Confinement to a single sex institution necessitates the need for sexually adaptive behavior. Although prisons are the focus here, most institutions segregating the sexes share similar problems. Men and women react somewhat differently to confinement in a prison, most probably due to differences in their socialization. Therefore their experiences will be discussed separately.
Brownmiller suggests that rape in a male prison is an acting out of power roles, rather than expressing a sexual need.
In this situation the weaker man is overpowered and assumes the feminine, typically passive role. Homosexual rapes in this situation are somewhat analogous to heterosexual rape in that the rapist tends to be a younger inmate who chooses a smaller man as his victim. Fear, brutality and humiliation often accompany the rape, and victims are frequently encouraged by guards not to report it to spare their family and friends the humiliation. The men who rape in prisons are often incarcerated for crimes of violence.
In 1968 Alan J. Davis of the district attorney’s office in Philadelphia conducted a study of prisons in Philadelphia.
He too found that homosexual rape was not primarily motivated by the need for sexual release since masturbation was easier. Conquest and degradation did appear to be a primary goal. Gagnon and Simon argue that while masturbation may be easier it may be less acceptable to men who have been socialized to the taboos of such an act. They view the rape as an expression of the individual’s power and masculinity. The rapist, although involved in a homosexual act, is still viewed by others as heterosexual as long as there is no reciprocity from the victim. Davis would agree as he found that prison rape was a product of the violent subculture’s definition of masculinity through physical triumph.
Brownmiller states that providing women will not alleviate the rape problem in prisons. She reinforces the view that it is not a sexual release these men are seeking as much as it is a need to establish a hierarchy of the strong over the weak.
Women respond to imprisonment somewhat differently. Although there is some lesbian activity and sexual assault among the inmates, women tend to establish family systems. Women respond to the depersonalization of prisons by forming pseudo-families with a husband, wife, children, and often aunts, uncles and cousins. These are usually not violent clusters, yet do establish a hierarchal system and pattern of behavior based on role definitions. Homosexual activity then may be expressed in the context of the roles of husband/wife relationships.
Gagnon and Simon summarize well when they state that “what is occurring in the prison situation for both men and women is not a problem of sexual release but rather the use of sexual relationships in the service of creating a community of relationships for satisfying needs for which the prison fails to provide in any other form.”
In other words, if a male feels his masculinity is being questioned or challenged, he may use rape as a vehicle to reaffirm his position. Similarly women who need to reorganize their lives to provide the emotional as well as physical releases may form families and act out their respective roles.