Consensual Sex Between Men and Sexual Violence in Australian Prisons
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Estimates of the incidence of sexual coercion in men’s prisons are notoriously variable and fraught with conceptual and methodological problems. In 2006–2007, we conducted a computer-assisted telephone survey of a random sample of 2,018 male prisoners in New South Wales and Queensland. Of 2,626 eligible and available inmates, 76.8% consented and provided full responses. We asked about time in prison, sexual experience, attraction and (homo/bi/heterosexual) identity, attitudes, sexual contact with other inmates, reasons for having sex and practices engaged in, and about sexual coercion, including location and number of perpetrators. Most men (95.1%) identified as heterosexual. Of the total sample, 13.5% reported sexual contact with males in their lifetime: 7.8% only outside prison, 2.8% both inside and outside, and 2.7% only inside prison. Later in the interview, 144 men (7.1% of total sample) reported sexual contact with inmates in prison; the majority had few partners and no anal intercourse. Most did so for pleasure, but some for protection, i.e., to avoid assault by someone else. Before incarceration, 32.9% feared sexual assault in prison; 6.9% had been sexually threatened in prison and 2.6% had been sexually coerced (“forced or frightened into doing something sexually that [they] did not want”). Some of those coerced reported no same-sex contact. The majority of prisoners were intolerant of male-to-male sexual activity. The study achieved a high response rate and asked detailed questions to elicit reports of coercion and sex separately. Both consensual sex and sexual assault are less common than is generally believed.
KeywordsSexual behavior Prisons Male homosexuality Sexual assault Australia Sex survey methodology
We are grateful to Tony Falconer, Josephine Belcher, Azar Kariminia, Max Saxby, Fred Ropp, Jenny Douglas, Joanne Holden, Ariane Minc, Debbie Pittam, and the members of the advisory committee for help in the early stages. Our thanks to all the DCS staff and correctional officers who assisted, recruiters Iain Perkes, Jessica Pratley, John Samaha, Kathy Prime, and Patricia MacAlpine and other Justice Health nurses, and staff and interviewers at Taverner Research. The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (Project Grant 350860) with additional funding from NSW Health, NSW Justice Health, the New South Wales and Queensland Departments of Corrective Services and the UNSW Faculty of Medicine.
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