Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work
Dr. Shoshana Pollack
Previously imprisoned women have long been sounding the alarm about the harms of strip searching and calling for it to be banned. However, it remains a routine prison practice and research into it is scant. Furthermore, Canada is incarcerating Indigenous women at genocidal levels and disproportionately imprisoning Black women. Therefore, my research explored the use of strip searching in federal prisons through anti-colonial and anti-racist feminist frameworks, specifically, abolition feminism.
My research was grounded in the ethic of relational accountability and centred reciprocity, respect, and responsibility in each phase. I gathered stories from 23 formerly incarcerated women from across Canada about their experiences of being strip searched in federal prison; ten identified as Indigenous, six as Black, one as racialized, five as white, and one is exploring her ancestry. Women shared their experiences in virtual sharing circles following Anishinaabe circle protocol, and through individual conversations. My meaning making process included a combination of thematic analysis and a unique method I developed which comprised of listening to the recorded conversations while on the land of a federal prison to facilitate more wholistic and embodied ways of knowing.
The findings of my research confirm what women with lived experience of strip searching have been saying for decades – the state is a sexual abuser. My research builds on this and offers additional insights into the gendered, misogynoir, and colonial genocidal nature of strip searching. Furthermore, it renders both the state and its agents as sexual abusers as strip searching is both structural and interpersonal sexual violence. Many of the logics inherent in strip searching extend from practices of anti-Black slavery and gendered colonial genocide and replicate the abusive dynamics of intimate partner violence. Importantly, women resisted this state-inflicted sexual violence in myriad ways.
My research has important implications for social work and the broader movements of gender and sexual violence prevention. Furthermore, it provides clear direction to administrators of carceral settings such as jails and prisons. Efforts to abolish the use of strip searching are required at micro, mezzo, and macro levels, and should be a priority for social workers.
 Indigenous women came from various Territories and Nations, which they describe in Chapter 4.
Hutchison, Jessica, "“It Felt Like a Sense of Rape:” Women’s Experiences of Strip Searching in Prison as Gendered, Misogynoir, and Colonial Genocidal Sexual Violence" (2023). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 2574.
Available for download on Friday, August 14, 2026