It is almost reflexive for people to envision death row inmates as men. After all, males are assigned the gender role of being aggressive, and they do constitute 98.12 percent of death row prisoners. But what about the other 1.88 percent? The instinctual assumption that all inmates are men distracts from the unique—and often disturbing—experience that women encounter while awaiting execution.
More than half of women on death row have a history of abuse from either family members or partners. Nearly two-thirds of them are convicted of murdering acquaintances or family members. Often adding to their histories of trauma, females on death row can be subjected to emotional abuse from being watched constantly by officers, whether that is while going to the bathroom, showering or changing clothes. Women are also more likely to be victims of misconduct by prosecutors or law enforcement, such as sexual assault.
The emotional distress from being monitored by mostly male prison guards and suffering from a history of abuse is further amplified by the fact that there are far fewer women in death row facilities. Women are, therefore, often in dreadful solitude that compounds existing psychological pain.
The atrocities of death row have come to light as prisoners have been exonerated and lived to tell the tale of seclusion and anguish. But the untold story of women on death row displays the intersectionality of gender and incarceration. Sexual and emotional abuse can result in a distinctive experience that conveys the inhumane conditions of the years leading up to execution.
Sources: NAACP Legal and Defense Fund: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/DRUSAFall2014.pdf
“United States: women on death row suffer harsher conditions than male inmates.” Off Our Backs, Vol. 35, No. 1/2 (January-February 2005), p. 10.
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