Valery Borshchev: “Do not be afraid, we are with you.” On a project of the Social Partnership Foundation

28 May 2020

Valery Borshchev, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

A project entitled “Do not be afraid, we are with you” is being implemented by the Social Partnership Foundation. On 27 May 2020, in the context of the project, an online seminar was held on the protection of the rights of prisoners with lowered social status (so-called ‘rejects’ or ‘outcasts’ [prisoners who suffer regular sexual abuse in prison – ed.]). It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the subject of the seminar. A person, especially an adolescent, who has ended up in prison is already at risk for the rest of his life. And someone crippled by sexual violence, by constant humiliation of his human dignity, is placed on the brink of survival.

The problem of torture in prisons is widely known, as a system it has been diagnosed and is being combatted. And although Russia has not adopted a law on torture, nevertheless experienced human rights activists and lawyers bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Committee against Torture. But for sexual violence in prisons, abuse, the lowering of a person to the very bottom of the prison pecking order, the destruction of his personality and human dignity, driving him to suicide – there is no accountability. This humiliating abuse goes unpunished, goes on unabated, and the caste system is indestructible. In this hierarchy you can go down to the very bottom, to the caste of ‘outcasts and ‘rejects’ in a single day, but it’s impossible to rise out of it. Such is the ruthless caste system of the prison. It was established in the 1980s, and according to those who understand it, it is indestructible. 

Human rights activists and members of the Public Oversight Commissions who are engaged in defending human rights in prisons, constantly encounter victims of sexual violence. In spite of the fact that these facts are carefully hidden both by the victims themselves and the prison authorities, the presence of such groups of the ‘insulted and humiliated’ is clear to experienced human rights activists, it is enough to look around prisoners’ living quarters in order to define this category. Their sleeping quarters are separately located, their dining tables are separate, their crockery has to be stored separately so that it doesn’t get mixed with that of the other prisoners. This category of prisoner is used for dirty work and more – to act as prostitutes in the prison. Experienced prisoners, recidivists, specially prepare all new arrivals who belong to this category, most often starting with adolescents.

The ‘inspecting’ prisoner decides who is to be raped, and gives the instruction. And the investigative authorities, the prison administration, take advantage here by manipulating these people who are weak in spirit. And any attempts by prison authorities to violate this unwritten code of prison subculture lead to conflict and often to unrest in the prisons.

But something has to be done about it. And the first thing is not to be silent! To publicise what it is that thousands of victims are silent about.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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