Chloë Taylor, Foucault, Feminism, & Sex Crimes: An Anti-Carceral Analysis. (Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2018, 272 pp).
IT IS NOT AN UNDERSTATEMENT to say that French philosopher Michel Foucault is one of the most influential academics of recent history. His thought has formed the basis of many careers. Chloë Taylor, associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Canada’s University of Alberta, has written extensively on Foucault’s thought (see Taylor’s website here). Championing what she calls “an anti-carceral feminist Foucauldian approach to sex crimes,” this book draws together Foucault’s critiques of prison, psychiatry, and discourses on sexuality, placing them alongside more recent work emerging out of critical disability, queer, and decolonial studies literature to argue for non-punitive responses to sex crime.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 examines Foucault’s explicit comments about sexual activity deemed criminal, whilst part 2 develops the books’ anti-carceral / decarceral arguments. The final part explores Foucault’s notions of “reverse discourse” and “perverse implantation” applied to debates around the identity and liberation of sex workers and zoophiles, exploring how and why some deployments of reverse discourses have succeeded where others have failed. Offering practical, constructive ideas, Taylor’s conclusion discusses social justice alternatives to the carceral system.
The ‘Real’ Purpose of Prison
In her introduction, Taylor begins with the bold assertion that, for Foucault, prisons fail to prevent or deter crime. “On the contrary,” Taylor writes, “prisons produce criminals and thus more crime; they do this both by turning one-time lawbreakers into hardened criminals and by depriving families and communities of parents and wage-earners, leading to more crimes arising from poverty and familial and community dysfunction” (p. 1).
Taylor explicates how this takes place in present day North America. Drawing on the anti-carceral work of Marie Gottschalk and Loïc Wacquant, respectively, Taylor documents how those convicted of a crime deemed sexual in nature are subjected to pervasive and intense surveillance and restriction over their everyday lives. Placement on sex offender registries, sometimes open to the public, exposes many persons convicted of such crimes, ranging from urinating on a tree in public, sexting, to forced sexual activity. Those on the registry find themselves heavily stigmatized, homeless, or effectively unemployable.
Crucially, however, the “majority of those who are now sentenced to prison never stand trial” (p. 130). Instead, defendants accept plea bargains for reduced sentences even if they are innocent; infinitely preferable when “30 years for drug possession or 99 years for sex trafficking,” are the sentences that defendants, in Taylor’s words, are “threatened with” (p. 131). Although Taylor does not explicate the implications of this reality for the wider public’s engagement with material or media about crimes deemed sexual (see Cucolo and Perlin, 2013; Walsh, 2020), it seems safe to argue for skepticism and a critical distance when reading about “convicted” persons, as their relative innocence or guilt may never have even been assessed let alone proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Some of Taylor’s points are so obvious in retrospect but delightful and powerful to read in such concise prose. On how the working-class response to prison has changed, she writes:
“For Foucault, the real function of the prison has been to transform politicized offenders into psychiatrized and stigmatized delinquents— people viewed as social problems or enemies of society—and this first occurred at a time when once-mundane crimes committed predominantly by the working classes, such as looting and vandalism, were taking on ever more threatening implications for the upper classes, as during the French Revolution and factory strikes. In this context, and with these political stakes, transforming unpredictable offenders into predictable delinquents, turning political dissidents into psychiatric cases, is exactly what the prison does well, and why it is a success that states do not dream of doing without.” (p. 3).
In turning “unpredictable offenders into predictable delinquents,” such persons become objects of knowledge with their actions constructed in psychiatric terms – a “criminal mind” rather than political dissent. Especially in the area of sexuality, criminalized expressions aren’t generally seen as political, and some scholars (e.g. Mirkin, 1999) claim that the early bouts of sexual liberation struggles involve the “battle to prevent the battle”: to keep issues framed around dehumanized deviants as opposed to human variance worthy of serious political consideration.
Because lawbreakers are categorized into subcultures defined by criminality, the objects of knowledge, they become people “we can anticipate, contain, and even utilize, and whose impact can be medicalized, individualized, depoliticized and diffused” (Ibid).
This de-politicization, once common with homosexuality rendered “sodomy” or masturbation labelled “self-abuse” (Malón, 2010; Egan and Hawkes, 2009; 2012; 2013) now applied to other activities deemed deviant, sexual and criminal, is significant. As Taylor explains, by turning the lawbreaker into a delinquent, “the poor have largely ceased to identify and empathize with those subjected to the criminal punishment system. Crime is no longer understood as a relatively normal response to conditions of poverty, distress and oppression, but is perceived to arise from a pathologized and stigmatized identity with which even the poor dissociate.” (Ibid).
“For Foucault”, then, “the purpose and function of the prison is not to rehabilitate offenders, despite our continual rhetoric to this effect, but to discipline offenders into delinquents, manageable objects of knowledge cut off from the rest of the population, contained criminal cases rather than political threats” (p. 3). Because criminalized subjects become stigmatized subjects, it is relatively easy for the public to ignore or minimize violence that convicted persons endure.
As Taylor explains, “both legal and extralegal sexual violence has been shown by numerous prison scholars to be a ubiquitous aspect of prison life, perpetrated approximately equally by staff and inmates” (p. 17). Being the polar opposite to what many feminists claim to work towards, “Prison is a hyper-misogynist space in which LGBTQ prisoners and sex offenders are particularly targeted for rape and in which sexual violence is structural and mundane in the form of nonconsensual pat-downs, frisks, mandatory strip searches and body cavity searches.” (Ibid). For Taylor, if feminists are seriously concerned about rape, they should be against prisons and the registry. Prison, she contends, is a space which “normalizes rape and thus produces rapists in a population that will, for the most part, return to the outside world.” (Ibid). She concludes:
“Given these facts, it is arguable that anyone concerned with preventing sexual crimes such as rape should be engaged not so much in putting sex offenders in prisons as in keeping them out of prisons, since prison is one of the most likely places for rape to occur and for a culture of rape to be normalized” (Ibid).
Foucault’s Shadow: The Case of Charles Jouy and Sophie Adam
A shadow has haunted Foucault since his death in 1984, and Taylor wastes no time in addressing it. The first chapter thus summarizes Foucault’s comments, most famously in the 1st volume of The History of Sexuality and in his radio discussion with Guy Hocquenghem and Jean Danet (see here), on the sexuality of pre-adolescent youth and their erotic encounters with older people.
Taylor has contributed significantly by summarizing Foucault’s comments and contrasting feminist debates around them, and by including, as an appendix, the full 1868 psychiatric report on Charles Jouy which Foucault was working from, translated to English by the author.
In a review of the recent posthumous 4th volume, published in French in 2018, Foucault scholar Stuart Elden reminds us that Foucault had initially hoped to extend The History of Sexuality with six more volumes. Covering such figures / subjects as “the perverse man, the hysterical woman, the masturbating child and the married couple,” a book was to be dedicated to each. These went unpublished, but partial drafts of his planned volume on childhood masturbation, La croisade des enfants [The Children’s Crusade], have been archived. Earls claims that “Foucault used some of the material he was drafting for his Collège de France lectures, especially in the Abnormals course of 1974-75.” The collection of lectures being referred to here – Abnormal – has been published in English and discusses the Jouy-Adams case, suggesting Foucault may have planned to use it for The Children’s Crusade. Hopefully, we will see as much of Foucault’s notes and drafts re-constructed and the remaining volumes published.
Taylor dedicates an entire chapter to the Jouy-Adams case. Who were they, and what’s so important that occurred between the two?
Charles Jouy is described in the report as a 40-year-old man who had lost his mother early in life, received no education, and was employed to do rough labor for starvation wages, sleeping in barns and stables. He was marginalized, friendless, and often drunk. “The information that we have,” the examining doctors write, “shows that little importance was attributed to him and he was used like a mechanical being” (p. 246). He is described as an idiot and mentally backward, to the extent that his employers give him simple tasks and do not consider him responsible for his actions. Adult women of his peer age make fun of him, and his employer recalls that “I saw him allow himself to be beaten by my eleven-year-old child, without trying to defend himself.” (p. 247). The doctors conclude that, whilst “his personality is gentle,” he “is extremely gullible and weak” (p. 251).
The report tells us that Jouy had seen 11-year-old Sophie Adam “masturbating a 13- or 14-year-old boy on Saint-Nicolas Road whilst another little girl did the same thing for another boy” (p. 248). The young Adam became so renowned for charging money to make maton – “curdled milk” as they euphemistically call it – that the villagers wanted her, not Jouy alone, to be institutionalized until she came of age. Her father reportedly complained that, despite his “thrashings,” his daughter remains “undisciplined.” (p. 248).
Under the heading “FACTS,” the doctors recall the events that led to Jouy being arrested. They write:
“The 7th of September 1867, Jouy came across two 11-year-old girls, Sophie Adam and Marie Briquelet, in a field, approached them and had the first perform shameful manoeuvers on him in the presence of the other. – Another time, the day of the Lupcourt fair, he persuaded the young Sophie Adam to follow him on the road to Nancy and, with her consent, attempted a sexual approach which does not seem to have been successful” (p. 246).
The missing details are that Jouy was openly masturbating as he approached Adam, and in the second case, that Adam asked for money and Jouy agreed on condition that she let him penetrate her, which Jouy attempted to do but stopped after Adam experienced sharp pain and blood trickled down. It was the sight of blood on Adam’s clothes that led her parents to file a complaint to the Mayor and ultimately to Jouy’s arrest.
The report is noteworthy for a few reasons. Firstly, the language. In the passage quoted, the doctors speak of “consent” straight away. The doctors consider Adam and Jouy’s behavior “shameful” and “immoral” and therefore wrong a priori, not because they believe or render her consent invalid. Second, the doctors do not ignore the agency of Sophie Adam when discussing her testimony, noting how she “suggested to her friend to take her turn with this penis” (p. 247), to which her friend chose to decline. Finally, the purpose of the report is radically different than it would be today. The doctors are concerned with determining to what extent Jouy should be held responsible for his actions, not whether he is innocent or guilty (he “naively” admits his guilt, as the doctors put it).
Perhaps most powerfully, the doctors emphasize that Jouy prefers being in the asylum. At least there he sleeps on a bed rather than straw, has access to food, no longer performs hard labor or finds himself beaten by children. Whilst the doctors think Jouy is mentally deficient, they believe he retains a basic capacity for moral judgement that renders him responsible but not criminally liable; for them, Jouy is “entitled” to medical care and would be better off remaining in the asylum. Jouy spent the rest of his life there.
The Verdict on Jouy-Adam
There is no indication that Adam experienced any negative feelings or psychological distress from the sexual encounters themselves. Indeed, after the unsuccessful penetration, Adam receives the money and goes to the fair to buy roasted almonds, which Foucault took as evidence that Adam experienced the encounters as inconsequential. Because the case was exceptional, marking the beginnings of modern psychiatric confinement where Jouy was deemed likely to recidivate and thus a “dangerous individual,” Foucault sees Jouy as “a victim of a new, scientific will to know about sex, and his life was sacrificed to that will” (p. 28). “For Foucault,” writes Taylor, “it was outrageous that a man should lose his freedom for what were, in his mind, “inconsequential bucolic pleasures” (p. 28).
Foucault earned much ire because of comments like these. His most influential critic on this topic is Linda Alcoff, who Taylor laments is so influential that her earlier work was unduly influenced by Alcoff’s. In a seeming attempt to reconcile this, Taylor cites more recent feminist re-readings of Foucault such as Oksala (2011), which have problematized accounts like Alcoff’s that erroneously reduce Foucault’s work to an apologia for unwanted sexual advances on children. Particularly important are Ball (2013), and Shelley Tremain’s (2013) emphasis on disability. Tremain’s essay highlights how considerations of disability have been absent from ostensibly feminist writers like Alcoff, whilst considering Jouy intellectually disabled opens up the possibility that Adam, not Jouy, held the balance of power in their encounters.
With Jouy being disabled, poor, socially marginal and feeble enough to be physically abused and tormented by neighbourhood children, it is no wonder Foucault chose this case: it completely undermines the most common assumptions about how power is mobilized in “child-adult” experiences. Namely, that persons over a given age, or with bigger bodies or more resources, are necessarily and always more powerful, or that, even if they were more powerful, that the society which surrounds them facilitates the exercising of power in ways which are domineering, or instead facilitates more mutual relations which minimize any possibility of coercion.
One mistake Taylor makes is to construe this case as an example of “child molestation.” The term “molestation” specifically refers to unwanted or forced sexual touching, of which this case, by definition, is not. There is no indication that Adam was forced, or did not want, the two erotic encounters that took place with Jouy. Taylor claims that Foucault, by focusing on Jouy and not Adam, “belittles” (p. 30) Adam’s experience, whilst Alcoff, who identifies as a victim of unwanted sexual touching (molestation), assumed the superiority of her own experience which she projects onto Adam. Like Foucault, who assumed Adams’s buying almonds at the fair means she wasn’t bothered by the experience, all 3 authors have the same problem: they all project onto Adam their own imaginings of what she surely must have felt. In reality, none of them know what Adam experienced, thought or felt. If anything, the report signals that Adam felt more afraid of being beaten by her parents than of masturbating the villagers. Whilst the doctors report that Adam didn’t tell her family about Jouy out of fear her mother would beat her, we simply do not have the evidence to warrant conclusive claims about what Adam felt, and all these scholars, despite their differences, should know better than to suggest otherwise.
The ‘P’ Spectre
Her criticism that Foucault did not engage in discussion on “pedophilia” is ironic considering Taylor herself provides no extensive or evidence-based discussion. She does not inform readers that the original term “paedophilia” is derived from the Greek pais – meaning boy or child – and philia meaning love. Literally, then, the term means “boy” or “child lover,” making it easy to understand why many writers (e.g. O’Carroll, 1980; Brongersma, 1980; 1984; 1988), before the term became associated with violence, murder and kidnapping, saw the term in a positive light. For what is increasingly coming to be recognized as a sexual orientation like any other (Seto, 2012; Mundy, 2020; Cash, 2016), those who find themselves primarily or exclusively attracted to pre-adolescent youth (paedophiles), whilst they may be non-exclusive and attracted to adults as well, have been shown to have a desire to nurture (Ponesti et al., 2018) and self-report feelings of love (Martijn et al., 2020; Dymond and Duff, 2020) towards young people.
Taylor provides no discussion of the self-perception of such persons, how they perceive their attractions (for males, see Li, 1999; for females, see Lievesley and Lapworth, 2021) or negotiate stigma in their everyday lives (Freimond, 2013; Jahnke, 2015; Pfirrmann, 2015; Walker, 2017; 2019; Pedersen, 2017). Philosophical debates (e.g. Leahy, 1988; Ehman, 2000; Malón, 2015; O’Carroll, 2018; Kershnar, 2001; 2015) are absent. And there is no acknowledgement of findings that pedophiles are psychologically well adjusted or, most recently, that male pedophiles in the community display fewer psychopathic traits compared to controls. That is, the “normal” men had more psychopathic traits (see Goudreault, 2017 for a literature review and original study).
Beauty is in the Eye of the Judge
Although Taylor does not acknowledge the expansive and incorrect use of the “P” word to disparage even legal sexual encounters between persons of disparate ages (see Crispin, 2020), nor the expansion of the word “child” which now applies to anyone under 18, collapsing distinctions between three-year-olds and 17-year-olds (for criticism, see Graupner, 2005; Briken et al., 2011), she does acknowledge her own problematic relationship to the expansion of what is meant by “child pornography.”
As scholars (e.g. Hessik, 2018) have noted, this legal term no longer applies only to flesh-and-blood persons, or even to persons engaged in sexual activity or even naked. All it takes for something to be dubbed “CP” is for a judge or jury to deem it so, and this is particularly controversial when adolescents are dubbed the “creators or distributors of child pornography” for sharing media of themselves, or when artists draw or animate material featuring persons with small bodies and youthful dispositions. As renowned Japan scholar McLelland (2016) notes, such representations are common in Japanese-originated / inspired manga and anime, and have led to prosecutions for consumers of mainstream (non-pornographic) titles despite scholars like Galbraith (2011) pointing out the complete lack of any evidence for the harmfulness of even overtly pornographic manga. Having abandoned the harm argument, current legislation supports Taylor’s claim that law has become a normalizing force, “concerned more with disciplining or eliminating abnormality […] than with truth or justice” (p. 137).
This becomes relevant to Taylor when she discusses a painting from 1878 by Mary Cassatt, entitled little girl in a blue armchair (pictured below).
Taylor recalls being “stunned” that her instructor described the image as “pedophilic” (p. 160). To understand how this is possible, Taylor draws on Amy Adler’s famous concept of the “pedophilic gaze” (2001). Namely, that the persistent conception of pedophiles as strangers lurking around playgrounds – the omnipresent vigilance and sense of threat – has resulted in a tendency to sexualize young people, “seeing them through the lens of a dangerous other’s imagined desire.” (p. 160). Others have been sexualized too: “a man sitting in a park […] a neighbor walking his dog who stops to talk […] and a mother who photographs her child naked – each of these figures has been imbued with a suspicious sexuality that they would not have had before.” For Adler, this very alertness “obliges” older persons to “think constantly about children as sexual objects,” that is, through a pedophilic gaze.
Taylor cites Judith Levine’s (2002) book Harmful to Minors, who similarly argues that modern vigilance has made previously innocent behaviors and images sexual, where they used to be viewed as natural “but now appear pornographic or perverse” (p. 160). In her instructor’s interpretation, the “facial expression and sprawling pose were sexually inviting” (Ibid). Although Taylor was “initially disgusted” by their interpretation, she quickly realized such an image could be found arousing and the figure’s posture appear coquettish. “Now,” she admits, “I cannot see Cassatt’s painting in any other way” (p. 161).
The Incarceration Boom
Whilst Taylor believes North America has adopted the pedophilic gaze as part of its culture, she is quick to point out this doesn’t make everyone a pedophile. Indeed, because of interpreting otherwise innocent or innocuous behaviors, images and media as sexual, Adler claims that some people may feel an increased sense of horror or repulsion to that very feeling / interpretation, and some may even be driven towards activism. Responses are highly variable and individual.
The point to underscore apart from ever-expanding and perhaps misleading definitions, is that rising U.S. incarceration rates were driven by non-rape offences: convictions for possession of images deemed criminal were the driving force. Referring to Gottschalk’s work again, we read:
“The number of people serving time for possession of sexually explicit materials, typically child pornography, in the federal prison system increased more than sixtyfold between 1996 and 2010, compared to an 80 percent rise in drug offences over the same period” (Gottshalk, 2015, p. 199, in Taylor, p. 106).
Some U.S. states require mandatory minimum sentences. In Arizona, for example, a “minimum of 10 years for each pornographic image one possesses” featuring youth applies, allowing “an Arizona court to pass a sentence of 200 years for an individual who possessed 20 illegal images” (p. 106).
Although Taylor does not believe incarceration – shifting rape from the streets to the prison – can ever be a solution to rape or rape culture, her discussion is hampered by her evident disdain for intergenerational issues where it concerns people who find themselves in bodies over 18-years-old. Taylor is rightly more concerned about “normal” heterosexual fathers, but does not go far enough to cite criminologists like Walker (2019, p. 3) who explain that research evidence has long shown how “between 50 and 70% of individuals” who come to the attention of authorities for offences involving young people, “are not preferentially attracted” to them. In other words, most sex offences are not committed by pedophiles, but by “normal,” disproportionately poor black men who are targeted by the criminal punishment system. Indeed, scholars like Mokros (2018) have noted the uncertainty in psychiatric diagnosis and have estimated that up to 1 in 3 diagnoses of pedophilia in sex offenders may be incorrect. Increasingly, it is children themselves who are targeted as criminals, with a third of those on the US sex offender registries being children themselves (Horowitz, 2016; 2017; Levine and Meiners, 2020), whilst peer-aged sexual expression has been rendered criminal activity (Okami, 1992).
I wonder whether Taylor is simply unfamiliar with much of the material cited above, of if she simply prefers to keep it from her readers. In an example of bad scholarship and what-not-to-do, Taylor shows some awareness of past debates but then dismisses (p. 48) David Thorstad’s (1991; cf. 1980; 1995; 1998; 2012) writing on intergenerational issues without argument or supporting evidence.
Ironically, scholars such as Scott de Orio, in his (2017) dissertation chapter The Crackdown on the Queer Subculture of Intergenerational Sex, have shown convincingly that the U.S. government mobilized expansive CP law to crack down on people like Thorstad because it was too difficult to catch and prove the guilt of persons in real-life who experienced positive and consensual intergenerational relationships. Conscious of the politics surrounding their love, younger partners too often refused to disavow their older counterpart, making it difficult for the criminal authorities to establish a prosecutable case. Positive intergenerational encounters occurring in western societies are implied but not emphasized by Taylor, despite being well-documented in research (Okami, 1991; Kilpatrick, 1986; 1987; 1992; Burns, 2015; Rivas, 2020; Cleves, 2020, see review here; for lesbian experiences exclusively, see Sax and Deckwitz, 1991; Littauer, 2020). As the “P” question is clearly a concern for her and likely for most readers, something which will hold many back from supporting her admirable stance against prisons and the registry, her lack of evidence-based discussion and evident disdain signals the need for scholars who are brave, comfortable, or perhaps foolish enough to thoroughly discuss intergenerational issues.
Where Does Trauma Come From?
In chapter 4, Feminism, Crime and Punishment, Taylor explores feminist debates around the historical contingency of trauma, what is considered rape, and how it was responded to. Note, however, that Taylor does not define “trauma” or “rape,” but seems to rely on some ethereal shared understanding. For clarity, the American Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as a negative emotional response to a given stimuli. As for rape, Taylor’s examples imply forced, coerced or unwanted intercourse, rather than any sexual activity deemed “non-consensual,” and so I take this to be her meaning.
Regardless, Taylor notes that 18th century women and girls were not permitted to express their sexuality openly. Instead, they were expected to remain “pure” until their wedding night. As females were expected to be “pure,” “innocent” of sexual desire and knowledge, it was considered normal for young females to exhibit coyness and even resistance to sexual encounters, normalizing what could today be deemed “rape culture” (p. 85).
Indeed, Anglophone societies still use the expression “take me” or “my / their virginity,” where sexual experiences (here first coitus) are seen as transformative, marking a break where a person is “taken” from one lifeworld to another, from “pure” to “corrupted.” In the 18th century this would typically have revolved around marriage and childbearing, markers of status interpreted through a paradigm of “honour.” This held so much importance that whether a sexual act had been wanted or not carried little social weight. Today, it would be considered lunacy for women and girls to petition courts to marry them to their rapists and thus restore their honour, something which, according to Taylor, was a common occurrence (Ibid).
Whilst there is some evidence to suggest that because rape has had different meanings historically, that its occurrence thus elicited different responses and psychological outcomes, Taylor is rightly cautious not to make any definitive conclusions when the evidence dates from periods where sex negativity was common, and many women were less willing or less able to air their feelings.
Taylor takes this discussion into the controversy around Susan Clancy’s 2009 book The Trauma Myth (see Green, 2010; Loftus, 2010), exploring the lack of, and variation within, trauma responses regarding young people’s erotic encounters with older persons. Clancy found, for instance, that former young people, looking back on their past experience, reported feeling guilty for enjoying an intergenerational experience which is everywhere condemned as violent and brutal – when the majority of such experiences are non-violent and non-penetrative. These young people were assumed and expected to experience psychological distress and damage in response to their sexual encounter(s), not in response to dominant expectations, pressures, and social norms.
Since Clancy’s work, there has been further recognition of this reality, with Nielsen (2016) referring to the phenomena as “tabooing victims” of CSA. That is, if former young people develop some measurable psychological maladjustment, they are expected to be permanently and severely maladjusted. Dominant discourses do not permit them to question the origins or discourses surrounding their past encounter(s), or to interrogate and / or overcome any negative feelings that may have developed. By contrast, if they aren’t psychologically maladjusted, such persons risk being stigmatized, ostracized, made to feel guilty, ashamed, even afraid of expressing a contrary viewpoint. In fact, recent research (Scheer et al., 2020) has found shame to be a moderating factor when dealing with what the authors call “potentially traumatic events,” further emphasizing the role of external social forces in shaping responses to a given behaviour.
Taylor takes seriously Foucault’s argument that subjects and their identities are constituted and re-constituted by the discourses that surround them. In cases of a given era’s incendiary sexual encounters, the event becomes caught up and central to the identities of those involved in a way that might not have occurred, or have occurred differently, in a different context. Taylor movingly decries how many women in today’s world feel compelled to adopt the role and social script of what she calls an “ideal victim,” performing as a damsel-in-distress who has been terribly and brutally harmed by a dominant male aggressor, just to have their case taken seriously. I would simply add that, by questioning any tenet of what Rind (2019) identifies as the assumptions of victimological CSA discourse, young people themselves risk being perceived as “apologists” for speaking out about the realities of their encounter(s), or dismissed and / or ignored as stupid, easily manipulated “cultural dupes” (Yuill, 2010; Yuill, 2013, ch. 3). In both cases, I would argue, the message is clear: only “ideal victims” are permitted to speak, taken seriously, listened to, and accepted.
Taylor’s discourse on intergenerational issues remains firmly wedded to the notion that any encounter with a hint of erotic significance constitutes “exploitation,” something which will “override” a young person’s “bodily autonomy and integrity” (p. 93). Despite her awareness of Clancy’s work, Taylor never seriously entertains the notion that intergenerational relationships / encounters can be beneficial or empowering for the younger partner (documented for males by Sandfort, 1984; 1987 and females by Leahy, 1994; 1996; Anon, 2019): an expression – rather than “overriding” of – their “bodily autonomy and integrity.”
Clancy termed the process of coming to re-evaluate one’s past experience (in this case, often in-line with dominant social attitudes) as “re-conceptualization.” Whilst other scholars have argued for the importance of “de-centring” (Clark, 2018) and “overcoming” (Whitelock et al., 2016) trauma, Taylor shows a surprising lack of reflexivity in failing to consider whether her use of what Best (1997) outlined as “victimological” terminology – “victim / survivor” contrasted with “offender / perpetrator” – could be contributing to the very problem she claims to be against.
Noting cultural differences, Taylor discusses the famous anthropology of Gilbert Herdt, who studied what he came to call “ritualized insemination” practices between older and younger males among the Sambia tribe of Papua New Guinea. However, she fails to entertain the possibility that, had the Sambia youths grown older surrounded by pressure to “re-conceptualize” their experience as abuse, labelled “victim” or “survivor” against their will, at perennial risk of becoming heretics and social pariahs should they contest their imposed labels, they might instead have acquiesced and internalized dominant expectations of harm, overwriting their initial self-perception and developing or compounding negative psychological responses as a result. If language produces reality, writers like Taylor ought to think far more carefully about the harmful possibilities of their rhetoric.
What Changed Feminism?
Towards the end of this chapter, Taylor chides carceral feminists for their silence over prison rape. Her sentiments can be summed up by feminist legal scholar Constance Backhouse:
“How can it be a feminist remedy to consign rapists to institutions where they are at grave risk of rape themselves? If we are against rape, we are against all rape” (p. 78).
Taylor thus reiterates her earlier discussion of strip searches and pat downs as legalized and normalized acts of sexual assault. She quotes from famous abolitionist scholar Angela Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003), describing correctional guards crying when faced with inmates performing routine strip searches on stage: for a moment they realized that “without the uniform, without the power of the state, [the strip search] would be sexual assault” (Davis, quoted in Taylor, p. 112).
Legal scholar Gabriel Arkles (2015) asserts that prison staff fail to recognize the harmfulness of their actions because popular discourses imagine sexual violence as something illegal, individual (not systemic), involving an evil perpetrator and an innocent or “ideal” victim, rather than an everyday experience that could happen to anyone and not be experienced as sexual or harmful (Ibid). Arkles believes that combatting rape requires the increase of bodily autonomy and sexual self-determination, something which prison, “by controlling all biological aspects of inmates’ existences, from diet to hygiene to exercise and clothing” (p. 113), undercuts. Quite paradoxically for those who claim to be against rape culture, Taylor explains that:
“[C]ondoms are contraband in prison despite the prevalence of AIDS, with correctional staff preferring to endanger the lives of inmates rather than to condone homosexuality” (p. 113). In effect, “Sexual consent becomes meaningless in prisons, where one is neither free to say “yes” to sex with other inmates nor to say “no” to having one’s body stripped, viewed and penetrated by staff” (Ibid).
Drawing on Foucault, Taylor contends that a solution to strip search assault does not require that we track down prison guards to have them removed, as someone bound by the same institutional responsibilities will simply take their place. Rather, as Taylor writes, we need to “identify and dismantle the system of norms that inform their decisions and make them appear inevitable” (p. 145). In the case of sexual assault, for Taylor, this means challenging the cultural norms according to which “rape is a rare or pathological occurrence, [and] victims must be innocent” (Ibid). In general, she contends, we ought to spend less attention on what the law says about people, and instead attend to what supposedly neutral policies do to people (p. 148).
For her, in the knowledge that police and correctional officers receive very little training (p. 148), often using vague, general, or after-the-fact charges, legal change should not be the primary focus of activists. Laws get overturned and replaced by new ones; culture makes them stick. Abolitionist efforts, instead of being directed at individuals, should attend to the background assumptions of those who purportedly enforce the law.
For Taylor, radical feminists in the 1960’s saw rape as linked to women’s role and position in society, whereas liberal (increasingly carceral) feminists during and after the 80’s tended to individualize the problem. What transformed feminism? Money. The role of government funding policy in (re)shaping attitudes needs to be emphasized. As Taylor explains: “due to government funding, some rape crisis centers had to withhold services from victims who refused to file reports with the police.” (p. 95). Recall that, if “rape” refers to any activity deemed “non-consensual,” then many marriages are rife with “spousal rape.” And yet, quite understandably, many women would not want to send their husbands and fathers to prison for decades because they had sex “blackout” drunk or otherwise acquiesced to a sexual encounter. In sending them to prison married women risk losing their support, perhaps even risking homelessness for them and their children, and losing, possibly destroying, any possibility of improving their future relationship. Pointing to the need for alternatives to the carceral system, discussions need to take account of variation in human experience as well as recognizing the role financial incentives and institutional power play in shaping (and restricting) discourse. As Taylor writes, “when the feminist staff of one such rape crisis center objected [to filing police reports], they were replaced by employees of the criminal punishment system (Gottschalk, 2006, p. 126)” (p. 95).
The response to sexual activity deemed criminal has thus been shaped, not by what is necessarily wanted or in the best long-term interests of women and girls, but by what is most profitable for the U.S. prison and therapy industries. A similar case has been made with intergenerational experiences (Oellerich, 2002) which would not be obvious from Taylor’s discussion.
All Lives are Equal, But Some are More Equal than Others
Why have we come to see prisons, that is, putting our fellow human beings in cages, as acceptable or even civilized? Chapter 5, Foucault’s Abolitionism, addresses this question. In reflecting on Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Taylor contrasts Foucault’s term sovereign power, epitomized by kings, monarchs, and public executions or “power over death,” with present-day “bio-power,” where disciplinary power oversees the management of everyday life.
For Foucault, our modern lives have become dominated by timetables – work, school, and indeed prison – places where we typically spend most of our lives submitting to rigid codes of behavior, appearance, and so on. We have come to think of a regimented existence as normal and unchallengeable. We are pushed towards becoming a “docile body,” in Foucault’s terms. The purpose of the prison, then, is to mould the “soul” of the subject, to isolate them from society, cut them off from any help and support in order to more effectively dominate their entire existence. Rather than being put to death where the harsh punishment could elicit sympathy and even become a symbol of martyrdom, power now operates more subtly and thus more effectively. Punishment is now individualized, kept behind closed doors, and focused on dominating the whole of a person’s life – trackers to limit where you can travel, employment and housing discrimination – rather than a one-time punishment. Scholars (e.g. Spencer, 2009; Hubbard, 2013) have likened the figure of the sex-offender to the roman Homo Sacer: a person who is banished and sanctioned as killable. Spencer (2009) describes how those subjected to community notification and “civil commitment,” that is, indefinite incarceration or the permanent threat of incarceration, are under constant threat of vigilante terrorist attacks, displaced into a “lawless space” he calls a “camp.”
The normalized status of bio-power becomes evident when cases of sovereign power occur. That is, power over death. When people of color are killed outside of a prison or post-sentence “camp” context – an expression of sovereign power – the violence of state agents becomes rendered an unconscionable vice, most recently sparking the Black Lives Matter protests. By contrast, subjecting them to rape and beatings, sexual assault by prison staff, marking them as criminal and stigmatized subjects, making their lives unliveable if they are ever released from prison, is perfectly acceptable. One has to wonder: if George Floyd were a sex offender, would “Black Lives Matter”?
A Brief Journey into Zoophilia
Taylor’s final section before concluding discusses Foucault’s concepts of “perverse implantation” and “reverse discourse.” Both terms are concerned with how minority groups mobilize labels used to subjugate them. By attaching themselves to psychiatric and medical discourses, terms of pathology such as “homosexuality” are “implanted” with a human face and personal stakes – this could be your son, your mother, your dad and your best friend. Similarly, attempts at reverse discourse occur when minorities come together under a label – “zoophile” – uniting to make it an identity that can be named, contested, and crucially, liberated.
Apparently, zoophile activism saw a boom in the early days of the 1990’s internet, but had been ridiculed and driven into obscurity by the 2000s. Taylor discusses some fascinating literature, including Helen Miletski’s (2001) essay and (2009) book chapter Is Zoophilia a sexual orientation? (cf. her later 2017 paper). Taylor’s sources are reproduced here for the reader’s convenience (see Earls and Lalumière, 2009; Williams and Weinberg, 2003; Cassidy, in Donnan and Magowan, 2009). Particularly fascinating is Kathy Rudy, a lesbian and seemingly “out” zoophile academic. She authored the book Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy in 2011, and published an academic article entitled LGBTQ…Z? (2012). Taylor informs us that dogs are the most common partner for such persons, and Rudy writes of her feelings of erotic love towards her many dog companions.
Because Taylor doesn’t believe criminalization to be an effective response, she concludes with a preference for controlling the linguistic territory. Instead of terms like “zoophile” which may be taken up as a positive identity, she advocates the term “interspecies sexual assault” as the default moniker to preclude that possibility. She draws a parallel between domesticated animals and incest, where a dependency relation inside the home can make it more difficult to break-off a relationship. I sympathise with this point, but I’m unconvinced that a 1-1 cross-species comparison is appropriate. Being forced to stay indoors or beaten into submission are not features of interspecies relations that anyone Taylor cites would support, so it seems odd to imply that these would be issues of zoophiles per se, rather than of cruelty towards animals. If anything, because of our lack of alternative family arrangements like communes (Johnston and Deisher, 1973) and “open families” (Constantine, 1977) which would give youth opportunities to be outside the home, dogs are not tied down by legal or financial dependence and are comparatively less restricted. Given this, at least where loving zoophile relationships like the kind Kathy Rudy describes are concerned, and the hyper-vigilance around youth discussed earlier, would dogs not have more freedom to come and go as they please? Who has more agency and cognitive ability, a dog, or a “child” of 17 or seven years old?
Whilst Taylor chides zoophiles for apparently not taking their dog’s perspectives into account, she herself fails to cite any evidence surrounding dogs’ self-perception of interspecies hugging, kissing, and masturbation: the main activities that zoophiles, if they engage in any activity which could be deemed sexual (bestiality), engage in. A cursory glance at scientific literature reveals Taylor’s discussion to fall short of taking seriously how dogs respond to human contact, as evidence suggests that in tactile contact such as hugging, both partners exhibit a surge in oxytocin, a hormone which has been linked to positive emotional states (Marshall-Pescini et al., 2019). Though the relationship is unclear and complex (Barcelos et al., 2020), Taylor’s analysis would have been more convincing had she discussed the neurological correlates of dogs’ contact with humans, and evidence about their capacities for agency, cognition and emotion.
Conclusion: Alternatives to Prison?
Taylor concludes with 4 different forms of social justice alternatives to incarceration. The first 2 outlined, “preventative” and “redistributive” justice, focus on reducing and / or removing the conditions that lead to crime, such as poverty and dysfunctional upbringings, whereby the incidence of many crimes would be reduced and less likely to occur in the first place. The positive abolitionist measures listed include “the provision of food and shelter, safe harbors for people fleeing violence, […] urban redevelopment and “greening” projects” (pp. 217-218), directing investment from prisons to education and mental health services, and ensuring public safety whilst providing employment to previously criminalized persons.
Measures like these already take place. An example given concerns a UN program which provided financial and practical assistance for narcotics producers to switch to non-narcotic crops (p. 218). In the case of sexual assault, preventative responses include education programs, assistance and support for family members who need help to leave unsafe situations, and again financial and mental health provisions to prevent stress and dysfunction in families that “aggravate familial violence” (p. 219).
But what about social harms that have already occurred? “Restorative justice” is Taylor’s first response. Most often used in cases involving youth, this approach typically involves the individual claiming to be harmed conversing with the person who wronged them, whilst they are supported by a small number of community members and presided over by a judge. They may be represented by an “advocate” if they do not want to speak directly. Either way, an opportunity for forgiveness, understanding, and a non-custodial sentence takes place.
Though this approach has already seen some success, there are issues. In the current “retributive” or punishment-based system, those accused or convicted are incentivized “to deny their crimes in order to evade both extreme pathologizing and severe punishment,” so, if there are victims involved, they are unlikely to readily receive recognition of any harm brought to them. Further, those who facilitate restorative justice working under the criminal punishment system are legally obligated to report any new crimes admitted to in the process (p. 227). Prison will be risked by those who speak too freely, disincentivizing them from doing so. Restorative and punitive responses are in tension, shoring up the need to implement non-punitive alternatives more systematically so more honest appraisals are made possible.
Another glaring issue Taylor mentions is how restorative justice proponents imagine and understand “community.” Typically, they’re imagined as both benign and engaged. The community has been harmed by a crime, and so, to restore balance, the community comes together in a restorative process. “In fact,” as Taylor points out, “the community may not be sufficiently engaged to participate […] and may not have been harmonious or healthy to begin with.” (p. 229). Especially where crimes involve sexual activity, scholars have noted community responses to be “excessively severe” (Ibid). For Taylor, it is not only that racism, classism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and punitive / carceral attitudes of offenders and judges that need to be addressed and held accountable, but also the community which gave rise and helped normalize such attitudes. To this, I would simply add that sex-negativity and sexual exceptionalism should be added to the list.
Transformative Justice and Empowering Young People
Her final form – “transformative justice” – is what scholars have begun advocating to address the shortcomings of redistributive justice hampered by the carceral state. Transformative justice refers to grassroots organizing of community accountability. This has the advantage of being completely separate from the state; not bedevilled by adversarial and emotional court examinations and the threat of being locked / knowing you abetted locking someone in a cage for a significant chunk to the rest of their lives.
Taylor recommends two groups, Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA) and generationFIVE. Both organizations have authored handbooks. GenerationFIVE, for instance, want to address CSA by combatting “adultism” in communities. That is, “the widespread disempowerment of young people in society, which reinforces […their] vulnerability” (p. 235). To address adultism, the group believes “children and youth need to be empowered to believe that their ideas, experiences, desires and opinions are important, that […] they are capable of self-determination” (Ibid). Their points are reminiscent of the influential child liberationist John Holt who, in his Escape from Childhood (1974), decried adult double standards. To cultivate a sense of self-determination, for instance, generationFIVE assert that “those involved in raising children need to be educated to stop instructing children to give hugs and kisses and to sit on people’s laps if they don’t want to. Children must be empowered to make these decisions on their own.” In sum, “we should educate children that they can decide who gets to touch them and how they show and receive affection” (p. 235).
Whilst tactics will vary by community, negotiating the relative support or antipathy of different areas and locales, a mix of preventative, redistributive, and transformative justice are far superior solutions if we are serious about tackling rape and rape culture, rather than simply moving rape from the streets to the prison. Despite my criticisms, Taylor’s book gives some hope that the faults of the carceral system are gaining recognition and facing criticism from a growing number of community organizations pushing for, and creating, kinder alternatives.