S+ Canadians and are less likely to report their physical assaults to police.

In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness of public outcry for social change as it relates to sexual violence and victimization, particularly in the wake of the #metoo movement, and the issue has become a mainstay in the public discourse. Over the past three years, there has been a positive trend in the reporting of sexual assault incidents to police, which could be attributed to the considerable public attention given to issues of sexual violence. However, the ongoing public discussion around sexual victimization has also served as an important reminder that public institutions are not immune to it and that certain factors can exacerbate the issue of non-reporting, particularly in organizations with strict hierarchies and significant power imbalances, such as correctional institutions.

In addition to the investigation into SCV in the OCI's Annual Report, SCV in the correctional context continues to emerge as a topic of importance in Canada. In a 2018 article in the Edmonton Journal, it was noted that Alberta prison residents made 67 allegations of sexual assault over a 5 year period and only one resulted in a criminal charge (Wolf, N. (2021). Moreover, in the past five years, a number of civil and class action cases regarding prison-based sexual violence have been brought against the Attorney General of Canada that include allegations of SCV by staff against both inmates and other staff (Wolf, N. (2021).

Given the complex nature of the issue, PS is committed to undertaking a fulsome review to better understand the many facets of the problem and to ensure that tools/resources and policies are aligned to help prevent situations of SCV and respond accordingly when the need arises. It is well known that incidents of sexual violence are underreported in general and are even less likely to be reported in the correctional context. To begin addressing this gap, PS, in collaboration with CSC, has taken several steps to inform a way forward for the first national prevalence study of SCV in Canadian federal corrections in over 25 years. Considerations arising from the work done to date will inform the development of a methodology for conducting the prevalence study, with the goal of ensuring that Canadian federal institutions are an environment where offenders can serve their time in our correctional system free from sexual harassment, violence, and misconduct.

Office of the Correctional Investigator's 2019-2020 Annual Report

Role of the Office of the Correctional Investigator

Under the provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) (Part III), the Correctional Investigator (CI) serves as the Ombudsman for federal offenders. The CI's primary responsibility is to independently investigate and facilitate resolution of offender issues.

The Correctional Investigator plays an important role in our society, contributing to public safety by identifying issues of concern within the federal correctional system. Each year, the OCI publishes an Annual Report that includes recommendations to the Correctional Services of Canada and the Minister of Public Safety. The recommendations are responded to and responses are tabled in Parliament at the same time as the Report.

Recommendations Addressed to the Minister of Public Safety

In its 2019-2020 Annual Report, the OCI reported out on a national-level investigation into Sexual Coercion and Violence (SCV) in Federal Corrections. In relation to this investigation, the OCI directed two recommendations specifically to the Minister of Public Safety:

Minister's Response

The former Minister of Public Safety, Bill Blair, jointly responded to the two recommendations as follows:

The Minister of Public Safety would like to jointly respond to recommendations #2 and #9 from the Correctional Investigator's Annual Report, as these two recommendations can assist in informing a strategy on tackling sexual coercion and violence (SCV) in federal corrections. A zero-tolerance approach to SCV is consistent with CSC's policy and is fundamental to its operations to protect the physical and mental health and overall safety of those who live and work within federal correctional institutions.

Given the importance of gaining a better understanding of SCV in the Canadian context, Public Safety has developed a research plan, slated to begin in Fall 2020, to begin assessing SCV in federal corrections. In collaboration with CSC, Public Safety will collect information and data on the size, scope and impact of this issue, with consideration of vulnerable populations such as inmates with prior trauma, LGBTQ2S+, women, and those with mental health issues in order to identify gaps in knowledge. An interim report on the work undertaken is set to be developed by spring 2021 and will help inform future actions required to detect, prevent, and respond to sexual violence in correctional institutions. In leading this research, Public Safety will collaborate with CSC, and others as needed, to ensure coordination with other actions being undertaken by CSC on the issue as outlined in responses to other recommendations in this report.

In addition, given the serious nature of the issue, the Minister has agreed to write to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security requesting that consideration be given to undertaking an independent study, along with a report on their findings, on SCV in federal corrections. Both internal and external research findings will assist Public Safety and CSC to determine the next steps in effectively and appropriately addressing SCV.

Current Practices and Procedures

CSC takes the issue of SCV very seriously and recognizes the need for responses to be person-centred. Understanding that there is more work to be done to enhance and refine the approach to SCV, the current measures in place to respond to incidents of SCV include:

Progress Update

As the OCI notes in its 2019-2020 Annual Report, Canada is lacking current official data related to the prevalence of SCV in federal corrections. There has only been one nationally representative inmate survey that examined SCV against inmates, among other issues. This survey was conducted by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) in 1995 and only included male inmates. Of the 4,285 male federal inmates who completed the survey, approximately 3% reported being sexually assaulted by another inmate and another 6% experienced SCV. This study is now outdated and did not cover the prevalence of different types of sexual victimization by other inmates and / or staff and did not examine different groups who have been found to experience higher rates of sexual coercion and violence while incarcerated (e.g., women, LGBTQ2S+, Indigenous peoples).

Given the important, sensitive and deeply personal nature of the subject matter, the Minister has directed officials to undertake several foundational steps to get a fulsome understanding of the issues. The following sections of this report outline work done to date, all of which will inform next steps for the national collection of Canadian prevalence data and will further inform the approach to address SCV in Canadian correctional institutions.

Letter to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security

In October of 2020, the Minister of Public Safety wrote to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU) to request that they undertake an independent study of SCV as deliberations in committee could help inform a strategy to address SCV in federal corrections. This committee has the general mandate to study and inquire into matters it considers necessary and PS is one of the departments that falls within its area of responsibility. While the committee did not undertake a study entirely devoted to the issue of SCV, a consolidated study was undertaken that examined the current situation in federal prisons. One element of this consolidated study focused on SCV by officers against female inmates. The Department will consider evidence raised by witnesses and the committee's findings in the development of the prevalence study and in any additional policies or guidelines created to respond to SCV in the correctional environment.

Literature Review

Given the lack of official data in Canada, PS commissioned an independent literature review that examined international research on SCV to identify what is known generally with respect to the prevalence of this issue in correctional settings. The study pointed to the need for reliable and generalizable data in order to address the issue, indicating that a key step will be to create a national portrait of the problem through scientifically rigorous surveys (Wolf, N. (2021). The report also includes a review of zero tolerance policies related to SCV applied to corrections in other jurisdictions and their effectiveness, emphasizing what works to inform potential future actions within the Canadian context. An executive summary of this literature review can be found in Annex A. 

Overall, the literature review found that SCV is a reality for many incarcerated individuals. The report highlighted that six specific characteristics, including age, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, prior sexual victimization, a history of childhood abuse and behavioural health problems (including mental illness) can predict prison-based sexual violence (Wolf, N. (2021). These findings are consistent with the risk factors identified in the OCI's Annual Report and will be taken into consideration during the development of the methodology and questionnaire for the national prevalence study.

The report also provided an overview of the strengths and limitations of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in the United States. Specifically, the report highlighted the following strengths: the importance of a comprehensive and consistent definition of sexual violence that includes both non-consensual acts and abusive sexual contacts by other residents and staff, prioritization of sexual violence as a top priority for the correctional system, funding and guidance for the ongoing collection of reliable data, investments in safer prisons and lasting cultural change with respect to the issue (Wolf, N. (2021). The five most notable limitations outlined in the report are: weak enforcement of compliance, a lack of accountability regarding the consequences for staff sexual misconduct, no private cause of action to sue facilities for failure to comply with PREA standards, the requirement to exhaust the facilities' grievance process before seeking any relief in the courts, and the inadvertent application of PREA to consensual sex (Wolf, N. (2021). Both the strengths and limitations identified in the report will serve as key considerations as PS, in partnership with CSC, develops the methodology for the national prevalence study and considers potential policy and legislative responses. 

Finally, the report includes several final considerations and best practices for survey design and administration that will be helpful in guiding the development of a methodology and survey for the national study. A summary of these considerations is found in the executive summary of the report (Annex A).


In order to ensure a fulsome understanding of the key considerations related to SCV in Canadian corrections, PS worked with provincial and territorial (PT) counterparts through the Heads of Corrections (HOC) forum to gain an understanding of whether there are existing approaches to SCV incidents in PT correctional facilities.

Responses were received from eight provinces and territories. Largely, PTs indicated that incidents related to SCV are tracked as part of broader statistics or incident reports related to violence, sexual violence, or threats against the person, but not specific to SCV. Similarly, PTs indicated that training related to SCV is captured under existing policies related to violence in the workplace, victimization, assault and threatening behaviour. These results reiterate the paucity of specific data related to SCV in Canada and the complexity of the issue, highlighting the need for a multifaceted approach to ensure the right data is collected in the right way. Results of the national prevalence study and associated next steps will be shared with members of HOC for information should they wish to use the results in any reviews within their respective jurisdictions.

PS also approached other federal partners, including Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Department of Justice, Statistics Canada, and the Department for Women and Gender Equality to understand the key issues that should be considered with respect to SCV to ensure the scope is accurately defined for the prevalence study. The results of these consultations have ensured that the right areas of government remain informed and have input into the development of the study and any policy changes.

PS and CSC are committed to ongoing consultations to ensure that key stakeholders, including other federal departments, provinces and territories, and non-governmental organizations remain informed and have opportunities to provide input that will inform the development of the study and ensuing policy and practice changes. CSC will also seek to engage in discussions with key external non-governmental organizations that provide support in the area of SCV and how they might provide assistance to victims while they are still incarcerated. Further, CSC sees inmates and staff as important stakeholders in this issue and is planning additional consultation activities with them going forward.

Commissioner's Directive on SCV

In response to one of the OCI's recommendations to the Correctional Service of Canada, CSC is currently working to develop a new Commissioner's Directive (CD) and Guidelines (GL) for Health Services staff that will describe in detail how staff must respond when allegations of sexual assault are made, or an incident is suspected of having occurred. The CD and GL will also specify the procedures to be followed in order to prevent, detect, respond to, report, and track such incidents. The draft CD and GL were completed in the Fall of 2021 and a thorough  consultation process will take place with internal and external stakeholders in January 2022, with formal promulgation estimated for spring 2022. While these timelines are estimates, work could be completed sooner and every effort will be made to implement the CD as soon as possible. The development of this new policy is a key step in addressing SCV within federal institutions. Establishing a clear framework for responding to such incidents will help towards ensuring a safe and secure correctional environment as well as fulfilling a key mandate of the Correctional Service of Canada.

Next Steps

In undertaking the aforementioned work, CSC and PS have gathered key information that continues to inform the approach towards addressing SCV in federal corrections. The results of the work to date highlight the significant complexities of the issue and the requirement for a multifaceted response. Building on these initial steps, PS and CSC will continue the ongoing work to develop and implement a new CD to address SCV, review of existing policies and guidelines and working towards the launch of a request for proposals (RFP) for the national prevalence study. These next steps will highlight any additional gaps for action or potential policy and program enhancements that have not already been considered.

Review of Existing Policies and Guidelines

As plans for the national study are taking shape, CSC and PS are working together to conduct a review of existing policies and guidelines to see where action might be taken to address SCV in the federal correctional system immediately.

CSC's Correctional Training Program (CTP) currently has a section that provides an overview of potential high risk behaviour by inmates, including coercion of other inmates to perform sexual acts in return for protection, drugs, or acceptance. In addition, CSC has an alert system that can be turned on in its Offender Management System (OMS) to identify offenders that are either vulnerable to SCV or are perpetrators of SCV. As PS and CSC continue to gather information in support of this work to prevent, detect and respond to SCV, CSC will be reviewing current training, including the CTP, to examine whether that section can be strengthened to provide additional information and guidance for Correctional Officers. In addition, CSC will explore adding SCV content to the Parole Officer Continuous Development training, and the Correctional Manager Training Program; reviewing CSC's New Employee Orientation Program, and exploring mandatory annual training on the issue of SCV and harassment to all frontline Correctional Staff who interact with offenders.

Furthermore, while there are policies and procedures currently in place to respond to incidents of violence and assault (e.g., CD 568-1 – Reporting and Recording of Security Incidents), CSC is committed to ensuring inmates are aware and properly informed on the specific issue of SCV. To that end, CSC is developing easily readable material to increase awareness among inmates about SCV, including who they may contact if they feel they are being victimized. Moreover, CSC has committed to updating the inmate handbook section on sexual harassment to more extensively cover the issue of SCV and will include information about the process of reporting such information and guidance on how to report staff-on-inmate sexual violence.

CSC employees are required to follow the law and CSC policies, including the reporting and investigation of all allegations of SCV. Employees, and specifically managers, have an obligation to contact police immediately regarding any incidents or allegations of misconduct that could constitute a criminal offence. In addition to the range of disciplinary categories CSC tracks including, but not limited to, assault, harassment, and conviction of an indictable offence, CSC is working to further refine data to be more specific as it relates to SCV. CSC has started exploring the development of anonymous reporting tools and will consult with offenders in the development of prevention strategies and reporting approaches for incidents of staff-on-inmate SCV through inmate committees.

CSC will develop a performance measurement strategy to track progress in this area and has made SCV a topic of mandatory discussion at Executive Committee (EXCOM) meetings at least twice a year to ensure continual monitoring and to discuss any necessary changes or adjustments to the strategy.

National Prevalence Study

It is largely known that sexual victimization during incarceration can have serious negative consequences (e.g., depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidal ideation), which may be exacerbated by the correctional environment (e.g., lack of autonomy; long-term and repetitive victimization) (Beck, A. J., Berzofsky, M., Caspar, R., & Kreb, C. (2013); Dumond, R.W. (2000). In addition, there is an increased risk of transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI), which is a significant public health concern due to risk of spread inside and outside prison (Beck, A. J. & Johnson, C. (2012); Hensley, C. (2002).

As previously mentioned, there has only been one nationally representative survey examining SCV against inmates in prisons which is now outdated. This study, conducted by CSC in 1995, was limited to male inmates and did not cover the prevalence of different types of sexual victimization by other inmates and / or staff, or examine groups who have been found to experience higher rates of SCV while incarcerated (e.g., women, LGBTQ2S+, Indigenous peoples).

The objectives of the proposed national prevalence study are to explore the prevalence of sexual victimization (e.g., sexual assault, sexual harassment and other problematic sexual conduct) in Canadian federal institutions, understand the nature and extent of the problem for racialized and at-risk groups (such as women, LGBTQ2S+), and identify possible gaps in existing prevention and intervention plans.

Pilot Study

With the goal of validating the methodology, including the questionnaire, a pilot study is scheduled to begin in spring 2022.

The purpose of the pilot study is to test sampling, recruitment and surveying methodologies to discover any amendments that may be necessary for the roll-out of the national study.
The process and results of the pilot study will:

Information gathered through the pilot study will inform the development and implementation of the national prevalence study, which is slated to begin immediately following completion of the pilot study.

National Study

The national study will provide information on the prevalence of SCV in Canadian federal corrections and will provide a foundation for the consideration of additional policy and program changes to address the issue.

The results of the work undertaken to date underscore that this is an issue around which there is a significant lack of data both in Canada and internationally. It is a sensitive and important topic that requires a considered and thoughtful approach. That is why PS and CSC are taking steps to ensure it is done right the first time. Conducting a pilot study will ensure a sound methodology before implementing nation-wide.

Upon completion of the national prevalence study, a report on findings will be produced for expected release in spring 2023. Results of the prevalence study will be examined to determine if there are additional gaps for action and, where possible, inform further enhancements and adaptations to existing policies and guidelines that have been implemented to address SCV. Pending results of the study, PS and CSC will continue to examine potential areas for action including, but not limited to, those identified by the literature review such as, minimum standards, independent oversight and auditing, additional areas for enhanced training and education related to SCV, and future research plans to grow the existing evidence base.


The concerns raised by the Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) in its 2019-2020 Annual Report regarding sexual coercion and violence are extremely important and both the Department of Public Safety and CSC have undertaken significant steps to advance work to address the issue. This report has served to provide an overview of the work undertaken to date in response to the recommendations made with respect to SCV and outline plans for next steps as PS and CSC turn to implementing enhancements to policies and guidelines and to the collection of reliable national data. The work undertaken to date, and the actions to follow in the coming months, are important pillars in informing our strategy to detect, prevent and respond to SCV in correctional institutions, particularly as it relates to addressing gaps in services for various offender populations, including Indigenous peoples and Black Canadians, women, those with mental illness, and LGBTQ2S+ individuals.

By collaborating with stakeholders and partners, the Correctional Investigator, CSC, PS and the Government of Canada all work toward the same goal: ensuring that Canada's federal correctional system is safe, humane and effective when it comes to rehabilitating offenders, reducing the risk of re-offending, and keeping our communities safe.

PS will continue to work closely with CSC leadership to ensure that progress is made and that we continue to meet the highest standards when it comes to balancing the shared priorities of protecting the physical and mental health, and overall safety, of those in federal custody and maintaining public safety for all Canadians.


Correctional Service of Canada, Correctional Research and Development, Research Division. Summary of Findings of the 1995 CSC National Inmate Survey. Edited by David Robinson and Luisa Mirabelli. March, 1996.

Dumond, Robert W. "Inmate Sexual Assault: The Plague That Persists." The Prison Journal 80, no. 4 (2000): 407-414.

Hensley, Christopher. "Introduction: Life and Sex in Prison". In Prison Sex: Practice and Policy, edited by Christopher Hensley. Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002.

"JustFacts: Sexual Assault". Department of Justice Canada, Research and Statistics Division online. April, 2019.

"JustFacts: Victimization of Indigenous Women and Girls". Department of Justice Canada, Research and Statistics Division online. July, 2017.

Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. Experiences of violent victimization and unwanted sexual behaviours among gay, lesbian, bisexual and other sexual minority people, and the transgender population, in Canada, 2018. Edited by Brianna Jaffray. September, 2020.

Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. Gender-based violence and unwanted sexual behaviour in Canada, 2018: Initial findings from the Survey in Public and Private Spaces. December 2019.

Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2019. Edited by Greg Moreau, Brianna Jaffray and Amelia Armstrong. October, 2020.

U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011-12. Edited by Allen J. Beck, Marcus Berzofsky, Rachel Caspar, and Christopher Krebs. May, 2013.

U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Sexual Victimization Reported by Former State Prisoners, 2008. Edited by Allen J. Beck and Candace Johnson. May, 2012.

Wolff, Nancy. "An International Review of the Prison Sexual Violence Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Policy Literature with Recommendations for a Canadian Federal Plan of Action". May, 2021.

Annex AFootnote 1

Prison Sexual Violence: An International Review
Executive Summary

Definition of Sexual Violence. Sexual violence is any intentionally harmful act, contact, or behavior that is sexual in nature. There are three types of sexual violence: nonconsensual sexual acts (forced sexual acts commonly referred to as sexual assault or rape), abusive sexual contact (intentional touching of private parts of the body), and sexual harassment (bullying, ridicule, voyeurism, degrading body searches). Any sexual violence against a prison residentFootnote 2 by another prison resident is called resident-on-resident sexual violence. Sexual violence against prison residents by correctional staff is staff sexual misconductFootnote 3.

Nature of the Problem. Sexual violence, independent of its location, is a human rights issue with an expensive set of public health consequences. Incarcerated people, under international law, are entitled to protection against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. State officials and their surrogates have a legal and moral obligation to ensure that the human rights of incarcerated people are protected.

Prevalence of Prison-based Sexual Violence. Over the past fifty years, approximately fifty studies have estimated rates of sexual violence for prisons located around the world. Eighteen of the twenty studies published prior to 2004 were conducted in the U.S. According to these studies, rates of sexual violence in U.S. prisons varied from zero percent to 40 percent, with an average lifetime prevalence of 1.9 percent. International evidence on prison-based sexual violence for prison systems in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States has estimated prevalence rates ranging from one percent to 11.0 percent, with an (unweighted) average of 5.8 percent. Generalizing this average rate, approximately 600,000 incarcerated people worldwide experience sexual violence while incarcerated.

GenderFootnote 4 Differences in Prison-Based Sexual Violence.  The international evidence consistently finds higher rates of resident-on-resident sexual violence for female residents compared to male residents, while rates of staff sexual misconduct are higher for male residents than female residents (i.e., male residents compared to female residents are more likely to be victims of staff sexual misconduct).

Main Findings from Prison-based Sexual Violence Surveys. The survey evidence consistently shows that: prison-based sexual violence is widespread and unevenly distributed across prisons; only a small fraction of sexual assaults are officially reported; staff sexual misconduct is most prevalent followed by nonconsensual sexual acts; women are at greater risk for some types of sexual violence, while men are at greater risk for other types; and transgendered residents and those with mental illnesses and prior abuse histories are at highest risk for sexual violence while incarcerated. 

Large-scale Studies of Prison Systems. Large scale sexual violence surveys of prison residents have been conducted in Australia and the United States and yield valid and reliable estimates of prison sexual violence that can be used to inform public policies and institutional standards and practices for harm prevention. The methods underpinning these surveys in terms of sample selection, response rates, survey design and content are examples of best practices for national data collection on prison-based sexual violence.

State of the International Evidence Base. Since 2000, twenty-eight reports (3 in Australia; 8 in the Europe; 17 in the U.S) estimated rates of prison-based sexual violence. Most of these reports are based on small samples (less than 1000 residents, n=20) and fewer than five prisons (n=12). Combined, these studies produced prevalence estimates ranging from less than one percent to 26.0 percent. Six methodological challenges undermine the validity and reliability of this evidence:  sensitive nature of the topic, study recruitment bias, variable recall periods, variable interview modalities, validity of reporting, and sample size and question design (these challenges are discussed in Section 1, pages 14-15).

Best Practices for Survey Data Collection. Studies of sexual violence yielding the most representative and generalizable prevalence estimates are those that include a representative random probability sample of prisons within a prison system, samples large enough to detect low probability events, response rates in excess of 60 percent, reflection timeframes of six to twelve months, surveys administered using computer-assisted self-interviewing (CASI) software under the direct supervision of research staff, and survey questionnaires inclusive of a broad set of questions about resident health and welfare and very specific questions about resident-on-resident nonconsensual sexual acts, abusive sexual contact, and sexual harassment and staff sexual misconduct.

Risk Factors for Prison-based Sexual Violence. Characteristics most often found to significantly and consistently predict prison-based sexual violence are: prior sexual victimization, particularly childhood abuse; behavioral health problems, especially mental illness; offense type, specifically having a sex offense charge; sexual orientation and identity; and younger age. Residents reporting serious psychological stress who identified as non-heterosexual recorded the highest rates of resident-on-resident sexual violence (21%) and staff sexual misconduct (10.5%).

State of the Evidence of Prison-based Sexual Violence in Canada. Canadian evidence on prison-based sexual violence is notably thin and idiosyncratic. It lacks the scientific rigor and legitimacy of evidence collected in the U.S. and Australia. To date, there has only been one small effort in 1995 on behalf of the Canadian government to collect reliable and valid sexual violence data from prison residents through a national inmate survey. Of the 4,285 male residents completing the survey in 1995, three percent reported being sexually assaulted and six percent reported being pressured for sex. Female residents were not included in the national inmate survey conducted in 1995. The "evidence" pieced together since then from official reports of sexual allegations by residents and newspaper accounts of lawsuits filed by residents and staff alleging sexual violence, harassment, and misconduct challenges the presumption that Canadian prisons are relatively safe and any sexual violence is rare. By not rigorously collecting data to validate this presumption of safety and rarity, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is signaling that the "tip of the iceberg" sexual violence evidence for Canadian prisons is not sufficiently compelling to enlist the benefits of objective, scientific inquiry to assure, in fact, that the people who live and work inside federal correctional facilities are free from sexual harassment, violence, and misconduct.

Zero Tolerance Policies Against Sexual Violence. Only the U.S. has a specific zero tolerance policy against sexual violence. This policy, called the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), was passed in 2003 but, due to bureaucratic delays, was not fully implemented until 2017. Canada endorsed the Standard of Minimum Rules (SMRs) (aka Nelson Mandala Rules) and, through this endorsement, committed itself to comply with and implement these rules as standard practice. Many of the general and specific SMRs overlap the standards set forth in PREA. The only difference is that the PREA standards are specific to sexual violence, while SMRs are general to human rights protections and specifically address torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment, which is inclusive of sexual violence. Even without PREA-like legislation, Canadian correctional officials could interpret and implement the SMRs in concert with the intent and rigor of the PREA legislative mandate in an effort to stop prison sexual violence. But, only if SMRs are legislated through domestic law will they become enforceable as the Canadian government is not bound by international standards.

Effectiveness of PREA. There have been no national or state-specific evaluations of the effectiveness of PREA on reducing prison-based sexual violence. PREA was designed to eliminate prison rape by establishing practice-based standards for facilities that seek to prevent, detect, respond, and monitor custodial sexual violence and audit facilities for their compliance. There were no national outcome-based performance standards set for PREA. Since the implementation of PREA, there has been an increase in allegations of prison-based sexual violence but the prevalence of self-reported sexual violence by prison residents has held steady at approximately four percent from 2007 to 2012. The increase in official reports of sexual violence may be an indicator of PREA's effectiveness. That the prevalence of sexual violence has not significantly declined nationally may reflect the incomplete implementation of PREA. As of 2017, only nineteen states had fully adopted PREA standards, while another 34 states and territories were advancing toward compliance. Some prisons continue to have rates of sexual violence and staff misconduct significantly above the national average while others are embroiled in litigation around allegations of sexual misconduct by correctional staff.

Strengths and Limitations of PREA. PREA has both strengths and limitations. Five of the most noteworthy strengths are: it defined sexual violence comprehensively to include the nonconsensual sexual acts and abusive sexual contact by residents against other residents and sexual misconduct by staff; it made sexual violence a top priority for the correctional system; it funded and guided the on-going collection of reliable data on the size and nature of the problem; it made major investments in safer prisons; and it motivated lasting cultural change within prisons. The five most notable limitations are: enforcement of compliance is weak; there is lack of accountability regarding the consequences for staff sexual misconduct; there is no private cause of action (Congress, under PREA, did not give residents a private right of action to sue facilities for their failure to comply with PREA standards i.e., residents cannot sue claiming violations under PREA); the exhaustion clause (requires residents to exhaust the facility's grievance process before seeking relief in the courts) discourages reporting sexual violence; and the inadvertent application of PREA to consensual sex.   

Potential Federal Action Plan for Canada. If Canada were to launch an initiative to eliminate custodial sexual violence, the first step would entail clearly and comprehensively defining sexual violence and then creating a national portrait of the problem through the commission of several scientifically rigorous surveys of both official records (reported allegations of sexual violence) and prison residents and staff (self-report). The portrait, reflective of the starting definition, would gain in focus and fullness if the right data were collected in the right way. For CSC to advance a credible policy effort to eliminate sexual violence, the following would be needed: (1) a definition of (sexual) violence; (2) a national survey of violence using best practice methodology; (3) a set of minimum standards that demonstrates a clear understanding that: sexual violence is perpetrated by residents and staff, prison cultureFootnote 5 sustains and perpetuates sexual violence, and power asymmetries deter reporting and hinder prevention; (4) a timeline for full compliance with a set of graduated penalties and rewards for complianceFootnote 6; (5) an independent agency (possibly the OCI) tasked with external oversight and auditing compliance; (6) a combination of content-based training and education on (sexual) violence and zero tolerance standards and training modules based on principles of cognitive behavior therapy to change attitudes that support and perpetuate (sexual) violence; and (7) a rational research plan that sets research priorities to grow the evidence base to meet the needs of the zero tolerance policy and a funded research initiative that incentivizes academic and correctional agencies to collaborate around the conduct of research that addresses the prevention, deterrence, response, and investigation of custodial sexual violence and trauma-informed treatment of those who have been victims. Such a plan might be tasked to Public Safety Canada to develop and maintain corrections-academic partnerships with academic institutions to rigorously study custodial sexual violence.

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