I’m often frustrated by some of the issue coverage at Feministe, though I also envy some of the excellent writing they’ve got. This piece by Jill, however, is an unequivocal condemnation of the rape of men in the U.S. prison system, and framed in terms designed to speak to the kind of feminist who hasn’t really given a lot of thought to men’s issues.
One overlap, though, between prison rape of men and non-prison rape of women is the way American society views both as an inevitability. That plays out in different ways, but there’s a sense that incarceration must naturally lead to rape (see, e.g., “don’t drop the soap!” jokes), and that femaleness is inherently sexually tempting and therefore also leads to rape if you’re not vigilant about preventing it (see, e.g., every rape prevention tactic that focuses on what women should or should not do — don’t walk home alone, don’t wear revealing clothing, etc etc). At the same time, inevitability is tempered by the perceived ability to prevent rape if you just do things “right” — don’t commit a crime so that you end up in jail, don’t break any of the Rape Avoidance Rules For Ladies. It’s a convenient way to conceptualize assault — if you just behave yourself, you won’t be a victim.
Now, I think she could maybe take a little more time to look at rape of men in the general population, but the point she’s making is about prison rape and its function in the culture, so that’s what she focuses on. Also, as much as I’ve sometimes griped about intersectionality issues, it’s nice to see someone nail it with a heavy-hitting paragraph like this:
It’s also impossible to separate this issue out from racism, classism, ableism and homophobia. The U.S. prison population (including ICE immigration holding facilities) is disproportionately black and Latin@. Prisoners disproportionately come from low-income backgrounds. Prison populations also include many individuals with intellectual disabilities and untreated mental health issues, as well as histories of violent victimization which can lead to mental and physical health issues. And we’re imprisoning millions of people who are not actually violent and aren’t actually dangerous. Among non-incarcerated victims of sexual violence, women with disabilities are far more likely to be targeted for sexual abuse than women who are able-bodied and/or don’t have developmental disabilities. Native women have the highest sexual assault rates of any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. Stats for trans women and men are slightly more difficult to come by, since as far as I can tell they aren’t noted in the DOJ surveys, but every reputable study I’ve seen indicates that trans people experience sexual assault at significantly higher rates that cis people. Black trans folks in the prison system are assaulted at particularly astounding rates — around 30% report being assaulted while in jail or police custody.
I’ve known a couple trans folks who’ve been arrested in their time, and… yeah, it ain’t good.
Anyway, go read the whole thing. It’s worth a good long look.