Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Prison Rape: Myths and Realities

with 2 comments

USC law professor Kim Shayo Buchanan has a (relatively) recent article about sexual violence behind bars, which you can download here. UC-Davis law professor Angela P. Harris calls the article “a tour de force of critical legal theory.” Here’s Harris discussing Buchanan’s findings, over at Jotwell:

Buchanan’s observations about the taken-for-grantedness of sexual violence in prison and the seeming complacency about it in the outside world eerily recall a time when women who were raped would routinely be blamed for dressing too provocatively. Her analysis of how male victims of sexual violence are similarly ignored, disbelieved, held responsible, or told that it must have been consensual clearly draws on second-wave feminist analysis. Buchanan also draws on this analysis when she shows how the world of prisons and jails is as effectively shielded from legal scrutiny as was the home in an earlier era. Then, as now, the creation of a “private” sphere free from legal intervention made room for an informal order patrolled by patriarchal violence.

Finally, Buchanan’s article is about a racialized sex/gender panic on the part of white men that crystallizes in the joke I repeated at the beginning of this review (and hundreds of variations scattered throughout popular culture). In her fascinating cultural history, Manliness and Civilization, Gail Bederman suggests that the male fantasy of vulnerability to rape by a “big black dude” may have its roots in the late nineteenth century, when white male masculinity entered a period of crisis from which it has never fully emerged. Buchanan demonstrates that the fantasy persists as a “myth” about prison rape – the belief held by experts as well as laypersons that the perpetrators of prison rape are disproportionately black and the victims disproportionately white. There is no good evidence to believe that prison rape is raced in this way. Yet the fantasy persists.

To learn more about the issue of prison rape, visit the website of Just Detention International.

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Written by sara

January 10, 2012 at 11:31 am

2 Responses

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  1. My 140 lb white son with slightly less than a year to go was celled with a 300 lb black lifer who raped him five days after they were celled together. I am not a racist. I have no idea what the proportion of black on white male rape is compared to the opposite. Personally I believe it has more to do with the prisons than the people involved. We are still going to court over this two years later and my son has been released last year.

    flora victor

    January 11, 2012 at 10:06 pm

  2. As a criminal Justice major @ CSUB we are “taught” that -all- inmates engage in homosexual activity and are subjected to a barrage of Bubba jokes by out Criminal Law Professor and past Department Chair incarceration is refereed to as “50000 new girl friends…” The current Chair shared employment in the Texas Correction System with the past chair and they both take offense to complaints filed by women. I find it appalling that any violations perpetrated on inmates would be taught at a state university as acceptable to the point of humorous!

    Kathleen Michelet

    April 5, 2012 at 9:04 pm


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