Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Consensual Same-Sex Sexual Relationships in South African Female Prisons

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Consensual Same-Sex Sexual Relationships in South African Female Prisons

Article excerpt

Homosexuality has been a controversial topic within prison environments and the larger society. It has been described as "natural, unnatural, criminal, and as a type of mental illness" (Pardue, Arrigo, & Murphy, 2011: 286). The authors explain that the term "homosexuality" was coined in 1869, a period during which homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder in the United States of America. It remained classified as such until 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association removed it from the classification of mental disorder. For the purpose of this paper, homosexuality and lesbianism will be referred to as same-sex sexual relationship and same-sex sexual acts since not all people involved in such acts want to or can be classified as homosexuals. It should however be noted that different authors and research participants use words such as lesbianism, homosexuality and same-sex sexual relationships interchangeably.

Consensual same-sex sexual relationships between females in African prisons have received little attention by researchers since studies on prison sex in Africa tend to focus on the sexual relationships between male prisoners, particularly the coercive nature of such relationships. Tewksbury and West (2000: 372) point out that the perception of prison rape as social and institutional problems is the reason why it has received more attention than consensual sexual relationships in prisons over the years. Same-sex sexual relationships in female prisons have been of scholarly interest to researchers, with the majority of studies on the subject matter conducted in prisons of the United States of America (Einat & Chen, 2012: 25). Research on same-sex sexual relationships in South African female prisons is sparse. In line with trends on prison sex research in the United States of America, the focus in South Africa has been on the sexual relationships that exist between male prisoners and in male prisons. Sexual relationships among females in South African prisons can be either coerced or consensual. However, this article will examine only the consensual sexual relationships that exist between females in South African prisons.

Methods

The data for this study was collected using in-depth interviews. These interviews were conducted as part of a larger study which was conducted for my doctorate. This larger study looked at the experiences of females prior to, during and after incarceration in South Africa. Only six cases from the larger study are relevant to this article. Hence, the interviews of these six female former prisoners were used for this study. The six participants were selected using a list of female prisoners who were released from Pretoria central prison, South Africa in the last five years; snowball sampling was used to supplement this list. "Snowballing" refers to the "process of accumulation as each located subject suggests other subjects" (Babbie, 2013: 191).

It is noteworthy to mention that the inmates in Pretoria central prison are often transferred there from other prisons in South Africa; hence, although some of the inmates start their prison sentences in prisons outside Pretoria they sometimes finish their sentences in Pretoria central prison thereby giving them varied prison experiences. Indeed, some of the participants of this study belong to this category of prisoners.

Dantzker and Hunter (2012: 57) noted that a research interview refers to the interaction between two people where one of the person's goals is to obtain recognisable responses to specific questions. In order to obtain these responses, I used an interview guide during the interviews. The use of in-depth interviews enabled the probe into the participants' experiences so as to obtain a substantial amount of information that is relevant to this study. The use of in-depth interviews also encouraged the participants to respond on their own terms and in ways which they considered relevant and significant to their experiences. …

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