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Taboos around sex are harmful for Belgian prisoners: survey

Breaking taboos about sexuality behind bars could improve prisoner health and safety, survey found. Credit: Pixabay

The sexual and psychological health of Belgian inmates is being harmed by the taboo surrounding open conversations about their sexuality, according to a recent survey conducted in Belgian prisons.

A survey of 122 male inmates in ten different prisons in the country found that the issue of their sexuality was too often left unaddressed, leading to situations of abuse or violence to remain under the radar.

While 6% of the inmates surveyed said they had been forced to engage in sexual acts “at least once,” a quarter said that they did not speak up about it.

The taboo means prisons are unable to help some inmates caught in situations of sexual abuse, the survey, carried out by researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), found.

“That is why it’s so important that sexuality is discussed in prison,” researcher Glenn Boulanger said, adding: “sexuality is just as important for people in prison as for people outside.”

Approximately 6.7% of inmates surveyed, most of whom were described as gay, had had voluntary sexual contact with fellow prisoners. In “rare” cases, some of them had agreed to these encounters in exchange for drugs, food or protection.

In order to meet their sexual needs, the survey found that some prisoners resorted to contacting sex workers, while a large majority said they masturbated or watched pornographic material at least once a week.

Prisoners who declared to be the most satisfied with their sex lives behind bars were those eligible to receive unsupervised two-hour visits from their partners at least once a month.

Three-quarter of prisoners say that the visits have a positive effect on their well-being, but, in order to receive them, inmates must prove that they have been in a relationship for at least six months.

While positive, inmates said the visits were nevertheless negatively impacted by “unnecessary contacts” between their visitors and prison staff or other inmates.

Working to break the taboo surrounding sexuality in prisons would improve the overall health of prisoners and facilitate conditions for them to engage in safe sexual contacts and relationships.

Additionally, it would also ensure they receive adequate protection against sexual violence, the researchers said.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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