Sexual violence as the cornerstone of prison management
Excerpt from Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, James Gilligan, M.D., (Vintage Books, 1997) pp. 165-72.)

. . . [R]ape is universally acknowledged to be a crime, and it is seldom if ever openly acknowledged as among the forms of legal punishment legitimately prescribed by governmental authorities. So what would lead me to speak of it as "punishment"--as an intrinsic and universal part of the punishments that our government metes out to those whom it labels as "criminal"? I do this for several reasons. First, the relevant legal authorities, from judges to prosecutors who send people to prison, to the prison officials who administer them, are all aware of the existence, the reality, and the near-universality of rape in the prisons. Indeed, this is one reason why many conscientious judges are extremely reluctant to send anyone to prison except when they feel compelled to, either by the violence of the crime or, as is increasingly true, by laws mandating prison sentences even for nonviolent crimes, such as drug offenses. Second, the conditions that stimulate such rapes (the enforced deprivation of other sources of self-esteem, respect, power, and sexual gratification) are consciously and deliberately imposed upon the prison population by the legal authorities. Third, all these authorities tacitly and knowingly tolerate this form of sexual violence, passively delegating to the dominant and most violent inmates then power and authority to deliver this form of punishment to the more submissive and nonviolent ones, so that the rapists in this situation are acting as the vicarious enforcers of a form of punishment that the legal system does not itself enforce formally or directly.

. . . The practice of tolerating and permitting such relationships is one means by which the officers maintain control of the prison population as a whole. The strategy here can be analyzed into two components: "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," and "Divide and conquer." With respect to the first, the officers are entering into an implicit, tacit agreement with the rapists, in which the officers will permit the rapists whatever gratifications they get from raping the weaker prisoners, and the rapists agree in turn to cooperate with these officers by submitting to the prison system as a whole (that is, by renouncing the option of assaulting officers individually, or of collaborating with each other collectively to organize a riot). With respect to the second, that system of mutually agreed trade-offs simultaneously prevents the inmates as a whole from uniting with each other, for it divides the inmates into two groups--the rapists and the raped--thus minimizing the chance of their being able to organize an effective protest, rebellion, or riot. It becomes a strategy that officers may use to "divide and conquer" the inmates.

. . .To what extent are prison officers consciously aware that this is happening, and to what extent do some of them deliberately tolerate these patterns of behavior? All prison officers must be aware of the patterns of prison rape because prisons are small, enclosed communities, and officers form a tightly cohesive clique (of necessity and for their own protection, since those who are not part of the clique do not long survive) so anything that one officer knows, all know. On the other hand, they are not all equally supportive of the maintenance of this social system; indeed, many are appalled by it. Unfortunately, however, those who disapprove of it cannot stop it, since it is just as dangerous ("suicidal" is perhaps not too strong a word) for an officer to violate the unwritten code of the officers' subculture as it is for an inmate to violate the corresponding (and virtually identical) code of the inmates' subculture--the first principal of which for both is, "Thou shalt not snitch."

. . .There is almost universal agreement that one of the major causes of violence of inmates toward each other--some would say the major cause--is sexual relationships among inmates. Men will fight--often to the death--both in order to commit rape and to avoid being raped; in order to . . . prove that they are "real men" . . . and because the whole system is so degrading, shameful, and humiliating, so damaging to their self-esteem and destructive of their sense of masculine sexual adequacy and identity; and finally, because some literally go insane, developing paranoid delusions and hallucinations in response to the continual onslaught to their sense of who they are (i.e., whether they are men), and what if anything they are worth. That these patterns of violence follow them into the street, when they are eventually released, goes without saying.

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