Prison Rape in Context

Posted: 16 Jul 2008

See all articles by Ian O'Donnell

Ian O'Donnell

Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin

Date Written: March 2004


Fear of sexual violence is a defining characteristic of the prison experience in the United States. Rape has been a key theme in the literature on imprisonment since at least the 1930s. There is evidence-from prison argot and epidemiological studies in particular-that this problem is not as ingrained in the UK. Clearly there is more at play here than sexual deprivation and the pains of confinement, which know no jurisdictional boundary. It is suggested that the answer may lie, to some extent at least, in the poisonous history of race relations in the United States: prison rape can be seen as a legacy of slavery and the lynch mob. The particularity of the US situation may also be explained in part by higher levels of violence in society more generally and a cynical attitude on the part of prison staff.

Suggested Citation

O'Donnell, Ian, Prison Rape in Context (March 2004). The British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 44, Issue 2, pp. 241-255, 2004, Available at SSRN:

Ian O'Donnell (Contact Author)

Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin ( email )

Dublin 4


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