Abuse ranges from outright rape, groping, invasive pat-downs and peeping during showers -- to verbal taunts or harassing comments.
llowing 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."
Abuse, of course, can take many forms, from the flagrant - outright
rape, groping, invasive pat-downs and peeping during showers or while an
inmate is on the toilet - to verbal taunts or harassing comments. And
while advocates for the incarcerated have long tried to draw attention
to these conditions, they've made little to no headway. But that may be
changing thanks to the promulgation of rules, finalized in June, to stem
the overt sexual abuse of prisoners. The nine-years-in-the-making
Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is the first law in US history to
address the sexual abuse of those in lock-up, and its passage made clear
that the sexual abuse of the incarcerated - men and women - is a
pervasive problem in prisons throughout the 50 states. But let's hold
off on PREA for a minute and first zero in on the reality of female
incarceration more generally.