This Article highlights a systematic bias in the academic, correctional, and human rights discourse that constitutes the basis for prison rape policy reform. This discourse focuses almost exclusively on sexual abuse perpetrated by men: sexual abuse of male prisoners by fellow inmates, and sexual abuse of women prisoners by male staff. But since 2007, survey and correctional data have indicated that the main perpetrators of prison sexual abuse seem to be women. In men’s facilities, inmates report much more sexual victimization by female staff than by male inmates; in women’s facilities, inmates report much higher rates of sexual abuse by fellow inmates than by male or female staff. These findings contravene conventional gender expectations, and are barely acknowledged in contemporary prison rape discourse, leading to policy decisions that are too sanguine about the likelihood of female-perpetrated sexual victimization. The selective blindness of prison rape discourse to counter-stereotypical forms of abuse illuminates a pattern of reasoning I describe as “stereotype reconciliation,” an unintentional interpretive trend by which surprising, counter-stereotypical facts are reconciled with conventional gender expectations. The authors of prison rape discourse tend to ignore these counter-stereotypical facts or to invoke alternative stereotypes, such as heterosexist notions of romance or racialized rape tropes, in ways that tend to rationalize their neglect of counter-stereotypical forms of abuse and reconcile those abuses with conventional expectations of masculine domination and feminine submission.
Civil Rights and Discrimination | Criminal Law | Law | Law and Gender | Law Enforcement and Corrections | Sexuality and the Law
Date of this Version
Kim S. Buchanan, "Engendering Rape" (September 2012). University of Southern California Legal Studies Working Paper Series. Working Paper 93.