As the title suggests, everything on this blog concerns violence against trans women.
The Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project is a trans feminist project addressing issues of systematic, institutional and interpersonal violence and oppression experienced by trans women (those who were coercively assigned male at birth and identify or are identified as women/female) across multiple identities (e.g., race, class, dis/ability, citizen-status, nationality, sexuality, age, HIV status, and form, status, or age of transition, etc.)
Ida Hammer is a writer and social justice communicator. She organizes the Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project. She presents workshops and trainings on cis privilege and being a trans ally. She's also involved in organizing against sexualized violence. She's a proud dyke-identified trans woman and an organizer of the New York City Dyke March.
Via press release from the Greek Transgender Support Association:Subject: Police detention of Transgender Individuals during ‘Xenios Zeus’ Operations
The Greek Transgender Support Association, a recognized NGO for the support of the rights of the trans community in Greece, is hereby strongly condemning the massive police detention of twenty five (25) trans women on Thursday, August 9th, during the crackdown police operation “Xenios Zeus”.
Specifically, on the night of Thursday, August 9th, during a massive police crackdown, 25 trans individuals were taken and detained at the division of Central Police Station of Athens. They were not given sufficient explanation why they were being taken. They were forced to undergo an HIV test, administered by a Center for Disease Control (C.D.C.) doctor, were subsequently found to be HIV-negative and released afterwards.
We, the Greek Transgender Support Association, express our deepest concern, and outright condemnation of the C.D.C.-assisted police crackdown operations. Especially since they target, among others, one of the more vulnerable minorities, namely trans individuals, who are deprived of basic human rights such as the right to work, be insured and access the health services, owing to the Greek State’s refusal to protect trans rights.
We also deem the forced and obligatory tests by the C.D.C. to be in breach of basic human rights. This is because the way the tests are performed, coupled with the complete lack of deontology and the specific conditions under which they take place, are not those of a European country nor of a just State.
At the same time, we question the recent ruling of the Hellenic Data Protection Authority (HDPA), according to which the HDPA calls itself unauthorised to judge the recent and obvious violation by the state of personal data, in the case of the publicization of the identities of hiv-positive people. The HDPA invoked the Spearation of Powers, but at the same time countradicts itself by proposing amendations to the legislature.
We, the Greek Transgender Support Association, express our solidarity towards the hiv-positive individuals who are being prosecuted, and condemns the police crackdown operations, as well as the involvement of the CDC, for endangering and creating abject conditions for the trans community. Furthermore, we express our complete opposition of all police operations that violate human rights based on nationality, race, gender, religious or other beliefs, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We demand that greek legislation protects gender identity by aligning with the Ruling 2008/913/ΔEY regarding the fight against all kinds of discrimination and racism.
We are in active cooperation with grassroots and NGO organizations inside Greece, as well as European organizations for the rights of the trans community. We will defend, in every legal way, the dignity and human rights of trans people.
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Greek Transgender Support Association
17 August, 2012
From news reports, it seems that this was part of a large-scale operation during which some 6,000 people were detained.Officers stopped mostly African and Asian people in the street for identification checks. Most were only briefly detained, but about 1,600 were arrested for illegal entry and sent to holding centres pending deportation. [Source]
It should be remembered that this comes at a time when the Greek economy is facing its most severe crisis since 1974, and the consequent austerity package demanded by the EU and the IMF has resulted in rioting and social unrest. Against this backdrop, there has been a worrying rise in popularity of the Golden Dawn, a right-wing extremist political organisation. In this light, it is perhaps no surprise - although still by no means acceptable - that there should be a backlash which combines racism, transphobia and sexism on such a large scale. I was going to close with a smartass remark about the fate of a country which, for over 2,400 years, has taken pride in claiming it invented democracy, but my irony meter broke.
(Helen G, the F Word)
The issue of prison rape is often belittled by standup comedians, but it’s really no laughing matter – especially if you’re a transgender woman locked up in an all-male facility.
Grace Lawrence, 43, is a transgender woman from Liberia who was in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, for nearly three years. For all but six months, she was kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.
Often, transgender inmates are placed in protective custody – also known as solitary confinement – for their own protection.
“It was hard. But that’s just me, but the same thing was happening to other transgenders that was around me,” says Lawrence.
Transgender women are up to 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated, according to transgender rights groups. The government decided to start gathering data on the issue with the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. This year it was updated to include specific measures to protect transgender, lesbian and gay inmates from abuse.
One measure in particular now limits the use of solitary confinement as the only way to protect transgender inmates. This is in response to advocates saying that the practice isolates individuals and is inhumane. But this and all other protections of the new Act do not extend to immigrants in ICE custody who are held in detention centers or county jails, like Grace Lawrence.
This is why lawyers and advocates argue that continuing to keep immigrant transgender detainees in solitary confinement actually creates barriers for them, including limiting their access to legal help.
The road to detention
Grace Lawrence was born Wellington Felix Lawrence in Monrovia, Liberia.
“I’m the oldest of seven children and I had to live a double life and I couldn’t speak about me being a trans-woman not even to my mother or my best friend because I knew the penalty would be death,” says Lawrence.
In Liberia homosexuality is not legally punishable by death, but Lawrence was still fearful. Sodomy is considered a first-degree misdemeanor and carries a year-long prison sentence. Liberia’s predominantly Christian population is pushing for even tougher legislation that would make being gay or transgender illegal.
Growing up, Lawrence kept quiet and played the role of the eldest son. In her teens, her family moved to the U.S. and settled in Minnesota. Eventually, she got married to a woman and she had two children. It was in her 30s when she realized she could not continue living as a man.
“I told my mom that I wasn’t only gay but I think that I was a woman and they said I was crazy and that they didn’t want to have nothing to do with me. So I was kicked out of the family. So I came to San Francisco and tried to forget my former life,” says Lawrence.
Lawrence is built like a football player – she is muscular and over 6 feet tall. She has breasts, loves to wear neon green, and has her nails done. She was 37 years old when she first arrived to San Francisco and began her transition from male to female.
As an undocumented immigrant who was now transgender, Lawrence felt she had few options for making a living, especially considering the high costs of transitioning. She quickly got caught up in drug dealing and using. Lawrence also depended on prostitution to get by and could only afford to live in a hotel room.
“And if you don’t have rent by 6 in the evening the hotel manager will double lock the doors,” says Lawrence.
In late 2006, police arrested Lawrence for possession of crack cocaine. Drug possession and prostitution are deportable crimes for immigrants like Lawrence, so after she served her two-month sentence, she was turned over to ICE.
Locked up and shut off
While awaiting deportation in Santa Clara County jail, Lawrence was immediately placed in solitary confinement for her protection. That is the general policy for transgender detainees because they are more likely to be assaulted. She was let out for one hour each day, and she says that hour went by fast.
Lawrence says that if she was lucky, she would be let out before 5 pm so she could contact her lawyer. But more often than not, she says she was let out at night, after business hours. Lawrence says that when she got back to her cell, she’d spend her time writing letters, frantically asking for help.
“I would write letters to my friends, to my lawyer. I would even write letters to the judge screaming, please don’t deport me, this is what will happen … Anybody who I could write I would write. So I’d rather die than going over to Liberia having kerosene or gasoline wasted on me and being burned alive. They do those things. I’ve seen it happen to gay people,” says Lawrence.
We couldn’t find reports corroborating Lawrence’s claims, but Liberia’s current president, Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, recently defended the country’s current policies, which in essence make being lesbian, gay or transgender a criminal act. This is why Grace Lawrence says she was so afraid of returning to Liberia. She asked her lawyer to help her seek asylum here in the U.S. – but would communicate mostly in writing.
“It’s harder to prepare a case for someone who is spending 23 hours of the day in administrative segregation. It’s harder for them to get out and call me. It’s harder for them to get out and call whatever legal advocate might be helping them,” says Cara Jobson, a lawyer in San Francisco who has handled hundreds of cases involving immigrant LGBT detainees.
Jobson says cases like Lawrence’s drag on longer because of their limited access. Jobson said that many of her transgender clients end up agreeing to leave the country voluntarily.
“Which they accepted without fighting because the conditions were so bad in jail and because they had no access to information about asylum. And we see a lot of times people don’t get their hormones. It’s very depressing. It’s very physically traumatic for them. It’s emotionally traumatic,” says Jobson.
Lawyers say the negative treatment transgender detainees receive is difficult to control from the outside, especially in the Bay Area where there are no federal immigration detention centers. Detainees are farmed out to county jails such as Yuba, Sacramento and Contra Costa, and each facility operates at its own discretion.
Lawrence says that as a transgender woman in an all-male facility, it was difficult to go unnoticed.
“So we were called names you know, ‘faggots,’ you know, ‘sissy,’ you know, different names. They call me ‘sexual issues’ – that mean we’re tranny … When we was taking showers for those of us who have breasts they would look at us and comment about it and stuff like that,” says Lawrence.
The Department of Homeland Security declined to be interviewed, stating that the agency does not offer comments on specific allegations. But DHS did provide this statement: “ICE has a strict zero tolerance policy for any kind of abusive or inappropriate behavior in its facilities and takes any allegations of such mistreatment very seriously.”
Lawrence suffered a mental breakdown during her three years in detention. The first time an immigration judge ordered her to be deported, she attempted suicide.
“Because I know there was no life for me in Liberia if I was deported. I said goodbye to my two children, you know, in my heart. I was mad at my family. I was mad at the world. I felt useless, worthless, unwanted. I had nothing left. I have no family member here in California and so it was the end, it was the end for Grace Lawrence. So I took my sheets, the bed sheets and rip it,” says Lawrence.
But a guard arrived just in time to stop her. Lawrence spent the next six months in the psychiatric ward of an immigration hospital in San Diego. She was prescribed medication and would attempt suicide again when faced with another possibility of deportation a year or so later.
Just when Lawrence had lost all hope, she got some good news. In late 2009 she was called to appear in court. She remembers the Judge’s exact words.
“This case is dismissed. I wish you luck Ms. Lawrence, and that’s what the judge said. When I went back in the holding cell and then I was on my way back to Santa Clara, shackles as usual, but this time I was so happy, I was so happy because I knew that when the paperwork go through I would be coming downtown to San Francisco and they would release me,” says Lawrence.
Lawrence’s lawyer, Cara Jobson, had proven that if Lawrence were deported to Liberia, she would be tortured and killed for being transgender. She was granted asylum under the United States Convention Against Torture – one of the more difficult types of asylum cases to win.
“Most people who live it and go through it the majority of them are deported and never make it back like me to be able to tell the story of what goes on in there,” says Lawrence.
Lawrence now has a driver’s license and a work permit. She volunteers with the TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, where she provides guidance to other transgender immigrant women.
There may be hope for those who are still in detention. President Obama has directed the Department of Homeland Security to draft its own standards for protecting LGBT immigrant detainees from physical and sexual abuse. This would include alternatives to the use of solitary confinement. DHS has until mid-September to comply.
(Nancy Lopez, Cross Currents/NPR-KALW)
Police will open a 24-bed facility in response to the risk of violence among the general inmate population. Chief Charlie Beck instructs officers to treat transgender people with respect.
Responding to incidents of violence against transgender arrestees, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to open a segregated lockup for
biologically male and female[trans] suspects who identify themselves as members of the opposite sex, officials said.
By early May, a 24-bed transgender module will open at the LAPD [cis] women’s jail downtown, the first such police lockup in the nation, according to Capt. Dave Lindsay, the jail division commander.
“This is a major change,” Lindsay said. It will allow for “an environment that’s safe and secure, as there’s been a history of violence against transgender people.”
City jails are for holding people only until they are arraigned in court on the charges on which they were arrested, typically a maximum of three days; then they are transferred to the Los Angeles County Jail, run by the Sheriff’s Department. The county jail will not be affected by the changes.
Up until now, transgender men and women arrested by Los Angeles police have been housed in the station closest to where they were detained — most often the jail at the Hollywood Community Police Station on Wilcox Avenue. Transgender women
— men who dress and identify as women —were housed with the [cis] male population. Transgender advocates have long argued that such practices put transgender inmates at risk of being sexually assaulted or beaten.
The announcement was made at a Thursday night community meeting in Hollywood, where Police Chief Charlie Beck and command staff discussed issues specific to transgender residents. Beck told the group of about 50 that the department would train officers to refer to transgender individuals by the name and gender they prefer.
The same policy also instructs officers to treat transgender individuals with respect and courtesy when encountering them on the street and bars them from searching transgender people with the sole purpose of determining their anatomical gender [sic].
At least one community activist hailed the announcements as a major development in the historically contentious relationship between transgender people and LAPD officers.
“This is a new LAPD,” said Karina Samala, a transgender woman and chair of the Transgender Working Group, which was formed in 2007 to collaborate with the department on changes in its policies. “The chief of police is now listening and really paying attention to our issues.”
The meeting lacked the acrimony that participants say typified past encounters between transgender people and Los Angeles police. The meeting even ended early, with only four people speaking from the audience — and three of them thanking the department.
The meeting “may have been quiet, but the amount of effort that it took to get to that point can’t be understated,” said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, who was part of the group working with the LAPD on the policy changes.
Davis said the move began in 2007 and involved numerous, long meetings, a survey of transgender people regarding their contacts with Los Angeles police and finally a report last year of recommended policy changes.
He said the changes reflected not just the LAPD’s willingness to listen, but also an increasing political maturity and activism among transgender people.
Beck agreed. “We’ve made some real progress,” he said, “some of the strongest progress in American law enforcement on the transgender issue.”
Asked how he would deal with officers who violate the policy, as well as any lingering culture of disrespect toward transgender people within the department, Beck replied that he was in charge of discipline and that “rules in the L.A. Police Department are meant to be followed.”
Ald. Proco Joe Moreno has introduced an ordinance to City Council aimed at easing problems within the Chicago Police Department ( CPD ) in handling transgender detainees.
Moreno introduced the ordinance March 14, after nearly two years of advocacy by local transgender activists.
The ordinance would mandate that CPD adopt a policy for handling transgender detainees and would create oversight by the city’s Human Relations and Public safety committees.
The ordinance comes after years of complaints from transgender people who have reported being harassed by CPD officers.
Last month, a Chicago transgender woman filed a federal lawsuit against the Town of Cicero over similar complaints. According to the complaint, Bianca Feliciano was stopped by police under suspicion that she was engaged in sex work, without reasonable cause. The complaint alleges that police verbally taunted her because of her gender identity, refusing to use her legal name and referring to her with male pronouns.
Moreno has said that he hopes the ordinance will ease distrust transgender people feel towards police in Chicago.
"It’s a human-rights issue," Moreno previously told Windy City Times, adding that the ordinance is intended to address a "hole in the policy of the police of Chicago."
Similar policies have been implemented in other cities, most notably in Washington D.C., which has an active transgender coalition. But the D.C. policy has largely failed to keep police accountable, according to activists. In late February, the DC Trans Coalition announced that they would testify before the DC Council Judiciary Committee that police had not followed through with the promise to keep transgender detainees safe and solve anti-transgender murders.
"We have concluded that a culture of anti-trans bias within [ the police department ] is at the root cause of these persistent challenges," the coalition said in a statement. "This intrinsic bias against trans people manifests itself in several ways."
Transgender people have reported being denied access to hormones while behind bars as well as being placed according to their birth gender in jail and prison facilities, sometimes putting them at risk for violence.
Lakeview Action Coalition ( LAC ) began talks about writing a CPD policy approximately two years ago, after receiving a report for a transgender woman who claimed she had been arrested under suspicion of soliciting sex while she was actually grocery shopping. LAC has been in meetings working on the policy itself, while other activists have been pushing for the city ordinance.
The LGBT Citywide Coalition, which is made up of more than 30 groups, has signed on in support of the ordinance. Nearly 80 organizations in total are backing the ordinance.
An original draft of the ordinance mandated the created of a mayoral-appointed commission to oversee CPD handling of a transgender policy. That commission would have contained both police and transgender advocates. The initial draft, however was abandoned in favor of an ordinance that placed oversight within the council. Moreno said the shift represented a compromise that cut down on bureaucracy and cost.
Moreno said he expects the ordinance to pass after a full hearing with transgender individuals and advocates.
"We have some education to do out on the floor," he said.
A trans woman says that when she was arrested for a minor subway violation, NYPD officers belittled her, called her names, asked about her genitals — and kept her chained to a fence for 28 hours. Now she’s suing. And it turns out she’s far from alone.
In her lawsuit, Temmie Breslauer says she was arrested on January 12 in a subway station for illegally using her dad’s discount fare card (only seniors and people with disabilities can get these). She says the arresting officers — the suit names one, Officer Shah — laughed at her. When they took her to the station, a desk sergeant asked her “whether she had a penis or a vagina.” Breslauer explained that she was in transition. Then, instead of putting her with female inmates or in her own room, the department allegedly chose this course of action:
[S]he was fingerprinted, seated on a bench, then painfully chained to a fence wherein, for no apparent reason, her arm was lifted over her head and attached to the fence to make it appear that she was raising her hand in the classroom. She sat there in that position for 28 hours.
She also says officers not only refused to call her “she,” they instead referred to her as “He-She”, “Faggot,” and “Lady GaGa,” and asked her “So you like to suck dick? Or what?” Meanwhile, people arrested for the same minor crime (misdemeanor “theft of services”) she was were calmly processed and allowed to leave. Finally, she was able to go before a judge, who gave her two days of community service. She says the whole ordeal aggravated her existing PTSD and left her sleepless and suicidal.
Breslauer’s suit names the City of New York, Officer Shah, and several other officers as defendants. It accuses them of assault, battery, false imprisonment, and violation of Breslauer’s civil rights, and asks for compensatory and punitive damages. And this isn’t the first time the NYPD has been accused of mocking and abusing a trans person. In October, Justin Adkins, director of the Multicultural Center at Williams College, was arrested for protesting on the Brooklyn Bridge as part of Occupy Wall Street. At The Bilerico Project, he reports almost exactly the same treatment that Breslauer got. When a male officer found out Adkins was trans, he asked Adkins what he “had down there.” Then, at the the station, this happened:
They had me sit down in a chair next to the filthy toilet, and handcuffed my right wrist to a metal handrail.
Why was I segregated from all of the other protestors? Perhaps the answer lay in the fact that police officers were coming by to ogle me, and were laughing and giggling at me through a window. It was obvious that prisoners were rarely handcuffed to a railing in this manner, because a number of officers asked a female officer why I was handcuffed to the railing. She told them something, I couldn’t hear what, but then, on each of these occasions, they would laugh and giggle while looking at me pointedly.
Adkins was chained up for eight hours, sometimes with his arm twisted painfully behind him, before he was finally released. When I reached Adkins by email, he told me, “I have been in touch with the Internal Affairs Department of the NYPD and they are investigating the officers I encountered on October 1st.” However, “No one has apologized to me for the treatment I encountered.” Adkins also mentioned that he was working on “encouraging the NYPD to adopt a protocol and start a full education program for its officers and staff on how to treat transgender detainees.” The department currently has no official procedure for arresting or holding trans people. And Adkins isn’t the first to ask for one. A list of demands issued to the NYPD in 2009 by a group of transgender advocates and lawyers includes this:
NYPD officers place detained transgender women in cells with men in dangerous situations against their will no matter the circumstances. Transgender men have been cuffed to rails outside of cells for hours on end.
The list also says that, “In 2004, a transgender woman filed a law suit against the NYPD alleging a pattern and practice of engaging in unconstitutional and overly invasive searches of transgender people. Since then, at least four other transgender women have sued the NYPD about violations of their civil rights.” In one such lawsuit, provided to me by Breslauer’s attorney Gregory Antollino and filed in June of last year, a trans woman named Ryhannah Combs said she was arrested outside a convenient store for “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” (she says she was simply doing errands). An NYPD officer allegedly told her, “I’ve seen girls like you come around here all the time. Just because you’re dressed differently doesn’t mean you’re not a prostitute.” She says other officers later lied to make her look like a prostitute, claiming she was carrying 9 condoms when she was actually carrying zero. And she says she “was cuffed to a wall near an elevator for an extended period of time.” Eventually all criminal charges against her were dropped.
Sharon Stapel, Executive Director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, told me that her organization was aware that the NYPD had a problem with its policies towards trans detainees, and that they were working with the department to make changes. She said the NYPD was willing to work on the issue, but that they weren’t necessarily ready to agree to all of AVP’s recommendations, which include amending patrol guidelines to make sure that trans detainees are treated with “basic respect and dignity.” I also talked to M. Dru Levasseur, a transgender rights attorney for Lambda Legal, who told me that a group of lawyers were hoping to persuade the NYPD to adopt clear guidelines for detaining trans people, including a ban on strip-searching detainees purely to look at their genitals (a practice he says is distressingly common). He noted that a number of cities, including San Francisco and Portland, had adopted such guidelines, and said that “New York City thinks of itself as on the forefront of trans rights, but it’s way behind on this issue.”
Attorney Andrea Ritchie, one of the main attorneys working to get the NYPD to change its policy, confirmed Stapel’s statement — she said the NYPD was willing to have “conversations” about the treatment of trans detainees, but haven’t yet followed those up with actual change. She also confirmed that Breslauer, Adkins, and Combs (the last of whom she represents) were part of a pattern: NYPD officers frequently chain trans detainees up instead of putting them in cells. Also part of the pattern: unnecessary strip-searching, groping, and false arrests. Ritchie says these practices have been going on for years and the fact that the NYPD is addressing them at all is likely the result of multiple lawsuits (in addition to the ones I describe above, she named three others).
So far I haven’t been able to get anyone from the NYPD to comment on this issue in any way. Emails to the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information have gone unanswered. When I contacted Timothy Duffy, the NYPD’s LGBT liaison, he declined to comment and referred me right back to the DCPI. All the advocates I talked to expressed some hope that the NYPD would change. But I bet lots of people in the trans community would feel a lot more hopeful if the department would make a public commitment to treating them like people. Until then, all they have to go on are some vague assurances of reform — and a lot of lawsuits that show the exact opposite.
Kuwaiti police have tortured and sexually abused transgender women using a discriminatory law, passed in 2007, which arbitrarily criminalizes “imitating the opposite sex,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The government of Kuwait should repeal the law, article 198 as amended in 2007, and hold police officers accountable for misconduct.
The 63-page report, “‘They Hunt us Down for Fun’: Discrimination and Police Violence Against Transgender Women in Kuwait,” documents the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and persecution that transgender women – individuals who are born male, but identify as female – have faced at the hands of police. The report also documents the discrimination that transgender women have faced on a daily basis – including by members of the public – as a result of the law, an amendment to penal code article 198. Based on interviews with 40 transgender women, as well as with ministry of interior officials, lawyers, doctors, and members of Kuwaiti civil society, the report found that the arbitrary, ill-defined provisions of the law has allowed for numerous abuses to take place.
Police have free rein to determine whether a person’s appearance constitutes “imitating the opposite sex” without any specific criteria being laid down for the offense. Transgender women reported being arrested even when they were wearing male clothes and then later being forced by police to dress in women’s clothing, and the claim made that they arrested them in that attire. In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, transgender women said police arrested them because they had a “soft voice” or “smooth skin.”
“No one – regardless of his or her gender identity – deserves to be arrested on the basis of a vague, arbitrary law and then abused and tortured by police,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Kuwaiti government has a duty to protect all of its residents, including groups who face popular disapproval, from brutal police behavior and the application of an unfair law.”
Transgender women reported suffering multiple forms of abuse at the hands of the police while in detention, including degrading and humiliating treatment, such as being forced to strip and being paraded around the police station, being forced to dance for officers, sexual humiliation, verbal taunts and intimidation, solitary confinement, and emotional and physical abuse that could amount to torture. Redress for these violations is difficult, as few said they reported incidents of police misconduct because of threats of retribution and re-arrest.
In one case, a transgender woman told Human Rights Watch that after police arrested her and two of her friends, they took a trash can full of dirt and cigarette butts and dumped it over her friend’s head. Another friend was forced to do push-ups with a radiator on her back. In another, a transgender woman who was arrested with another person reported that police punched and kicked her brutally and beat her friend with a heavy stapler.
“The Kuwaiti authorities should ensure proper monitoring of police behavior”, said Whitson. “They should also investigate unchecked police abuse, hold those found guilty accountable for their actions, and make sure that vulnerable populations, such as transgenders, have access to mechanisms of redress without fear of retribution.”
In several cases, Human Rights Watch found that police officers took advantage of the law to blackmail transgender women into sex. Transgender women claimed that police used the threat of arrest to force them into sex, and that sexual abuse at the hands of the police has been rampant. Transgender women said that before the law, while sexual advances by the police were commonplace, they could decline such advances, whereas now police had leeway to imprison them if they refused.
Despite an official recognition of gender identity disorder (GID) by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health as a legitimate medical condition, the law criminalizing “imitating the opposite sex” makes no exception for people who have been diagnosed with GID. The law leaves them at the mercy of officers in an unmonitored police force who transgender women said have refused to recognize, and sometimes have even torn up, medical reports and GID diagnoses that transgender women present to them upon arrest.
Under international law, Kuwait has an obligation to ensure the protection of its residents from arbitrary arrest or detention. Criminalizing an individual’s gender expression and identity violates the right to non-discrimination, equality before the law, free expression, personal autonomy, physical integrity, and privacy. Kuwait is also a signatory to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, under which sexual violence committed by police officers acting in an official capacity constitutes torture.
Human Rights Watch calls on the Kuwaiti government to repeal the amendment to article 198, criminalizing “imitating the opposite sex.” Pending repeal of the law, the Ministry of Interior should issue a moratorium on arrests of individuals according to the amended article 198 of the Kuwaiti penal code. The government also should work to protect transgender individuals, a particularly vulnerable group, from police abuse and violence, and investigate allegations of police brutality and abuse.Also available in: