Sex & sexual violence in prison Living with AIDS # 323

Sex & sexual violence in prison Living with AIDS # 323

Sex and sexual violence are common in the South African male prison community. Yet efforts aimed at reducing the violence and addressing HIV prevention are lacking.

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KHOPOTSO: Behind South African male prison bars men are raped, forced to have unwanted sexual relations with some and willingly have sex with others. Anecdotes of this abound. And research conducted by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) confirms this. The research has been ongoing since 2001 and the first publication on this was published a year later in a report titled ‘€œDaai Ding’€, slang from the Afrikaans language, which means ‘€œThat Thing’€. CSVR Senior Researcher and author of the study, Sasha Gear, says the research found that the most dominant sex in prison is violent in nature and that tricks are often used to trap unsuspecting victims.  

 

SASHA GEAR: Inmates prey on younger or newly-arrived inmates who they trick into having sex with them, which is basically rape’€¦ Now, what happens is another inmate may show friendliness and support to one of these newcomers who has arrived in prison. It can be something as simple as offering him a cigarette. And this person takes that cigarette without realising that anything else will be involved. However, that person will later come to him and demand that he has sex with him. And when he tries to refuse, it will be made very clear that there’€™s no way out for him. And he’€™ll be told that because he accepted the cigarette, it’€™s now his due. He is owing sex to this person.              

 

KHOPOTSO: This is usually the start of an ongoing cycle of abuse, based on specific gender roles.

 

SASHA GEAR: This violence plays out in longer-term partnering. One person will rape another person and then take that person as what is called his ‘€œwife’€. The way in which rape is understood in prison is that if you’€™ve been raped you’€™ve been turned into a ‘€œwoman’€ and that is considered deeply an inferior status. The person who has been raped is then continually sexually exploited and humiliated in a longer-term relationship by the same person or by other people.

 

KHOPOTSO: Gear says the next commonly practised form of sexual activity in prisons is what is called ‘€œUshintsh’€™ ipondo’€, an isiZulu expression which literally means that ‘€œyou’€™re exchanging a pound’€.

 

SASHA GEAR: It undermines the rules of how the inmate culture says sex should happen in prison. The disturbing reality is that the inmate culture endorses the kinds of practices where violence is often involved, where one person literally takes sexual ownership of another person, and he’€™s expected to always be sexually available to that person as the passive sex partner. So, what happens in ‘€œUshintsh’€™ ipondo’€ is that all those roles are subverted. It’€™s usually two people of a similar status. Neither one is seen as a man or a woman in the interaction. But it’€™s seen as an exchange of sex for sex. So, both parties will take turns to penetrate and receive.

 

KHOPOTSO: Quite oddly, prison culture frowns upon ‘€œUshintsh’€™ ipondo’€, as it is thought to be leaning heavily towards homosexuality.

 

SASHA GEAR: This is considered by the inmate power structures as deviant. It’€™s seen as a negative thing. And that is partly because it’€™s being associated with homosexuality. The dominant inmate culture sees a lot of the coercive and violent sexual interactions happening between inmates as heterosexual and you see that in the way that one of the people is understood to have been turned into a woman, while the other’€™s masculinity is understood to be endorsed by having raped somebody and to have a woman. Now, ‘€œUshintsh’€™ ipondos’€ totally subvert that because you don’€™t have one person identified as a man and then another as a woman and only the man penetrating, etc’€¦ People who participate in that need to be careful. It’€™s a punishable offence as far as the gangs are concerned.                        

 

KHOPOTSO: The study argues that these identities neglect to recognise that men too can be victims of sexual violence, which should be punishable, while at the same time they feed homophobia in prisons. It points out that prison officials view all forms of sexual activity ‘€“ unwanted or consensual – as acts of homosexuality and there are no strategies to deal with sexual violence against inmates, while corruption allows perpetrators to go unpunished. Furthermore, it says the prison system is a breeding ground for HIV infection and recommends that action be taken to address the issue since it is no secret that sex between men does take place behind bars.                  

 

SASHA GEAR: You’€™ve got to start distinguishing between sexual violence and consensual sex and promoting safe sex as far as is possible. Now, what’€™s happening is that because everything is treated in the same way and basically ignored, there aren’€™t a lot of discussions going on around how people can protect themselves when they’€™re having sex’€¦ Staff needs to be educated on how they can support inmates and not contribute to an environment that demonises all sex in the same way and then, ignores it, so that people don’€™t feel free to come and talk about their concerns.

 

KHOPOTSO: Next week, we bring you the last part of this two-piece report.