Girly Thoughts

April 3, 2008

My Blog Against Sexual Violence post

Filed under: American politics,Gender,LGBTQ,Race,sexual assault,what they said — judgesnineteen @ 10:46 am

FYI, I just wrote about consent and managed to get four posts out of the topic of victim-blaming, starting here. I have a feeling those are of higher quality than this is going to be, but I’m gonna give it a shot.

This isn’t about the suggested topic; it’s not even about something I know much about. It’s about prison rape. Specifically, prison rape in the US, because I’m talking about US politics and I don’t know how widespread the problem is in which other countries.

Prison rape is the butt of a lot of jokes. Even that Date Rape song, remember? The song was notably against date rape, but the guy couldn’t seem to muster up any pity for the date rapist, “even though he now takes it in the behind.”

Look, it’s fun to try to sing the end of that song as fast as you can and everything, but rape is rape, and it’s always wrong. Since I’m not very well informed on this issue myself, I’m just going to list a few links that give information on the problem, and then bring up some points that I think are important when approaching the issue.

Stop Prisoner Rape

Human Rights Watch report

Government statistics

1. Can a person lose human rights?

I think a lot of our political debates in the US currently revolve around this question. When a person commits a crime, or does something irresponsible or stupid or something you consider immoral, do they deserve punishment? Is it ok to violate some of their human rights in that punishment? Does punishing them really accomplish anything – make them less likely to commit crime in the future, make other people less likely to commit crime? Punishing people assuages our anger, and it looks like a determined attempt to lower crime rates. But if it doesn’t lower crime rates, do we want to do it anyway? “They deserve it” people say. …So? If it doesn’t help society, why do I have to care what you think they “deserve”?

In any case, no one deserves for their human rights to be violated. For a country that prides itself on being so “civilized”, we allow a lot of torture, in our regular prisons as well as Guantanamo. There’s no excuse for that. None.

2. What are the problems facing men who are raped and where do these problems come from?

Rape can be hard to prove, no matter what. Then, it can be hard to get sympathy for the victim. If it’s hard to get sympathy for a girl whose “crime” was drinking at a party, imagine how hard it is to get sympathy for a grown man who committed a felony. (Of course, this should be beside the point – human rights are human rights and they include the right not to be raped.) On top of that, it can be very difficult for men to admit that they were raped. If their rapist was a woman (rare, but possible), it’s embarrassing because men are supposed to be stronger than women. If their rapist was a man, it’s embarrassing because some people will say that makes them gay (remember, erections and ejaculation don’t always mean a guy was aroused) and gay still has bad connotations in many people’s eyes. In other words, being raped compromises a man’s masculinity, as defined by the patriarchy. You get what I’m saying – the rape of men is a feminist issue. This isn’t news to feminists, although I think some of them should spend a little more time on it, but I’m highlighting it as a way of explaining feminism to non-feminists.

Myths on Male Rape – everything here looks good except I’m not sure if more male prison rapes than female rapes in general occur. Stats of both are hard to get anyway, though, and both happen a lot, which is all that we really need to know. Also, remember that male rape doesn’t just happen in prison, but anywhere, like with female rape. A really important fact is that many men who rape men identify as heterosexual, which highlights the fact that rape, of men or women, is not about just really wanting sex, it’s about domination.

Female on female rape occurs in prisons, too. I just thought this was an appropriate time to bring up the poorly understood issue of male on male rape.

3. What about trans people who get raped?

Trans people are at an elevated risk of rape, probably everywhere, but especially in prison, as they may be put in a prison that corresponds to their sex and not to their gender. Putting a female-identified person in a cell with angry men in a situation where we already know rape happens is a bad idea, no? Seems pretty obvious to me, but in this case the court assumed that the guards were stupid and didn’t hold them accountable. Not terribly surprising, given how much our country seems to care about any kind of prison rape.

I was told by someone who works with rape survivors that the rape of a trans person is suspected to be an attempted homicide. Some people seriously hate trans people (tells you we’re a little too attached to our concept of male and female, no?) and trans people need adequate protection. But when even the courts don’t like you…

Here’s the Survivor Project, which is anti-oppression in general and specifically for intersex and trans survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence.

4. Why do our prisons suck so much?

I don’t know what it is about our prisons that makes it so easy for people to get away with rape. That would be worth figuring out, because we need to do something as quickly as possible to protect people. But the problem of our prisons is much bigger than that. We have several times more prisoners per capita than Western European countries. Our prisons are bad at rehabilitating criminals – in fact, they tend to make criminals more violent (an understandable reaction to being raped with impunity and deprived of a healthy social life).

Here’s Ezra Klein saying basically everything I was going to say. Check the op-ed he links to, where he says “Occasionally, we even admit that prison rape is a quietly honored part of the punishment structure for criminals.” I’m afraid that might be exactly why it’s allowed to continue.

Samhita highlights how unfair our prison system is to people of color.

A lot of crime happens due to poverty. We can either lock up poor people, or spend the same money making their lives better and have more productive citizens and less prisoners. A lot of crime happens because of drug addictions. We can either lock up drug addicts, or help them break the addiction. Why don’t we do this in the first place? (The answer, of course, can be found under number 1: because some people are so attached to the idea of being tough on criminals and punishing them, without ever questioning whether punishment is the appropriate response to certain kinds of crime.)

Ok, I just realized that Criminon, the organization I just linked to, is inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, the guy who made up founded Scientology, and it may use principles of Scientology. So, I’m not sure I support that particular organization. But still, education, prevention, help out of the cycle, that’s what we need to be doing. And for the love of Xenu, we need to make prisons safer whenever they are used.



  1. Isn’t the goal of our prison system supposed to be rehabilitation? Yeah, if that’s so, then why isn’t prisoner safety taken more seriously? Hmm…

    Comment by Amelia — April 3, 2008 @ 4:44 pm | Reply

  2. This is a great contribution to the Blog Against Sexual Violence day. Thanks for writing it.

    I think many people’s attitudes about prison rape are related to the ideas behind the belief that some female rape victims deserve to be raped. In both scenarios the victim has done something which brings rape upon themselves — for women it is drinking and for men it is being a felon.

    Comment by abyss2hope — April 4, 2008 @ 2:55 am | Reply

  3. Thanks! I agree, I think some people feel most comfortable believing that rape is either deserved or wanted.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — April 4, 2008 @ 8:44 am | Reply

  4. You raise some great points about issues our culture needs to address re: rape.

    I think a really important this to point out about male-male rape in prisons (which, from a reportage basis, is where they mostly happen) is that it too is about power and control that is part of Western construction of masculinity. So even though male-female and male-male rape seem like two different “kinds” and clearly occur in vastly different frequencies, they both hearken back to the issue of rape as about control, power, dominance, and masculinity, rather than about sex or attraction.

    And a lot of the problem with getting good stats on male-male rape is that, like you said, many don’t want to admit it, because then it would be admitting to “gay sex” and the fear that other men might think they liked it. This also goes back to the way that homophobia is a large part of how we produce hetero masculinity, and how sexism and heterosexism are very mushc implicated in each other. The trans issue comes into play here too.

    Comment by lindabeth — April 5, 2008 @ 8:25 pm | Reply

  5. Thanks for the comment! I totally agree. I’ve been thinking a lot about how tied up sexism and heterosexism and cissexism are…I feel like there’s something in it that I’m missing, but anyway, they definitely are.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — April 5, 2008 @ 10:41 pm | Reply

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