When Keith DeBlasio entered federal prison in Milan, Michigan, in February 1996, he hoped to serve his five years in relative peace. But during his first 10 weeks, his stocky and musclebound cellmate terrorized him.

DeBlasio, convicted of passing $200,000 in forged cashier's checks across state lines, said there was only one officer for every 150 inmates in his dorm. "When the [prison] officer would go downstairs," he said, "there was no one to see us upstairs."

His cellmate, leader of the Vice Lords prison gang, threatened to stab DeBlasio, then 28, to death if he didn't submit to sex. Over time the man raped DeBlasio 20 to 30 times.

When DeBlasio was released in February 2001, he had contracted the virus that leads to AIDS.

In July Congress passed the first federal legislation to curb sexual assault in the nation's prisons and jails—a problem that appears to be worsening. Scholars estimate that as many as 400,000 inmates, the vast majority of them men, have been sexually assaulted at least once.

Christian leaders were in the forefront of consciousness-raising on the issue. "No matter what crime somebody has committed," Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson has said, "no part of his sentence should include being sexually assaulted, exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS and hepatitis C, or degraded."

On July 21 the U.S. Senate unanimously passed S. 1435, the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. The House, again unanimously, passed a companion bill on July 25, appropriating $40 million for grant funding to prevent male rape, $15 million for training correctional officers, and $5 million for installing the commission.

President Bush signed the measure into law on September 4.

Christian groups played a key role ...

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