Sexual violence is structured into capitalism. The normalising of prison rape proves that sexual assault is less about gender relations and more about the exertion of power and control.
According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 200,000 people were sexually assaulted in American detention facilities in 2011 alone. That means a prisoner in the US is 30 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than a woman outside of prison. These assaults are not included in national crime statistics. Prison rape is not treated as a crime but as an expected consequence of imprisonment.
Prison staff, both male and female, are the primary perpetrators of prison rape. In 2010 more than 10 percent of youngsters living in juvenile halls and group homes reported being sexually assaulted by staff, and 92 percent identified their assailant as a woman. Both male and female inmates are targeted for sexual assault. The same factors that make people vulnerable in the outside world are magnified in the prison system.
As one writer put it, “Every sickness and pathology in American life — misogyny, homophobia, a legacy of racism and slavery — is amplified in patterns of prison sexual violence.”
On film and television prison rape is treated as expected, laughable, deserved, and appropriate for those who behave badly. Promoting rape as punishment condones rape. Normalising rape in prison normalises rape outside of it. Dismissing prison rape because the victims “asked for it” or “had it coming” makes it easier to dismiss all rape victims.
Restricting our view of sexual assault to male-female relations misses the bigger picture — that sexual assault is integral to capitalism, being just one of the ways that the more powerful subdue the less powerful.
Susan Rosenthal, Canada