Prison and Power

Content warning: This post discusses prison rape, rape jokes


On the rare occasion a rapist goes to prison for that crime, you can expect to hear people hoping that person is raped in prison. Rape jokes about larger scarier rapist “Bubbas” abound. Protagonists on police procedural television shows use the threat of prison rape to coerce confessions and cooperation, as the “good guys”.

As detestable as these public celebrations of sexual assault are, they reveal a truth feminists have been saying for generations: Rape is an abusive display of power, not uncontrollable lust. When someone hopes a convict will be raped, they aren’t hoping another prisoner will find them attractive. They’re hoping that prisoner will hurt them.

There is no crime that deserves rape, not even another rape, because rape is not something one can deserve. Rapists, whether prisoners or guards, are not judiciously sentencing offenders to assault as some type of vigilante justice. They are assaulting those they imagine they will be permitted to, just like outside prison.

When we conceive of rape as an acceptable punishment for real or imagined wrongdoing, we are taking the mindset of a rapist who justifies his actions by claiming his victim deserved it in some way. Short skirts don’t cause rape and neither do drug possession charges. Rapists do, and a prison system that enables them shares blame. A government that encourages this state of affairs as ” deterrent ” to crime shares responsibility.

That rape is common in our prisons is a stain on our national character. It is an abomination. It is cruel and unusual punishment. It is a human rights violation. It is a contributing factor to rape culture and rampant sexual assault both in and out of prisons. It isn’t justice, or a joke.

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2 thoughts on “Prison and Power

  1. I know that I’ve on occasion wished or hoped something bad would happen to a person or at least considered that something bad might happen to them. I understand the idea that it’s not really justice if the one punishing them doesn’t know or care about their crime. When Anders Breivik went to prison I considered that someone might kill him in prison as vigilante justice. I remember seeing a clip on TV of murderer who had just been sentenced to prison and the father of one of his victims yelled to him that he hoped he would be killed in a prison fight. So he didn’t care how or why he was killed, as long as it happened. I can sympathize. But it does of course raise the “Do two wrongs make a right?” question. It is fair to say that a person who hurts or kills a “bad” person, not because of something that “bad” person did to them first, then surely they should be tried as though they’d hurt or killed a “good” person. And yeah, by hoping that somebody get’s hurt in prison (raped, beaten up, killed or whatever) you’re in part helping the bad behavior in prison to continue.


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