Trying to Reinstate White Male Dominance
Much as slave owners and their minions used sexual violence and coercion in displaying and exercising mastery over their human chattel, Klansmen systematically molested and violated their victims in an attempt to reinstate white male dominance in its antebellum form. In effect, they were replacing the legal infrastructure of slavery that had once authorized their status with extralegal supports of their own making, according to a 2002 piece by researcher Lisa Cardyn published in the Michigan Law Review. Violent sex was in both of these cases a performance of status by the dominant actors and a harshly lived reality for its victims.
The sexualized nature of many Klan whippings can be read most clearly by looking at the location of punishment on the body and the manner in which these chastisements were administered. Surveying what is known about the injured body, ample testimony suggests that Klansmen frequently chose victims’ breasts and genitals as special targets of their enmity. Exemplifying this method, a compilation of Klan violence referred to by Cardyn describes what happened to Sally Hall and her two daughters when they were taken from their home and severely lashed, whereupon “one of them [was] made to exhibit her person whilst the fiends proceeded to inflict blows upon her private parts.”