The Prison Rape Elimination Act: The Development of a Social Problem and Response to the Problem?

  • Roberto H. Potter
  • Richard Tewksbury


The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is a federal law passed by Congress and signed by the President into law in 2003. The goal of PREA is to eliminate rape—and all forms of sexual abuse—in prisons, jails, lockups, and for all persons under correctional supervision. The law is designed to identify accurate rates of victimization and common characteristics of perpetrators, victims, and situations in which sexual abuse occurs in correctional settings. In this chapter we explore how prison rape has evolved from what many considered an acceptable and expected consequence of being incarcerated to being widely (and officially) labeled as a social problem. As a part of this evolution, research has been relied on to establish the issue as a social problem, despite the fact that little research on the topic was completed prior to implementation of PREA. In addition to the increase in knowledge about the issue that has been spurred by PREA, there have also been significant developments and enhancements to the social science methodologies used to study the issue. We conclude with a look at how and why prison rape emerged as a significant social problem in the early 2000s.


Prison Rape Prison Rape Elimination Act Research methods Rapists—characteristics Rape victims—characteristics Legal process 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roberto H. Potter
    • 1
  • Richard Tewksbury
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeUniversity of Central FloridaOrlandoUSA
  2. 2.LouisvilleUSA

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