Psycho-Political Symbolism of Prison Rape

While prison rape is a clear violation of the 8th Amendment, and is a blemish on America’s reputation as a beacon of human rights, the threat of rape or inhumane treatment in general, has been a commonly used tactic by politicians, law enforcement, the judicial system, and media. For instance former California Atty. General, Bill Lockyer, at a press conference about Enron Chair Kenneth Lay, stated that “I would love to personally escort Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, ‘Hi, my name is Spike, honey.” Another example is the Judge in the Larry Naser trial, telling Nassar that, “It is my honor and privilege to sentence you,” and observed, at one point: “Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment. If it did … I would allow some or many people to do to him what he did to others.” More recently the sister of a victim of the Parkland shooting told the perpetrator, Nicholas Cruz, “I hope your fellow inmates take real nice & cozy care of you.’ While these are all rather unsympathetic criminals, these remarks normalize the idea of inhumane treatment and sexual violence as an “extra-judicial punishment,” that is accepted, or at least tolerated by much of society, as part of the penalty for crime.

The sexualization of carceral violence is a power/revenge fantasy, with the prison “Bubba” as an America folk hero. Even if prison rape is exaggerated by Hollywood, it functions as psychological warfare, perhaps a mechanism of control over the public, with the fear of prison rape so ingrained in pop culture. Prison rape jokes are a way to downplay a traumatic subject matter, but also a form of sadism to declare a group of people as ok to dehumanize, a way for the NPC to say, “that person is evil, therefore they deserve buttsex.” While other nations have much more brutal prisons, there is something uniquely American about that passive aggressive, armchair sadism. However, prison rape jokes were much more common in movies in the 80s, 90s and 00s, and then there was some pushback against these jokes, ironically one of the rare positive trends that came from woke culture

Cultural narratives about prison rape, are also heavily racialized with the stereotype of Black perpetrators and White victims. Author Ted Conover framed it as how “rape-of-the-white-guy trope” is “a fixture of how middle-class America thinks about prison.” Human Rights Watch, a left leaning organization, put out a report No Escape on Prison Rape back in 2001, that acknowledges the racial aspects. The report found that “correspondence and interviews with white, black, and Hispanic inmates convince us that white inmates are disproportionately targeted for abuse,” and “although many whites reported being raped by white inmates, black on white abuse appears to be more common.” However, the report also found that “interracial and interethnic sexual abuse appears to be much less common than sexual abuse committed by persons of one race or ethnicity against members of that same group.” Overall the HRW report found that “those most vulnerable to predators typically included those who were “young, small in size, physically weak, white, gay, first offender, possessing ‘feminine’ characteristics such as long hair or high voice; being unassertive, unaggressive, shy, intellectual, not street-smart or ‘passive’; or having been convicted of a sexual offense against a minor.”


Categories: Law/Justice

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