Regulating Prison Sexual Violence

61 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2015 Last revised: 28 Jul 2015

See all articles by Gabriel Arkles

Gabriel Arkles

Northeastern University - School of Law

Date Written: July 6, 2015


An end to sexual violence requires bodily autonomy, sexual self-determination, redistribution of wealth and power, and an end to subordination based on gender, race, disability, sexuality, nationality, and class. Because the project of incarceration does not align with bodily autonomy, sexual self-determination, redistribution, or anti-subordination, tensions arise within areas of law that purport to prohibit sexual violence in or through prisons. This article examines these tensions, analyzing the ways in which constitutional, statutory, and administrative law permit or require correctional staff, medical personnel, and law enforcement officers to control, view, touch, and penetrate bodies in nonconsensual, violent, and intimate ways — sometimes while using the rhetoric of ending sexual violence. In particular, the article focuses on searches, nonconsensual medical interventions, and prohibitions of consensual sex as ways that prison systems perpetrate sexual violence against prisoners while often complying with First, Fourth and Eighth Amendment law and the Prison Rape Elimination Act. While these practices harm all prisoners, they can have particularly severe consequences for prisoners who are transgender, women, queer, disabled, youth, or people of color. This article raises questions about the framing of sexual violence as individual acts that always take place outside or in violation of the law, suggesting that in some contexts the law still not only condones sexual violence, but also acts as an agent of sexual violence.

Suggested Citation

Arkles, Gabriel, Regulating Prison Sexual Violence (July 6, 2015). Northeastern University Law Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 71 - 130, 2015, Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 233-2015, Available at SSRN:

Gabriel Arkles (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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