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Understanding Rape in Prison

NCJ Number
Hallie Martyniuk
Date Published
April 2014
24 pages
This is a comprehensive overview of the prevalence of rape in prison, with a focus on Pennsylvania prisons, along with the features of prison culture and inmate attitudes that facilitate prison rapes.
After a brief review of studies of the prevalence of rape in custodial facilities, both male and female, this paper notes that regardless of the accuracy of the statistics, it is clear that there is a pervasive fear of such victimization, and this dominates inmate social interactions in prison. The discussion of what constitutes sexual assault includes the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections definition, which is "any acts or attempts to commit acts which involve sexual contact, sexual abuse or assault, the intentional touching, either directly or through clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thighs, or buttocks." The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections prohibits any form of sexual harassment or sexual contact with an inmate. After reviewing the prevalence and features of prohibited sexual contact in prison, the paper considers characteristics of the prison culture that influence inmate sexual behavior. Prison culture has a defined social category known as homosexual, but all inmates who engage in same-sex behavior are not considered homosexual. Prison culture distinguishes the category of homosexual into groups known as "homosexuals," "gays," "queens," and "straights." These categories are defined. This is followed by a discussion of "sexual violence in the prison environment," which states that first-person accounts suggest that many rape attempts are perpetrated against young, newly incarcerated individuals who lack experience with violence or prison culture. This section also discusses motivating factors for sexual behavior, consensual versus coerced or forced sex, protective pairing, and bartering and trading for sex. Other topics addressed in this paper are sexual assault among female inmates and juvenile inmates, victim reporting of sexual assault, common reactions of inmates to sexual victimization, and the characteristics of sexually aggressive inmates. 37 references