Since sexual violence is one of the principal weapons of policing and punishing perceived sexual deviance and gender nonconformity on the outside, it may come as no surprise that it’s wielded to even greater effect in the highly controlled and violent environment of modern prisons.
Studies indicate that as many as one in four female prisoners and one in five male prisoners are subjected to some form of sexual violence at the hands of prison staff and other prisoners. In a study done by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 60,500 adults or 4.5 percent of the prison population were sexually abused in 2007 alone, while 3,220 or 12 percent of youth incarcerated in juvenile detention centers were sexually violated by a staff member, or by another youth within the first twelve months of their admission.
While sexual violence is, in many respects, part of the daily prison experience for many inmates, whether they are victims, perpetrators, or forced observers, LGBT people are disproportionately targeted by staff and prisoners. Prisoners and detainees who are, or perceived to be gay, transgender, or gender nonconforming are more likely to be sexually assaulted, coerced, and harassed that their heterosexual and gender-conforming counterparts.
Female transgender prisoners are the ultimate target for sexual assault and rape. In the 1970’s transgender women were classified as mentally ill, and therefore generally housed in the prison infirmary. Prison officials would at times take them, highly medicated, and placed them in cells with violent or troubled male inmates for the night. Incarcerated women are more likely to be sexually abused by staff than by other prisoners. Women including transgender women, suffer from additional forms of sexual degradation and harassment from penal officials who routinely subject them to excessive abusive and invasive searches, groping their breast, buttocks, or genitalia, repeatedly leering at them while they shower, disrobe, or use the bathroom. Some transgender women reported being subjected to strip searches and frisks four to five times a day. Such searchers are conducted merely to satisfy a guard of medical staff’s curiosity regarding a person’s genitalia, often this is justified as necessary for determination of appropriate placement in sex-segregated facilities.
Prisoners and inmates who report sexual violence not only fails to receive protection; they are frequently subject to retaliation from penal officials and other prisoners for reporting the abuse. LGBT victims of sexual violence are often written up for violating the rules banning consensual sex, which leads to disciplinary action. In many institutions, those who report he or she has been raped are placed in solitary confinement. It sends the message to inmates that reporting the assault will only lead to further punishment.
Title: Queer Injustices: The Widespread Sexual Abuse LGBT People Face in Prison
Author: Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock
Source: AlterNet, March 11, 2011
Student Researcher: Yuliana Zamudio, Sonoma State University
Faculty Advisor: Peter Phillips, Sonoma State University