Female Prison Inmates Often Suffer Horrible Abuses from Male Guards
Does it make sense to allow women to be guarded by men? Does it make even more sense that, in many cases, these guards get the benefit of the doubt from authorities and are often unsupervised? That’s what people are starting to question and challenge.
Eleanor J. Bader at Truthout.org writes on the issue, stating that it’s time to examine how our nation deals with female prison inmates and the entire system itself. She notes the massive power imbalance set to occur when men are allowed to guard women and maintain a position of authority.
Allowing male guards to oversee female prisoners is a recipe for trouble, says former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn. Now a frequent lecturer on incarceration policies and social justice, Whitehorn describes a culture in which women are stripped of their power on the most basic level. “Having male guards sends a message that female prisoners have no right to defend their bodies,” she begins. “Putting women under men in authority makes the power imbalance as stark as it can be, and results in long-lasting repercussions post- release.”
Bader and others are speaking about the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) that is set to go before lawmakers soon. The law is going to be the first in history to address the prison rape problem which affects both men and women. She notes also that between 1980 and 2010, the number of female prisoners shot up by 646 percent. Most of the offenders were non-violent and this number doesn’t include the numbers in local jails or on parole.
Prisoners’ rights activists note that, more often than not, these women enter the criminal justice system with long histories of domestic and other abuse. Indeed, a2007 study by The American Civil Liberties Union found that 92 percent of California’s female prisoners had been abused in some way prior to being taken into custody.
The Center for Child and Family Studies at the University of South Carolinacorroborates this finding and notes that many teenage girls experienced their first arrest shortly after fleeing abusive homes. “What may be remarkable within this sample is the cumulative impact of cumulative victimization over the life span,” CCFS researchers report. “Many of the women suffered multiple traumas. They were victimized in multiple ways – child abuse and neglect, adult relationship violence, sexual violence, not to mention the number of times they experienced each type of victimization.” The Center calls it “poly-victimization” and cites women’s efforts to stop aggression or retaliate against an aggressor as a key reason many are behind bars. The researchers also note that a history of sexual abuse typically leads to other problems, including unplanned pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, low self-esteem, depression and addiction – issues that can make incarceration exceptionally difficult.
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