ARTICLE
Uncomfortable Places, Close Spaces: Female Correctional Workers’ Sexual Interactions With Men and Boys in Custody
Brenda V. Smith* 
59 UCLA L. Rev. 1690

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Abstract

It is well known that sexual abuse occurs within the correctional system. That female correctional staff commit a significant proportion of that sexual abuse is met with discomfort bordering on disbelief. This discomfort has limited the discourse about female correctional workers who abuse men or boys under their care. Scant scholarship exists that addresses the appropriate response to sexual abuse by women; even less addresses sexual abuse by female correctional workers. Likewise, feminist jurisprudence on sexuality and desire does little to illuminate the motivations of women who engage in sexual misconduct or abuse, much less women who abuse men or boys in custodial settings. What the literature does acknowledge is that female sex offenders receive less-harsh sanctions overall than male sex offenders; they are even less likely to be prosecuted or punished when the victim is male and in custody. Additionally, although female correctional workers have access to significant power by virtue of their roles, that power may be diminished by a confluence of gender, race, and class. The literature also acknowledges that female correctional staff’s entry into the correctional system was a great success for reformist feminists and that women have become power players within the correctional system because of their ability to supervise both women and men. Despite this status, however, women still experience sexual discrimination and harassment, both from male staff members and from male inmates. For black female correctional workers, gender discrimination is compounded by race and class discrimination.

This Article examines female-perpetrated sexual abuse in custodial settings and its place at the intersection of race, class, and gender in order to disentangle complex and overlapping narratives of abuse, sex, desire, and transgression. Ultimately, this Article confronts our discomfort with and reluctance to acknowledge the fact that women sexually abuse men and boys in custody, and it offers possible explanations for these behaviors.


* Brenda V. Smith is Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law and the Director for the Project on Addressing Prison Rape.

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