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Intimate Partner Abuse & LGBTQ Prisoners

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domestic-violence-awareness-monthGiven that October is observed as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we wanted to highlight stories from LGBTQ prisoners, people ignored by the movement to end domestic violence.

Many leaders in social service organizations working with survivors of domestic violence push for tougher laws that will incarcerate abusive partners for longer periods of time. Abolitionists have critiqued this idea, drawing attention to this as a form of carceral feminism. The truth is that the criminal legal system does not care about the healing of survivors of domestic violence. Even when we look at the resource allocation from the Violence Against Women Act, the far majority goes to law enforcement and prosecution, not to services for survivors. The critique of carceral feminism is an important one, prisons are not actually ending intimate partner abuse, but instead give a liberal face to imprisoning people.

There is, however a missing piece of the critique. Not only do prisons not put an end to intimate partner violence, the reality is that intimate partner abuse continues inside the prison walls. Just as people engage in intimate relationships outside of prisons, so to do people in prison create intimate partnerships. People in prison have boyfriends, girlfriend, fuck buddies, wives, husbands, partners, intimate relationships of all kinds with other prisoners locked inside the walls. People in these relationships then try to navigate the dynamics of their relationship while also surviving in a violent and traumatic environment, one that actually forbids their relationship from existing. There has been inspiring work done with survivors in refugee camps that would actually be helpful to apply to these situations, navigating intimate violence within a larger violent system. When abuse happens in an intimate partnership in prison, there is, essentially, no where to turn. It is difficult to turn to prison staff for many reasons. Firstly, if one admits to a prison staff person about being in an intimate relationship with someone they might find themselves thrown into solitary confinement for violation of the rules. Secondly, telling prison staff about any kind of harm by another prisoner will get one labeled as a “snitch” and that label can lead to even greater violence from any number of other prisoners. This leaves survivors with very few options.

We asked respondents to the Black and Pink National LGBTQ Prisoner survey about their experiences with sexual violence.

One third of respondents reported that they had experienced abuse in one or more of their romantic relationships in prison.

This is a similar rate or higher than what most anti-violence organizations highlight for relationships outside of prison. LGBTQ prisoners need more appropriate services that actually meet their needs when they are trying to navigate and survive an abusive romantic relationship. Hopefully this data from prisoner, these stories below, can push a conversation forward so that new programs can be developed and a strong commitment can be made to include the needs of prisoners as we come up with authentic solutions to ending intimate partner abuse.

Download PDF of factsheet HERE

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