Sexual Violence, Systematic and Institutionalized

In her essay, “Sexual Violence as a Tool of Genocide,” Andrea Smith speaks at length about the effect of sexual violence on its victims and how sexual violence is an integral part of the colonization of Native populations. “As a consequence of this colonization and abuse of their bodies, Indian people learn to internalize self-hatred, because body image is integrally related to self-esteem. When one’s body is not respected, one begins to hate oneself.” As evidenced by the sexual violence involved in both Native colonization and prison violence we see an institutionalization of sexual violence that is profitable for the maintaining of the status quo. This attack on the bodies of women of color come from all sides of dominant society as an attempt to continuously control and marginalize. “The history of sexual violence and genocide among Native women illustrates how gender violence as a tool for racism and colonialism among women of color in general.” To capture the body, is also to capture the person. Rape is a tool of subjugation and humiliation. To keep minority populations in check, rape is institutionalized in such entities as the prison industrial complex.

In an article titled “The Brutal Horror of Prison Rape, as Told by Its Victims”, Kimberly Yates and Bryson Martel tell their story of being raped while incarcerated. What stood out the most to me in their accounts was the fact that overall the violence was thoroughly ignored. Yates says that what makes her case “especially alarming is the fact that the BOP [prison authority] was put on notice about this officer [who committed the act] but continued to allow him to work in that position, knowing what he had done and that he could do it to someone else.” In addition to that, Martel believes if prison officials had paid attention to other inmate’s claims of abuse, it could have stopped his from happening. “If earlier reports of his abuse had been acted on, my rape could have been prevented.” Through this and the fact that action refused to be taken, we see that, sexual violence in the prison system is systematically allowed and perpetuated. Also, the fact that the PIC makes money, essentially off the illegal acts against women through the imprisonment of the perpetuator makes this state sponsored violence.  Rape of women and trans folks and other forms of sexual violence in the prison system is a problem that is blatantly ignored. Starting with invasive internal and gynecological examinations, sexual violence is purposely overlooked at every turn. In Angela Y. Davis’ book on the Prison Industrial Complex, “Are Prisons Obsolete?”, she discusses the sexual violence that takes place within this system. According to Davis, “as activists and prisoners themselves have pointed out, the state itself is directly implicated in this routinization of sexual abuse, both in permitting such conditions that render women vulnerable to explicit sexual coercion carried out by guards and other prison staff and by incorporating into routine policy such practices as the strip search and body cavity search.”

Kimberle Crenshaw, in her essay "Mapping the Margins: Interscetionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color", presents an awesome analysis of violence against women with an intersectional approach. “Where race, gender, and class domination converge, as they do in the experiences of battered women of color, intervention strategies based solely on the experiences of women who do not share the same class or race backgrounds will be of limited help to women who because of race and class face different obstacles.” We cannot separate race, from gender, from class, especially as people looking to eradicate rape. She also focuses on immigrant women being trapped in violent relationships because they are trying to gain citizenship status.
 In addition to what Kimberle Crenshaw mentions and rape in the PIC, the U.S. also furthers their agenda by allowing sexual slavery and rape at the border to continue to take place without legal repercussions for those who commit these crimes. “Department of Justice representatives have informally reported that U.S. attorneys decline to prosecute about 75 percent of all cases involving any crime in Indian country.” It doesn’t help that women of color are often seen as unrapeable through the racist history of this country. It is my theory that women of color in this country continually face a war in which the perpetrators are taking away their bodily sovereignty. Rape culture makes sexual violence possible. The perpetuation of rape culture furthers its hegemonic state in American society. “Indeed, the U.S. and other colonizing countries are engaged in a “permanent social war” against the bodies of women of color and indigenous women, which threaten their legitimacy.” Through the media and racist laws of the land we see this war materialize.

Rape of women of color is not just motivated by sex and power as it is for white women, but it is also racially motivated as a tool for marginalization of entire populations. This is where feminists have dropped the ball, categorizing rape as purely about individual power without respect to racial motivations. “The American Friends Service Committee documented over 346 reports of gender violence on the U.S.-Mexico border from 1993-1995.” Women of color are generally more vulnerable when it comes to sexual violence, especially when crossing the border. This type of violence is deemed invisible by the government as well as U.S. citizens. Zoila Miriam Perez, in her essay ‘When Sexual Autonomy Isn’t Enough: Sexual Violence Against Immigrant Women in the United States, says, “rape has become so prevalent that many women take birth control pills or shots before setting out to ensure they won’t get pregnant.” Some consider rape ‘the price you pay for crossing the border.” Immigrant women’s bodies are seen as an expendable resource and therefore unrapeable. The rape of these women’s bodies are direct consequences of the capitalist system we are in since immigration is a direct result of America’s need for cheap labor.

Through these examples, we see that rape and other forms of sexual violence isn’t purely an individual bodily offense but is furthered by dominant society and the government to exercise control over entire minority populations.

*cross posted at Refuse the Silence's blog* :)


  1. What do you think about male doctors giving physical examinations to teenage girls?
    Would you say it's an example of institutionalized rape?

  2. No, I don't think that is an example of institutionalized rape, if it is truly for the health and well being of the patient. However, I do believe that the medical industrial complex allows for such behaviors to take place under the guise of 'health.'

    Thank you for your comment.


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