'Perpetrators?!' Paper on the Sexual Offenses Act in Sierra Leone at the Global Prisons Research Network & Security Roundtable Meeting. Amsterdam. 2 & 3 November 2017


"Perpetrators?!": The consequences of the Sexual Offenses Act for young men accused of sexually penetrating their girlfriends in Sierra Leone

Abstract

In 2012 Sierra Leone ratified the Sexual Offenses Act, which raised the age of consent to 18 and criminalised all forms of sexual relationships with minors.

This act is understood to be an important step to counter sexual violence. However, its rigidity, homogenization of dissimilar acts and actors and third-party reporting, rendered some young people’s previously legal sexual relationships unlawful and prosecutable along contradictory moral frameworks.

This paper focusses on two men, Foday, aged 19 accused of sexually penetrating and impregnating his long-term girlfriend and Larry, aged 14 accused of sexually penetrating his classmate. Both respondents were in relationships with the alleged victims prior to the ratification of the act, continue to be so and were not reported by them.

The paper depicts how they move in and out of prison and how these spaces are radically reconfigured as freedom and confinement become blurred.

Through describing how they negotiate their actions, attitudes and experiences in their terms, the everyday realities of a suddenly criminalised existence whose trajectories become uncontrollable and the exigencies of restricted movement, marginality, in- and exclusion from family, society and social networks, but also of belonging and (in)visibility in the city and in prison are highlighted and connected to broader societal reflections.

The paper depicts how these men position themselves towards a law that they supported and that now criminalises them and how notions of space, place, belonging, choice, sexuality and relationships are radically disrupted and re-configured under these drastic new conditions

Conference

Connecting Urban and Prison Ethnographies: Security and Confinement beyond the Limitations of Site. Global Prisons Research Network & security Roundtable Meeting

Theme: Religion and Poverty

Organised by the The Global Prison Research Network, a network for scholars worldwide researching prisons and other institutions of confinement. The network is multi-disciplinary and open for researchers doing confinement studies on different levels – from the everyday life of specific institutions, to the wider political impact of penal policy changes.

Location: University of Amsterdam 2&3 November 2017.

Description (from their website link

This two-day roundtable meeting intends to bring together urban and prison ethnographers to consider cross-cutting themes and issues at stake in both lines of research. Security and confinement seem to be inseparably tied up with one another through poverty and exclusion, its policing, ideas about justice and morality, and different forms of urban/prison governance. It has been argued that the urban margins and spaces of confinement have conflated to such an extent that we can speak of a carceral continuum (Wacquant). Research on the crossroads of these two spaces is increasing, as policies and techniques of confinement and surveillance, but also practices of subversion and informal organization reach out of prison into the urban, and from the urban well into prison (e.g. Fassin, Goffman, Moran, Skarbek). The ever-growing push for securitization arguably conditions the lives of those ‘trapped’ at the urban margins, subjected to profiling, and/or processed disproportionally through the criminal justice system. Much work on urban violence has emphasized these politics of surveillance and exclusion (e.g. Auyero, Bourgois, Goldstein, Rodgers). Relatedly, many prison ethnographies have underlined how prison deprives and dehumanizes inmates, thwarting and complicating the questions and processes of reentry, rehabilitation or reinsertion (e.g. Liebling, Maruna). Prison ethnographers have argued that analytical attention to the interfaces between governance, transition and survival may enable us to discern the unfolding history of the prison’s carceral grip as it concurrently mutates and persists in local contexts. Though it is important to distinguish the particularities of the prison and the urban, in order to be able to understand what particular configurations of security and confinement mean in the daily lives of our research participants, and what limits we face as researchers in either space, we propose here an analytical transgression of these socio-spatial boundaries. More often than not an established and dominant narrative around crime and recidivism either pathologizes individuals or proposes lists of ‘criminogenic factors’, which are frequently institutionalized in the policy debate and prompt dubious ‘interventions’. Pushing back against this narrative – suggesting, for example, that policy is ambiguous and that violence can be productive – and moving beyond the limitations of site, we propose a comparative ethnographic discussion that includes different sites of securitization and confinement. We welcome papers and presentations that may consider any of the following themes:

Radicalization (or mobilization), targeted securitization and deportation; New measures and technologies of incarceration and confinement; Prison-urban binaries: public/private, visible/invisible, social death/navigation, fixity/fluidity; Gangs, prison movements, informal organization and ‘criminal governance’; Politics and sites of ‘exception’; Policing, marginality and exclusion; Policy, transition and intransigence.

link to the Conference homepage.

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