Porter, Theresa and Gavin, Helen (2015) Perceptions of Evil from Abu Ghraib: Female Prison Guards and Sexual Violence. In: Evil, Women and the Feminine, 7th Global Meeting, 6-8 May, 2015, Dubrovnik, Croatia. (Unpublished)

In 2003, the world was presented with images of sexual torture from Abu Ghraib, a U.S. military prison in Iraq. For many people, part of the shock of the images was the fact that several of the guards were women. Lynndie England, Sabrina Harman, Megan Ambuhl and Janis Karpinski quickly became the infamous face of the U.S. imperialism. The involvement of women celebrating prisoners’ sexual humiliation and pain, was extremely difficult for people to comprehend and it forced western society to realize that simply adding women to the military did not automatically make that military less prone to brutality.

The aftermath of Abu Ghraib included extensive analysis from multiple perspectives. Conservatives claimed being in the military has ‘masculinized’ the perpetrators and made them violent. Some feminist theorists stated that England et al were just scapegoats who lacked any power or authority both as women in a patriarchal system and as common soldiers. Sociologists discussed the role of group dynamics and how violence towards the enemy has historically been one of the ways to increase a team’s cohesion. Others noted the connection to colonialism in the fact that all the victims were men of color while the perpetrators were Caucasian. Throughout these analyses, the focus has been on the perpetrators as soldiers, but downplayed their role as prison guards. However, as this paper will demonstrate, this role may be useful in better understanding the actions at Abu Ghraib. A large body of data shows that, in the USA, female prison guards are responsible for the majority of sexual crimes against male inmates and a large percentage of sexual crimes against female inmates. This paper will discuss how the sexual torture at Abu Ghraib can be seen as existing on the same continuum of other sexual crimes committed by female guards in civilian prisons.

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