Helping Professional’s Perceptions of Male Victimization in Prisons

By Chelsea Clark

Between the years of 1980 and 2015, the number of Americans incarcerated increased from 500,000 to over 2.2 million. Of those 2.2 million, 93.2% are males.  In addition, around 5% of men disclose being victimized while incarcerated.

Take a look at this clip

Based on the social construction of masculinity, men are taught to behave according to their gender. Some masculine characteristics include tough, aggressive, emotionless, violent, bold, and strong. When a man is victimized, they may not be likely to disclose the abuse due to the social construction of masculinity.

Helping professional’s play a key role when working with victims of abuse. They may either provide a stable relationship for that victim or they may create some negative relationships that inhibits the victim from discussing the abuse any further.

So how do helping professionals perceive male victimization in prisons?

This blog contains definitions of relevant terms, previous studies pertaining to male sexual assault in prisons, information about victim blaming, rape myths, helping professional’s perceptions, and a theoretical framework to support my argument.

Important Definitions

The terms male, men, and masculinity are terms that may be used interchangeably in society. Listed below are differences among the terms that will be used for the purpose of this blog.

Male: According to Shrock and Schwalbe, in their 2009 article, Men, Masculinity, and Manhood Acts, “males are taught and expected to identify themselves not only as biological males, but, depending on age, as either boys or men” (p. 279).

Men: Also found within Shrock and Schwalbe’s article, Men, Masculinity, and Manhood Acts, they define the term men. Men are considered “biological males claiming rights and privileges attendant to membership in the dominant gender group” (p. 279).

Masculinity: It is important to note, there are several different types of masculinities. The different types of masculinities are apparent in different institutions and cultures where men play a role. Men adapt their behavior based on the context they belong to at that moment. Shrock and Schwalbe list different masculinities “Black masculinity, Latino Masculinity, gay masculinity, Jewish masculinity, working-class masculinity, and so on” (p. 280).  This blog will utilize hegemonic masculinity and it defined as, “it is, rather, a question of how particular groups of men inhabit positions of power and wealth, and how they legitimate and reproduce the social relationships that generate their dominance” (Carrigan, Connell, & Lee, 1985, p. 592).

Sexual abuse: This blog will define sexual abuse as, “any unwanted, coerced or inappropriate sexual contact” (Mayo Clinic Health System, 2017, p. 1).     

Helping professionals: A helping professional is an individual who works with an individual who is receiving services.  

Violence in Prisons

Historically, researchers have examined the level of victimization among male inmates. Reports of sexual assault are relatively low due to men underreporting, however, sexual assault among male inmates is an issue. The first study of sexual assault in prisons was conducted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1968. The significance of the issue became manifested when it was disclosed 3,000 Philadelphia male inmates reported they had been raped. It was found that over 3,000 men had been sexually assaulted during the 26th month period that was being examined, which led to the conclusion that, “sexual assaults were epidemic in the Philadelphia system” (No Escape: Male Rape In U.S. Prisons – Anomaly Or Epidemic: The Incidence Of Prisoner-On-Prisoner Rape, 2001, p. 7). This 1968 study of Philadelphia penal facilities also concluded that every young man who entered into the system was sexually approached within a day or two.

In 1976, Megargee found from interviewing inmates from Federal Penitentiary at Tallahassee, that 30% of inmates had been approached for sexual activity during their incarceration (Tewksbury, 1989). A year later, Carroll found that 40 sexual assaults occurred every year in a maximum security institution (Tewksbury, 1989). There has been limited findings thus far contributing to the conversation of sexual assaults while incarcerated. Wooden and Parker interviewed inmates and institutional officers and found 14% of the total population of the institution had been sexually assaulted. Furthermore, it was found, 41% of inmates who were sexually assaulted had self-identified or given the label as homosexual (Tewksbury, 1989).

Groth’s novel (2002), “Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender”, provides advanced data on nonconsensual sex in both institutional and the non-institutional community of sexual assault against males. The sample included 20 offenders and 7 victims who were involved in rapes while in prison. It was found that all of the offenders forced the victim to engage in sexually activity both orally and anally. It was found 82% of prison sexual assaults were gang rapes in comparison to 12% of gang rapes that were committed in the non-institutional community (Groth, 2002). Gang rapes are more likely to occur in prisons rather than in the non-institutional community.

Years later, researchers continued to find that sexual assault among male inmates is an ongoing issue.  Hensley, Tewksbury and Castle (2003) conducted a study in an Oklahoma correctional facility in the late 90’s. Among 174 randomly selected inmates who consented to participate in the study, 13.8% reported being sexual targets and 1.1% reported being sexually assaulted. (Hensley, Tewksbury & Castle, 2003, p. 601). It was found, 66% of male targets were single, 42% of males who had been targeted were heterosexual, 58% of the targets were white, and men were incarcerated up to 143 days before becoming a target (Hensley, Tewksbury & Castle, 2003). The study indicates the demographics of men who were victims of sexual assault while incarcerated. This study reports a relatively low rate of sexual assault; it could be argued this is due to underreporting.

Cindy Struckman-Johnson and David Struckman- Johnson studied sexual assault among male inmates. Their sample consisted of 1,788 inmates and 475 staff. They found “21% of inmates had experienced at least one episode of pressured or forced sexual contact since incarcerated in their state, and 16% reported that an incident had occurred in their current facility. At least 7% of the sample had been raped in their current facility” (Struckman-Johnson & Struckman-Johnson, 2000, p. 379). Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson illustrated 59 of 486 men responded to the survey that they “had been forced to engage in sexual intercourse at least one time” (p. 380). Not only did this study indicate that male abuse was common amongst inmates, but guards perpetuated abuse toward the inmates as well (Bell, Coven, Cronan, Garza, & Guggemos, 1999). This study reports that rates of sexual assault are relatively higher than the previous two studies.

In 2008, Lara Stemple analyzed the phenomena of male rape and human rights. Research from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice reporting that annually 92,700 men are raped. Statistically, 3% of men or 2.78 million men have become a victim of attempted or completed rape at least once in their lifetime. The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey found that men comprise 11% of sexual assault victims (Stemple, 2008).

According to Wolff, Blitz, Shi, Siegel and Bachman (2007). “it is not surprising that violence is the leading by-product of prisons because hundreds or thousands of people with antisocial tendencies or behavior are aggregated and confined in close and frequently overcrowded quarters characterized by material and social deprivation” (p. 588). As research progresses, assaults that occur in prison are becoming known as a human rights issue. Men comprise at least 92% of the prison population, so it may be known that men are more likely to become victims of sexual assault while incarcerated.

Previously, Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson found one-in- five men have reported being forced or pressured into sex. Approximately 7% of male inmates were raped (Stemple, 2007). Generally, male victims of sexual assault are the vulnerable population. These men are known to be “nonviolent, first-time offenders, who are small, weak, shy, effeminate, and inexperienced in the ways of prison life” (Stemple, 2007, p. 609). This population of men is generally viewed as a minority population.

Researchers have indicated different scenarios that may lead to sexual assault in prisons. Some male inmates engage in a protective pairing technique. According to Stemple (2007), protective pairing is when “the weaker inmate provides sex to a dominant inmate in exchange for protection from assault by others. Treated like the perpetrator’s property, victims have been forced into servitude that includes prostitution arrangements with other prisoners” (p. 609). The submissive inmate is willing to provide pleasure to the dominant inmate to allow for a safer environment during incarceration.

In summary, research on sexual assault among male inmates is relatively low, however, it may be due to underreporting. The findings are prevalent to my research, they indicate sexual assault occurs among male inmates and guards. Upon completing the interviews with the correctional officers, the findings will be beneficial when analyzing the common themes.

A number of studies show male inmates are likely to become victims of sexual assault perpetuated by another male inmate or prison guard. Past research indicates that gender, marital status, types of offenses, longevity of sentence, and race are common factors associated with being a victim of abuse (Hensley, Tewksbury, and Castle, 2003). The studies also reveal that abuse occurs more often than it is reported due to the unwillingness of some men to disclose the abuse. Past studies do not indicate the perceptions that prison personnel have regarding male victims, and how it affects men disclosing the abuse. The definition of sexual assault is not consistent across studies. Because of this, the findings regarding the rates of sexual assault may not be completely accurate. Also, this topic is a sensitive topic, and it causes some men to feel embarrassed or shame. Therefore, some men may not disclose the abuse. Nevertheless, the several studies I discussed are pretty consistent in their findings. The methodology used in the studies consisted of mixed-methods in-person interviews. Although researchers were then able to analyze the results conducting interviews may cause some men to not fully talk about the situation that they are in due to feelings of embarrassment or shame. The present study may provide new insights by interviewing helping professionals rather than inmates, and learning their perceptions on sexual assault and victimization.

Along with past research, there are current videos that former prisoners are sharing their stories while they have been locked up.

Prison Rape Elimination Act

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) was implemented by Congress to protect prisoners while they are in custody of the United States correctional facilities. Executing this act, federal, state, and local correctional facilities are required to have a zero-tolerance policy toward prison rape (National Institute of Justice, 2017). Upon the creation of the act, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (2009) wished to eliminate prison rape. In the act, the terms “prison” and “rape” are defined. Prison is defined as, “any federal, state, or local confinement facility, including local jails, police lockups, juvenile facilities, and state and federal prisons” (Mair, Frattaroli, & Teret, 2003, p. 603). Rape includes, “(a) carnal knowledge; oral sodomy; sexual assault with an object; and sexual fondling of a person, forcibly or against that person’s will; (b)carnal knowledge: oral sodomy; sexual assault with an object; and sexual fondling of a person, without force or against that person’s will but where the victim cannot give consent because of age, or mental or physical incapacity; and (c) carnal knowledge; oral sodomy; sexual assault with an object; and sexual fondling of a person where such acts have been achieved by exploiting fear or threat of physical bodily injury” (p. Mair, Frattaroli & Teret, 2003, p. 603).


With the implementation of this act, there are five major purposes.

  1. The Act requires the Bureau of Justice Statistics to conduct an annual comprehensive statistical review and analysis of the incidence and impact of prison rape.
  2. The Act also establishes a Review Panel on Prison Rape within the Department of Justice
  3. The Attorney General must also provide funding to states for personnel, training, technical assistance, data collection, and equipment to prevent and prosecute prison rape.
  4. The Act also establishes a National Prison Rape Reduction Commission consisting of nine members who have expertise in the issue of prison rape. The Commission is to conduct a comprehensive legal and factual study of the penalogical, physical, mental, medical, social, and economic impacts of prison rape in the United States.
  5. The Act requires the Attorney General to publish a final rule within one year after receiving the Commission’s report establishing national standards for detecting, preventing, reducing, and punishing prison rape (Mair, Frattaroli, & Teret, 2003).


Barriers Inmates Face

Inmates face many barriers while incarcerated and when released back into the community. Inmates are one of the most stigmatized groups, however; research is limited on indicating the existing relationship between inmates and stigmatization. According to Moore, Stuewig, and Tangney (2013), stigma is referred to as “a process that occurs when elements of labeling, stereotyping, separation, status loss, and discrimination co-occur together in a power situation that allows the components of stigma to unfold” (p. 527). There are three levels of stigma in society, structural, social, and self. Structural stigma is “the laws and policies that restrict people from participating in society in some way” (Moore, Stuewig & Tangney, 2013, p. 528). Social stigma is “the public’s stigmatizing attitudes and discrimination toward a group of people is commonly referred to as public stigma” (Moore, Stuewig & Tangney, 2013, p. 528). Lastly, the third type of stigma is referred to as self. Self is the “individual responses to stigma often fall under the broad category of self-stigma” (Moore, Stuewig & Tangney, 2013, p. 528).

Along with the three levels of stigma in society, there are three different stigma constructs. These three constructs include public stigma, perceived stigma, and anticipated stigma. Public stigma is referred to as, “the public’s attitude toward a group of people” (Moore, Stuewig & Tangney, 2013, p. 528). Perceived stigma is defined as, “individuals’ perceptions of public attitudes toward their group” and anticipated stigma is “individuals’ expectations of personally experiencing stigmatization from others” (Moore, Stuewig & Tangney, 2013, p. 528).

When put into context, inmates are one of the most stigmatized group. Inmates receive labels and stereotypes such as “low socioeconomic status and minority race” and “associate negative personality traits with the word “criminal”” through public stigmatization (Moore, Stuewig & Tangney, 2013, p. 528). Further research may explain why many societal groups place a negative label on inmates, except police officers (Moore, Stuewig & Tangney, 2013).

Moore, Stuewig, and Tangney (2013) discuss perceived stigma and their associations with “unemployment and income loss, depression, poor social functioning, low self-esteem, and negative coping styles” (p. 528). Inmates often experience psychological and social issues from the stigmas that are received (Moore, Stuewig, and Tangney, 2013). Group stigmatization impacts inmate’s psychological and social health much more often than other forms of stigmatization. Not only does stigma play a role in how inmates are perceived in society, there are other influential factors that can play a role.

Inmate’s racial background is also a factor for how stigmas are interpreted.  According to Moore, Stuewig, and Tangney (2013), people of color “indicated greater stigmatization on items about feeling stigmatized by others whereas Caucasians reported greater stigmatization on items regarding keeping their identity a secret and being afraid of interpersonal rejection” (p.529).  Research from a criminologists perspective indicates people of color experience hardships due to racial stereotypes and prejudices. Research states (2013), “being labeled an offender may be “redundant” for African Americans because they already manage racial stigma. Supporting this idea, researchers have found that Caucasian prisoners were more likely to endorse secrecy for coping with stigma when compared to African American prisoners (Moore, Stuewig & Tangney, p. 529).

Inmates receive labels and stereotypes by society. These specific stigmas have a very negative effect on the inmate, both psychologically and socially. Stigmatizing inmates create a negative dynamic while incarcerated and when released back into the community.



Prisons are considered hyper-masculine settings.  What is considered to be masculine is often distorted and destructed during the incarceration (O’Donnell, 2004). There are a number of sexual assault cases that occur in the prisons. According to O’Donnell (2004), “the threat of sexual violence actually dominates the prison environment and structures much of the everyday interaction that goes on among inmates. In fact, the threat of sexual victimization becomes the dominant metaphor in terms of which almost every other aspect of ‘prison reality’ is interpreted” (p. 241). Inmate-on-inmate rape is a way for men to present the power and dominance they withhold in prison.

Just like other environments and cultures, there are politics within prisons that inmates are expected to follow. “A male prisoner who has sex with his cellmate without consent is considered ‘straight’ (and worthy of respect) but if he instead holds hands with him, he is considered ‘gay’ (and a legitimate target for disdain)” (O’Donnell, 2004, p. 243). In prison, men are expected to engage in sexual activity with his cell mate to achieve dominance and power over other inmates. Furthermore, research shows that victims of sexual assault undergo the loss of masculinity and their manhood. The victims go from being known as ‘men’ to ‘punks’ (O’Donnell, 2004). The social construction of masculinity shifts from what is expected in the community to what is expected in the prison setting. The language that perpetrators use are often affiliated with power rather than sex.

Rape Myths

According to Stahl, Eek, & Kazemi (2010), rape myths are defined as, “attitudes and beliefs that are generally false but are widely and persistently held, and that serv e to deny and justify male sexual aggression against women” (p. 240). Chapleau, Oswald, & Russell (2010), address six beliefs about male rape.

  1. Being raped by a male attacker is synonymous with the loss of masculinity
  2. Men who are sexually assaulted by men must be gay
  3. Men are incapable of functioning sexually unless they are sexually aroused
  4. Men cannot be forced to have sex against their will
  5. Men are less affected by sexual assault than women
  6. Men are in a constant state of readiness to accept any sexual opportunity


Victim Blaming

Gerwinde Vynckier (2012) defines victim blaming as, “the victim is (at least partially) blamed for having contributed to the victimization” (p. 38). Research shows that individuals may have a tendency to put blame on the victim. Victim blaming is strongly linked to victim precipitation. Victim precipitation is defined as (2012), “the fact that the victim contributed to the victimization by his/her own behavior (Vynckier, p. 39). Through the study Vynckier conducted, it was noted there are different forms of victim blaming. Each different form can have a different effect on the victim. Vynckier (2012) utilizes Janoff-Bulman’s (1979) distinction of victim blaming: characterological and behavioural self-blame (p. 42). Characterological self-blame allows the victim to put blame on themselves based on who he/she is as a person. Behavioural self-blame gives the victim the opportunity to regain control of the situation and it may decrease future victimizations (Vynckier, 2012). Victim blaming occurs in both major and minor instances of victimizations.

Some individuals may have a tendency to explain and rationalize instances in society due to the social construction. System Justification Theory (2010) states, “people are motivated to justify and rationalize the way things are, so that existing social, economic, and political arrangements tend to be perceived as fair and legitimate” (Stahl, Eek, & Kazemi, p. 241). Individual’s tendency to rationalize depends on the individual and the situation. Gender, rape, and sexual assault are instances where individuals may form different myths and rationalizations.

Perceptions of Helping Professionals

Different helping professions have been constructed to have particular attitudes and perceptions of victims of sexual assault for example, some stereotypes include respecting or disrespecting based on the victim’s gender (Payne, Button, Rapp, 2008). Research has analyzed different helping professions including “police officers, SANEs [Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner], lawyers, judges, and jurors” (Payne, Button, & Rapp, 2008) and crisis workers. Research studies imply the understood relationship between helping professionals and male victims by suggesting relationships and perceptions are affected by helping professions. 

Helping Professional’s Perceptions of Victims

Criminal Justice Personnel

            Despite how the media portrays correctional officers, research suggests the relationship between helping professions and victims are affected by career path. Payne and colleagues (2008) state, “police officers, SANEs, lawyers, judges, and jurors can further traumatize a sexual assault victim (p.376). Research studies link type of helping profession and perceptions of victims. Payne, Button, & Rapp (2008) found individuals who belong to a criminal justice profession are more likely to traumatize victims of sexual assault. Police officers are trained to search for credibility and intoxication in criminal cases, they are not trained on how to interact with victims (Rich & Seffrin, 2012). Police officers may often accept rape myths due to their focus being credibility and intoxication. Accepting rape myths can create a negative relationship with the victim often leaving them with feeling blame and embarrassment.



Preliminary research has indicated that SANEs have either a respectable or disrespectable attitude toward victims (Payne, Button, & Rapp, 2008). Research explains experiencing negative feelings still occurs today (2008), “a large number of victims experiencing negative treatment from various service personnel may end up victimizing survivors” (Payne, Button & Rapp). Nurses fail to accept rape myths that society has been constructed to believe. The acceptance of these myths create a negative relationship with the victim and leaves them with the feeling of blame and shame. Victims who disclose instances of sexual assault to a criminal justice personnel or nurse (criminal justice), may likely experience “stress, depression, anxiety, and increased signs of posttraumatic stress disorder than victims who do not report” (Payne, Button, & Rapp, 2008, p. 376). Working with professionals who have a negative outlook on victims may lead to a negative experience when looking for recovery.

Crisis Workers

Research also suggests crisis workers are needed when working with victims of sexual assault. Payne and colleagues suggest (2008) “sexual assault crisis workers attempt to offset the overwhelming loss of control and other negative repercussions that victims encounter upon entering the justice system (p. 377).  Additionally, crisis workers provide emergency assistance, counseling, and intervention programs. With having the services provided, research indicates (2008), victims who had an advocate are more likely to report their case to the police and not have a negative experience (Payne, Button, & Rapp). Victims indicate they received better medical and legal services when they have an advocate.

According to previous research, there are six main perceptions of sexual assault workers. In the initial relationship between the sexual assault victim and the crisis worker, assess the response system. From a sociopsychological standpoint, sexual assault crisis workers have an insider’s perspective which gives them the tendency to navigate through the assault system. Research is continuing to give sexual assault victims the encouragement to use their voice.  Next, crisis workers have several clients on a daily basis that have gone through traumatizing sexual assaults. From this, crisis workers are able to develop a thorough understanding of the response system. Through having a foundation of knowledge working with sexual assault victims, crisis workers will be able to identify patterns in behaviors to assist victims in their recovery process. Research indicates the criminal justice system presents negative attitudes toward victims. Fifth, through adjusting the claims that researchers have devised, further research can be implemented to create “new strategies to overcome the problems” (Payne, Button, & Rapp, 2008). Lastly, the field of criminal justice has a tendency to explain victimization and tends to generalize victimization (Payne, Button, & Rapp, 2008).



Identity and Emotion Work

            Identity work refers to “signifying, labeling, and defining. It also includes creation of the codes that enable self-signifying and the interpretation of others’ signifying behavior” (Schwalbe & Mason-Schrock, 1996, p. 115).  The kind of identity work that contributes to helping professionals perceiving victims is individual work. Schwalbe and Mason-Schrock (1996) state, “another kind is individual, though not private, the use of these signs, rules, and conventions by individuals to create images of themselves in interaction. It is through these kinds that meanings are made in social life, specifically, the meanings that attach to persons as social objects and by which the responses of others are mobilized” (p. 115).

All professionals are expected to manage their emotions while working. Some fields require more emotional management than others. Occupations that interact with individuals or clients are more likely to experience more emotions. Emotional Labor “refers to the process by which workers are expected to manage their feelings in accordance with organizationally defined rules and guidelines” (Wharton, 2009, p.147). Along with examining how often professionals interact with people, researchers also examine “the extent to which workers engage in surface or deep acting” (Wharton, 2009, p. 158).

Most individuals who work with victims, criminal justice personnel, nurses, crisis workers, all work directly with the victim. However, they have different roles in the victim’s life. Criminal Justice Personnel may be looking to provide legal action for the victim. Nurses may likely provide services to the victim to ensure they are still in good health. Lastly, the crisis workers seek to provide empathy and support to the victim to work through the abuse. The question is, how much does the type of occupation affect the victim? Do different occupations have expectations and guidelines for how they should engage with victims? If so, how does this affect how the individuals perceives the male victim? How is the professional’s identity affected as well?


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