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Society & Culture

The Rape Ward at Tehran’s Rajai Shahr Prison

January 21, 2016
Fereshteh Nasehi
5 min read
The Rape Ward at Tehran’s Rajai Shahr Prison

The Juvenile Ward at Rajai Shahr Prison near Tehran is infamous for being a secure paradise for sexual predators — inmates who rape other, usually young, prisoners, often also forcing them to be their indentured servants.

Young inmates in this ward are aged between 18 and 25 years old, making them enticing targets for vicious and dangerous prisoners often housed in Ward 6. Most of these older prisoners have spent a long time behind bars, and many of them will never have a chance to have normal sexual relations again. Many of them routinely use threats and terror, or promises of money and illegal drugs, to get their way with the inmates of Ward 11, which houses juvenile offenders.

“The situation was so bad that until a few years ago the Prison Organization distributed free condoms to the dangerous prisoners’ ward to stem the tide of sexually transmitted diseases,” said a political prisoner who is currently serving a long term at Rajai Shahr’s Security Ward. Other inmates serving lengthy sentences also tell stories about how drug gangs — or even prison officials assigned to the juvenile ward  — abuse the inmates of Ward 11. In the past, some officials have been dismissed in connection with sexual abuse, but the practice continues. 

The most notorious ward at Rajai Shahr is the so-called Murderers Ward, which houses inmates sentenced to death. The ward is not equipped with CCTV or any other cameras and hallways are not monitored. Every day, scenes of violence break out on the ward, and every month there are multiple reports of injuries and serous assaults. Here, it is often a struggle for a prisoner just to stay alive. Each inmate must look out for himself, especially if he is unable to join a gang for whatever reason. The price of not being cautious is often assault and battery.

Reza is one inmate who knows a lot about the Murderers Ward firsthand, having been transferred there on more than one occasion as a form of punishment. “In the past, sexual assaults on young men — which they call ‘taking a bride’ — has been more pervasive,” he said. “But nowadays, if a thug wants sexual relations, he finds a regular partner, compensating him for his sexual services by providing protection. Cash bribery does not work so well these days. Once, I even saw a youngster consent to sex in exchange for a pack of cigarettes. But generally, it is essential that young inmates find someone to protect them from bullies.”


“Kids”, “Dogs” and the “Betrothed”

Young inmates who consent to sexual relations are called “kids.” A kid’s role is not only to provide sexual services. He lives with his partner like a spouse, does his chores and is at his beck and call, like a fulltime assistant.

“The ‘kid’ reserves a spot for his protector in the line for a shower and stays outside the bathroom in case he needs something,” Reza said. “I remember that one of these thugs was put in solitary confinement because he had bribed the guards to transfer his ‘kid’ to his cell so that he would not get lonely. As well as ‘kids,’ some thugs also have ‘dogs’. A‘dog’ is a prison nickname for a guard or guards who protect the bully, providing him with drugs, mobile phones and other things. Of course, these guard are paid for their services and make good money.”

“Those who engage in sodomy take a ‘betrothed,’ who acts exactly like a spouse,” said Mohammad-Ali, an inmate at Sepidar Prison in Ahvaz. “The betrothed is under the protection of the rapist and nobody else can touch him or violate him. Of course, there are not many of these kind of bullies in each ward, because generally bullies don’t tolerate competition on their own turf. You find them more often in wards where people have been sentenced to death or are serving long prison terms. The Prison Organization distributes condoms to these wards to prevent the spread of AIDS and other venereal diseases.”

I asked Reza what would happen if a victim complained to prison officials. “Practically nothing!” Reza said. “They would tell him: ‘you must have wanted it.’ The only thing that they might do is transfer the victim to another ward, but only if he really persists and follows it up.”

Rajai Shahr Prison stands out from among other prisons, known to be the worst for rape and sexual assault. Inmates there testify that for years, rape and sexual slavery have been staples, part of normal, ordinary prison life.



“In the past, bullies and prison gangs divided newly-arrived youngsters among themselves and, like ISIS, made them their sexual slaves,” another former inmate said. “But now it is more customary to take them as ‘brides,’ and perhaps even rent them out as sex workers to others. Prison officials never lift a finger to protect the victims, and they don’t confront the dangerous criminals, who are usually armed with knives and other weapons. A prisoner has nobody but himself. Once I heard a ward sentry push a prisoner into the ward of dangerous criminals and say, ’Look, I have a bride for you!’ I am not exaggerating. One of interrogators’ customary threats is: ’We will send you to a ward where you cannot keep your pants up.’”

Another political prisoner told IranWire that interrogators often say things like: “Our forms of torture are a hundred times less severe than what you would suffer in the wards of dangerous criminals and murderers. Either cooperate with us, or we will send you there, and tell them to kill you after raping you. Because they are desperate to find a weakling and kill him so that the death sentence against them will be delayed for a further five years.”

“Not that they carry out the threat,” the prisoner said, “but it puts political prisoners under enormous psychological pressure.”

The situation in Soroush Detention Center (formerly Kahrizak) is also said to be dire, with inmates reporting similar assaults and bullying. 

Prison officials at Evin Prison are sometimes alerted to sexual assaults too, though the situation is somewhat different there. Guards conduct night-time inspections in the prison. If they catch two naked prisoners in the same bunk, they add “sodomy” to the charges against them — a charge that can lead to further trouble for the prisoners involved.


Read more in the series:

Iran's Political Prisoners: It helps to have a US passport 

An Unlikely Classroom: Learning English in an Iranian Prison

A Baha’i Brought an Al Qaeda Man in from the Cold 

Saved from the Gallows: The Passports that get you out of Iranian Jails 


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