Thursday, January 12, 2023
Ahwatukee B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Background and Purpose: Strip searching is a routine practice in carceral spaces, including common sites of social work practice such as prisons/jails, police stations, and psychiatric hospitals. Despite decades of activism by previously incarcerated women drawing attention to the harms of strip searching, this routine prison practice remains relatively unexamined in the scholarly literature. Further, given the hyper-incarceration of Indigenous and Black women in Canada (and other settler colonial states), an exploration of strip searching through anti-colonial and anti-racist feminist frameworks is warranted. Therefore, the research questions guiding this study were 1) How are gendered, misogynoir, and colonial genocidal logics embedded within the practice of strip searching, and 2) In what ways is strip searching women in prison a form of state-inflicted sexual violence? Methods: My paper will share findings from my critical qualitative doctoral research, wherein I spoke with 23 formerly incarcerated Indigenous, Black, and white women from across Canada about their experiences of being strip searched in prison. My research utilized feminist and Indigenous research methodologies, whereby stories were gathered in virtual sharing circles following Indigenous circle protocol, and through individual conversations. Relational accountability was the foundation of my research; thus, participants were recruited through existing relationships. My multi-phase analysis combined thematic analysis with a unique method of listening to the recorded conversations while physically on the land of a federal prison to facilitate more wholistic and embodied ways of making-meaning. Results: One of the overarching themes from the data is that strip searching Indigenous women in prison is a tactic of gendered colonial genocide. Strip searching is a mechanism of gendered and racialized surveillance and control of women’s bodies through the dismantling of Indigenous womanhood by targeting the hearts of Nations and the severing of spiritual and cultural connections. Strip searching targets the hearts of Nations as part of the totalizing violence Indigenous women experience; by separating Indigenous women from their families, communities, and land; violating Indigenous women’s bodies; and rendering them dirty, disposable, and violable. Further, the severing of spiritual and cultural connections is attempted by strip searching Indigenous women on their moon time (during menstruation), after sacred ceremonies, and at Indigenous Healing Lodges; replicating dynamics of sexual violence enacted at residential schools; and the stripping Indigenous women’s sovereignty. The paper will also share the myriad ways women resisted the attempted dismantling of Indigenous womanhood by the colonial state. Conclusions and Implications: The research provides an expanded analysis of the harms of strip searching to include how colonial genocidal logics are embedded within the carceral practice. These results challenge social workers to advocate for the abolishment of strip searching in prisons and other carceral settings as a form of anti-racist and decolonial praxis.