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Professor Brenner Examines How Commonalities Among Rape Sub-Cultures Illuminate Solutions to Sexual Harassment

Female prisoner in her cell

While there has been a recent increase in public allegations of sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence, California Western School of Law professor Hannah Brenner explores in a Daily Transcript op-ed the abundance of similar crimes that go unreported—and the systemic reasons that certain populations are heard and others silenced.

"As positive as this potential shift in the cultural discourse appears, there is an entire subset of the population from whom we have not heard over the past weeks," Brenner writes. "…[I]magine the experience of a woman who is raped by her corrections officer while serving a life sentence. Women who are incarcerated lack access to reputable and accessible reporting mechanisms within prison itself, much less a vehicle through which they are able to publicly disclose the abuse they endure."

In light of the prevalence and incidence of sexual violence in closed institutions like prisons, Brenner continues, "We are (slowly) learning that very similar violence extends into other closed systems like the military, immigration detention centers, and quasi-closed systems like higher education and beyond."

Closed vs. quasi-closed systems
"The status of the system matters because it illuminates reasons why individuals may choose not to come forward: they may not know how or to whom to report, they may fear retaliation for their disclosure, they may not identify what has happened as abuse, they may face concerns that no one will believe them, or they may internalize the idea that what happened is simply an inherent part of that system," Brenner explains.

Brenner continues by addressing the significant power imbalances that characterize relationships in the aforementioned settings, weighed against an inherent loyalty to the system that individuals internalize, ultimately resulting in silence. As for the institutions, she writes, they "are dis-incentivized to appropriately respond to or acknowledge and report the abuses that occur within them, for fear of public backlash."

To read the op-ed in its entirety, click here or visit the Daily Transcript's website (subscription required).