Accessing Accountability: Exploring Criminal Prosecution of Male Guards for Sexually Assaulting Female Inmates in U.S. Prisons

The #MeToo movement has failed to consider the plight of America’s most at‐risk populations suffering unabated sexual abuse: incarcerated women. While incarcerated women are technically afforded avenues for relief, these avenues prove improbable in practice given the procedural and systemic challenges to prisoners bringing successful legal claims generally, and to incarcerated persons—especially women—making out criminal complaints against guards for sexual violence in particular.

The myriad hurdles that combine to make criminal redress difficult to imagine in this context—including the lack of a criminal pro se equivalent and prosecutorial discretion that dictates criminal proceedings in the United States, as well as general credibility issues and power dynamics—have not rendered all attempts at imposing criminal liability entirely futile. Mechanisms and procedures could be made more robust in order to make criminal complaints a more effective and promising mode of redress for women who are sexually assaulted while incarcerated. Furthermore, if criminal prosecutions are pursued and terms of incarceration for assailant‐guards are actually handed down, criminal punishments against guards who assault female inmates may act as a deterrent of male‐guard‐on‐female‐inmate sexual violence.

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