Investigations into a California prison revealed rampant sexual violence, but these abuses are normalized and dismissed across the prison system.

By K Agbebiyi, Prism

In February, AP News broke the story of rampant sexual violence at the federal correctional institution in Dublin, California. The investigation revealed that officials kept nude photos of women they assaulted, a worker stated that he wanted to get inmates pregnant, and the prison was commonly referred to as “the rape club.” When prisoners attempted to report the abuse, they were subject to retaliation and forced into solitary confinement. While devastating and tragic, these stories are most likely just the tip of the iceberg.

prison guard walking in prison

People in prisons, jails, detention centers, and other carceral facilities all across the country are subject to sexual violence, which is blatantly normalized and underreported. Sexual violence thrives in environments where there are vast power imbalances, especially in situations like prisons where incarcerated people are entirely at the mercy of prison officials. With this surplus of power and a population of people frequently forgotten and disregarded, prisons serve as the perfect breeding ground for corrections to engage in sexual assault. While not all officials engage in what is typically defined as sexual violence like the ones in Dublin, officials still facilitate sexual violence by ignoring it and punishing those who come forward.

Even outside of prisons, sexual violence goes largely ignored or dismissed. It wasn’t until the 2017 burst of the #MeToo movement (a hashtag coined by activist Tarana Burke, but was later co-opted and gained popularity by focusing on wealthy white celebrities) that people began to have a regular and open dialogue about sexual violence. It is common for anti-violence movements like #MeToo, or other feminist projects to frequently talk about sexual violence in every place other than prison. This is partly due to our societal obsession with affirming the validity of the carceral state.

Read More