Uncomfortable Places and Close Spaces: Female Correctional Workers’ Sexual Interactions with Men and Boys in Custody_July 14-19, 2013

Document Type


Publication Date


Conference / Event Title

33rd International Congress on Law and Mental Health - Incidence and Consequence: Female Staff, Female Inmates, and Abuse in Prisons

Conference / Event Location

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Hosting Organization

International Academy of Law and Mental Health (IALMH)


That sexual abuse occurs within the United States correctional system is well known. With the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and resulting data collection, the contours of sexual abuse and behaviours in custody are becoming clearer. Data shows that a significant proportion of sexual abuse in custodial settings involves female correctional staff who have sex with men and boys in custody. These findings have been met with discomfort bordering on disbelief. Scant scholarship exists which addresses the appropriate response to sexual abuse by women, and even less addresses sexual abuse by female correctional workers. Likewise, feminist jurisprudence on sexuality and desire does little to shed light on the motivations of women who engage in sexual misconduct or abuse, much less women who abuse men or boys in custodial settings. Though female correctional workers have access to significant power by virtue of their roles, that power may be mediated by a confluence of gender, race and class. The presentation describes female correctional staff’s entry and experience in the corrections milieu; examines research on the prevalence of sexual abuse committed by female correctional workers; uses competing and interlocking narratives of gender, race, and class to explain female correctional workers’ motivation for engaging in sexual interactions with men and boys in custody; and makes concrete policy suggestions for addressing abuse in custody by female correctional workers.