The Victimization ... and ... Revictimization of Female Offenders

By Bill, Louise | Corrections Today, December 1998 | Go to article overview

The Victimization ... and ... Revictimization of Female Offenders


Bill, Louise, Corrections Today


PRISON ADMINISTRATORS SHOULD BE AWARE OF WAYS IN WHICH SECURITY PROCEDURES PERPETUATE FEELINGS OF POWERLESSNESS AMONG INCARCERATED WOMEN

Nola is an African-American female who was born and reared in a small, sleepy Southern town. Her father worked as a "day laborer" and her mother cleaned homes when work was available. Life was hard but fairly typical of poor black families living in the rural South during the 1950s, until the night when her life was unalterably changed. While sleeping on the sun porch on a summer night, her cousin, John, tried to rape her. She was 10 years old. Luckily, her mother heard the noise outside and intervened in time to stop the rape. However, John came back the following week, sexually molested her and told her that if she told anyone, he would kill her mother. She didn't tell anyone and was subsequently molested periodically by John until she was 11 or 12.

About this time, Nola began to drift away from her former friends and classmates. She began skipping school and occasionally smoked marijuana and drank beer. She began staying out late at night and became sexually active by the time she was 15. At 16, while on a "date," she was raped by her boyfriend and another friend who was with them. Shortly after this rape, she dropped out of school and began staying away from home regularly. Her whereabouts were generally known around the small town, but by then, Nola was seen as a girl who had "gone bad"; no one really tried to help her.

When she was 18 years old, Nola began living with a man who beat her regularly and whom she grew to fear and loathe. She left this first man to move in with another who had, in her words, "promised to love her, cherish her and be kind to her." This relationship lasted several years and was marked by the same scenario of regular beatings, insults, sexual assaults and the array of behaviors that are commonly associated with violence against women. By now, Nola was firmly entrenched in a life characterized by drugs, alcohol, violence and instability, but now she had a daughter. Her life was, by all accounts, coming apart, and her road toward self-destruction was well-set.

During one of their most violent arguments, Nola, who was drunk at the time, picked up a knife, swung it at her live-in partner and slashed all artery in his arm. He was dead before the ambulance arrived.

Nola received 20 years for manslaughter. It was her first major offense, although she had a previous misdemeanor charge for possession of marijuana. When I spoke with her, she was serving her sentence in a medium security prison and had been incarcerated for six years.

Nola is not a fictional character. She is a real person and the events of her life are being replayed over and over again in the lives of women throughout this country. In talking with her and listening carefully to her account of her life, it is clear that the childhood victimization she experienced played a pivotal role in what she referred to as "her ruined life."

Research suggests that childhood and adult victimization of girls and women frequently is a precursor to female criminality. Unfortunately, the prison system often contributes to the revictimization of these women by perpetuating feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability. Changes in prison operations, services and programs are needed to stop the abuse, and to help these women become successful once they are released from prison.

Research on Abuse

It has now been well-established through research literature, official statistics and anecdotal reporting that women and children have been, and continue to be, beaten, sexually assaulted and killed by family members and relatives at alarming rates throughout the world. Despite recent efforts to bring about more accurate official "intimate" crime and victimization reports, incidents of family violence are notoriously underreported.

With that in mind, consider that between 1992 and 1993, 4. …

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