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Inmate-to-Inmate Prison Sexuality: A Review of Empirical Studies

NCJ Number
Trauma, Violence, & Abuse Volume: 3 Issue: 3 Dated: July 2002 Pages: 226-243
Christopher Hensley; Richard Tewksbury
Date Published
July 2002
18 pages
This article discusses a variety of empirical studies on inmate-to-inmate prison sexuality.
Among the more important issues of life in prison, which is neglected by administrators, policy makers, scholars, and the media, is the issue of prison inmate sexuality and sexual violence. Sexual activities among incarcerated persons, both male and female, are common. A large proportion of sexual activity is coerced among incarcerated men, even when it may initially appear voluntary. Fear of sexual assault is significantly higher for incarcerated men as compared to actual sexual assault victimization. Few studies that have addressed same-sex sexual behavior in male prisons have focused on consensual sex. In these studies, it was clear that there was a significant difference between male prison inmates’ sexual orientation and their sexual activities while incarcerated. According to one study on male coerced sex, nearly one in 20 inmates reported having been sexually assaulted while in custody. Inmates who were perceived by other inmates as weak or feminine were most often the victims of sexual assault. Sexual activities among incarcerated women were largely consensual, although sexual assaults and coercive sexual encounters have been documented. There are four varieties or levels of same-sex sexual relationships among incarcerated women: friendship, pseudofamily membership, pseudohomosexuality, and overt homosexuality. Concerning homosexual behavior within the facility, one study showed that homosexual behavior was considered the norm in prison. The reasons given by the respondents for being involved in these types of relationships included game playing, economic manipulation, loneliness, the need for companionship, and genuine affection. The most salient variables that predicted consensual same-sex sexual activity while incarcerated were age and amount of time served. The most neglected topic in research on sex in prison is sexual coercion in female correctional facilities. The most notable aspect of one study was that nearly one half of the reported incidents of female sexual coercion involved staff as perpetrators. 52 references