In response to the article "Does distributing condoms in prison condone homosexuality?" which appeared in the Monday 18th April, St. Lucia Star, I sent this letter to the editor. While I have nothing against distribution of condoms in prisons, it is a very simplistic solution to a greater problem of poorly run prisons where sexual violence is allowed to flourish. It was also necessary to address the consistent ill-use of the word "homosexuality" as the only motivation behind every single kind of male-male sexual interaction.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Do Condoms In Prison Condone Homosexuality or Male Rape? What Is The Difference?
It is heartening that finally pragmatic solutions to addressing the spread of AIDS in our prisons are being discussed. But discussion is futile if we fail to understand the situation realistically. In order to do so, we must start by using the right words to categorize what we say. I find it a little perturbing that the Director of the National HIV/AIDS Programme does not know the difference between “homosexuality” and “buggery”. As professionals we must get our terminology right because we are often the ones educating the public. Let us clarify matters with the correct definitions for the words used in this discussion.
Buggery/Sodomy- This is used to refer to both anal and oral sex, most particularly anal sex practiced by two men, although it can also refer to the certain sexual acts between a man and woman. The word “buggery” is most often used to refer specifically to violent, non-consensual anal sex perpetrated by a stronger, older male on a weaker younger male.
In his comments about the legal and cultural climate of the country with regards to the legalization of sex workers, Jn Baptiste mentioned that, “The argument is whether we should be distributing condoms in the prison and that if we give condoms we would be condoning homosexuality, an illegal act.” Homosexuality is neither illegal nor is it an act. What Nahum Jn Baptiste should have said is “sodomy or buggery” because no one can be arrested for simply being a homosexual, not without evidence that at the time of arrest they were caught in the act of engaging in “sodomy or buggery”. The word “homosexuality” in this discussion has been misappropriated, the correct definition of homosexuality is:
Homosexuality-A psychosexual orientation where a person is attracted to members of their own gender instead of the opposite gender, it is the reverse of heterosexuality. (See The American Psychological Association website)
Of course, many would say, “Well what is the big difference? Doesn’t engaging in sodomy/buggery mean you are a homosexual and visa-versa?” Well to answer in short. No it does not. There is a big difference between sexual orientation and sexual behaviour. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are psychosexual traits, not sexual acts. A particular sexual act in isolation does not indicate sexual orientation. Remember that many people act contrary to their innate sexual orientation. Some do it for money, some to survive but no example is as powerful as the one currently under discussion- male-male sex in prison.
Are the vast majority of the men engaging in sodomy/buggery in Bordelais, homosexual? Are they “attracted only to other men?” Is the sexual activity happening as a result of prison inmates “falling in love or in lust and having relationships?” No. All observations and investigations by professional studies, indicate that most sexually active men in prison are heterosexual, many with common law wives and girlfriends on the outside. Under regular circumstances they would be having sex with women and when they leave prison they will resume having sex with women. According to, “Sex, Sexual Violence and Coercion in Men's Prisons” a study presented at an AIDS in Context International Conference, 4-7 April 2001, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa- very little of the sex that happens behind bars is consensual and even less of it happens between two men who are genuinely “homosexual in orientation” and attracted to or love each other. The study reports “Sex is currency in prison and a crucial component of the intricate systems of power". South African studies (Kola et al, 1997; Community Law Centre [CLC], 1999; Goyer & Gow, 2000” the study goes on to say. “Rape is one of the many forms of physical violence feared or experienced by numerous prison inmates. Although reliable statistics as to the actual extent of the problem are not available, male rape, at least in some prisons, is reportedly a common occurrence. As has been mentioned… rape and gang-rape are reportedly sometimes used both as recruitment and punishment methods.”
Now if you are asking “If the majority of these men are not homosexual how can they perform the act itself? They are rapists. The psychological profile of a rapist shows that what triggers arousal are not their victim but their domination and violence over the victim. A rapist is turned on by their victim’s pain and humiliation. Gender is easily a non-issue because a rapist does not even see a “person” but an “outlet” for taking out his sexual frustrations. In order to survive many men in prison who are too young or weak to compete for power, decide to become the “bitch” of a dominant inmate for whom any hole will do. This self sacrifice is rewarded by winning the protection of the “top dog” from a worse fate, death or gang rape. The submissive role requires nothing more than a long suffering disposition and strong stomach, a homosexual orientation is irrelevant.
Now you might ask, “Why do we need to know all the gory details of prison sex and inmate society?” Well, for the same reason why it is so very important the decision- makers and professionals understand the correct terminology of the words they use. It aids our correct understanding of the situation, without which we will resort to oversimplification and never arrive at the correct solution. Already, we have failed to ask the right questions which are:
How do we expect responsible condom use to work in predominantly non-consensual, impulsive and violent sexual situations? How do we know that when we distribute condoms they will be used in consensual sex and not by sadistic prison rapists? Can this problem be solved simply by offering condoms or is the real solution better prison infrastructure, inmate supervision, isolation of offenders, rehabilitation and protection of the younger weaker inmates? Are we taking steps to improve prison facilities and hold prison guards more accountable for any misconduct?” The study showed, “While the authorities do, on occasion, take steps to prevent abuses, it seems they are more frequently either ill-equipped to assist victims and potential victims, or they are complicit.” It also stated “In cells where sexual activity was reported to be most prevalent, there is less than 30cm space between blankets, and inmates sleep with their toes touching.” I believe the situation in South African prisons mirrors our own and I urge people to read the study. Let us not make the mistake of over-simplification of the issue, passing it off as a “homosexual problem” when it has little to do with the prisoners being homosexual and more to do with a glaring failure to prevent violent rape and sexual coercion.
Do you know what happens to inmates who are victimized sexually in prison when they finally leave? “Psychologists and rape counsellors believe that the pent-up rage caused by these assaults can cause victims, especially if they don't receive psychological treatment, to erupt in violence once they return to their communities. Some will become rapists, seeking to 'regain their manhood' through the same violent means by which they believe it was lost. (Donaldson, 1993- The Rape Crisis Behind Bars)” What makes this situation worse is now HIV is added to the mix when infected ex-cons re-enter society with a trigger happy impulse to vent their anger and prove how macho they are, to overcompensate for the fact that they were forced to be someone’s bitch in prison.
Before we start indiscriminately raining condoms down on our prison inmates, we need to look at what really motivates the non-consensual sexual activity there because as the study stated, “A better understanding of the nature of the circumstances in which sex in prisons occurs is therefore crucial both for the welfare of inmates and in relation to the interests of broader society.” Other than HIV tests, has any investigation taken place at Bordelais to uproot the sociological and organizational roots of the problem? Or are we just going for another quick fix like we always do on this island? Depending on condoms alone to solve the problem is like putting a band aid on a gushing stab wound.