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Fear of rape from behind prison walls

Lauren O’Neill Shermer (Department of Criminal Justice, Widener University, Chester, Pennsylvania, USA)
Heather Sudo (Fidelity National Title, Department of Criminal Justice, Widener University, Chester, Pennsylvania, USA)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




The Prison Rape Elimination Act has brought significant attention to the issue of sexual victimization within correctional institutions. While the actual risk of sexual victimization remains low, the perception of rape among inmates is high. Given how one’s fear can translate into behavior, understanding how institutions impact the culture surrounding prison rape highlights areas for reducing violence within prisons. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


This study includes secondary analysis of a quantitative database created from semi-structured interviews with 564 high security, general population inmates. Using fear of rape as the outcome of interest, bivariate and logistic regression analyses are used to comment on the impact of individual and facility level characteristics on this outcome.


In general, the results from this study suggest that the greatest risk factors for fearing rape while in prison are being male, having a mental health issue, and hearing about rape within the institution. From these specific findings a few general lessons can be learned with the hope that practitioners can translate these lessons into policy initiatives in order to combat fear of rape among our inmate population.


This paper aims to fill a gap in the research on how the facility contributes to the fear of rape within prison. The end goal is to inform policy makers so that suggestions can be made to combat this problem and prevent further misconduct within these facilities.



The authors would like to thank all of the anonymous reviewers of this manuscript for their comments. Additionally, the authors would like to thank Suzanne Mannes, PhD for her detailed suggestions on a previous version of this manuscript.


Shermer, L.O. and Sudo, H. (2017), "Fear of rape from behind prison walls", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 68-80.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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