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.
THIS is what MOTHERING looks like to us.
Call me when trying to keep your babies alive involves facing down rabid hoards telling you to die.
tell me agin about fearlessness.
Oh and when you got to bed tonight and chat with your ” best gay” over brunch in some super gentrified area of town
Thank this woman you aren’t both in jail praying for your safety.
That is what MOTHERING had to look like
tell me some more shit about work life balance….
Sylvia Rivera kicking ass on stage after some radfems & transphobes tried to refuse her the right to speak at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day rally. Said radfems then had their own march in part protesting trans participation in Pride. A precursor to today’s Dyke March.
40 years later in the very same park trans women are still fighting for space within Pride as this year’s Dyke March fiasco demonstrated. I’m feeling challenged and troubled by the narrative that trans women’s response to transphobia must take the “form of serious, calm, point by point analyses of why radfems are wrong” as Stephen Ira pointed out.
What strikes me about this video is that she isn’t trying to be calm and collected after being attacked. She’s not internalizing the notion that fighting transphobia has to take on the oppressive notion of “respectability.”
These conversations have left me wondering: has the non profit industrial complex and professionalized activism gentrified our political activity?
So within all of that, I say: nothing but love and power to trans women creating space for ourselves in queer community! Special shout out to Voz who inspired this post!
"You all tell me go! And hide my tail between my legs! I will not any longer put up with this shit!" —Sylvia Rivera
We are not going anywhere!
We speak of fear as though we know it–and perhaps we do. Is there anywhere truly safe for the black woman, anywhere we can wander and feel completely at peace,anywhere at all where the hounds of judgment, obligation and, in more tragic cases, abuse don’t closely follow? How seldom are we able to reside in a space where we don’t have to resist the urge to worry about what was, what is, or what is to come?
Regardless of the fear we know, regardless of the avalanche of circumstance as yet unknown, we can at least find solace in two fixed and permanent parts of our identity: our blackness and, in most cases, our womanhood. While both can be challenged and both can result in obstacles, neither can be altered against our will. We can rest assured that in the morning when we rise, we will be black. We will be women. And in the dark of night, these genetic markers will not change.
But what if we could be stripped of our womanhood? What if the decision to be recognized and respected as women was not ours to make?
Such is the case for Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, a black transgendered woman who was sentenced to second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota on June 4. McDonald, now 24, found herself on the wrong side of the law exactly one year ago, when she and her friends were verbally and physically assaulted outside a local bar. Two women and one man leveled racial and anti-gay slurs at them. According to firsthand accounts, the altercation escalated when McDonald stood her ground, calling them out for their hate speech, and one of the women struck McDonald with a cocktail glass, lacerating her cheek. In the course of the fight, the male assailant, Dean Schmitz, was fatally stabbed.
Now, the judge in CeCe McDonald’s case has determined that she will serve what’s left of her sentence in a men’s correctional facility. Though McDonald has already served 366 days (of which 275 will be credited toward her overall 41-month sentence) in a male facility, she has been kept in solitary confinement. Authorities say this has been done “for her own protection.”
When McDonald is moved, however, there may not be any such separation from the rest of the prison populace. And what could happen to her there is all but unimaginable.
In a 2005 letter to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center cited several discriminatory practices against transgender prisoners. These included intentional use of the wrong gender-specific pronoun (by inmates as well as authorities); lack of opportunity to dress or groom oneself comfortably; lack of adequate, appropriate medical treatment; isolation for “protective purposes”; unnecessary strip searches and forced nudity; and withholding of drug treatment, job training, and recreational opportunities.
Just last year, a group of Wisconsin transgender inmates had to bring a case to the U.S. Court of Appeals to be granted the right to continue their hormone treatment in prison. The state banned the treatment, primarily because it required taxpayer funding, the inmates asserted that sudden discontinuation of treatment could result in severe health problems.
37 percent of transgender inmates surveyed reported harassment by correctional officers, while only 35% reported harassment by fellow inmates. Sixteen percent reported physical assaults, and 15 percent reported sexual assaults while in a prison or a jail. Furthermore, black transgender inmates reported harassment rates 20–25 percent higher than their white peers.
In a piece written last year for the Baltimore Sun, Reginald Dwayne Betts discussed the pervasiveness of prison rape, regardless of sexual orientation:
For as long as the history of prisons in America, there has been rape in prisons in America…. We turn away from it in part because our penitentiaries are the last remnants of Darwinian survival of the fittest, played out on a day-to-day basis. And it is difficult to feel compassion for criminals. This is why prison movies like “Blood in Blood Out,” “American Me” and “Shawshank Redemption” feature graphic rapes and yet did not lead to any public outcries about prison conditions.
Suffice it to say, the fear CeCe McDonald faces, as she’s transferred into an environment where her womanhood will be stripped, ignored, or assaulted, is not one that heterosexual black women will ever have to know.
Following the state’s decision to house McDonald in a men’s facility, the Minnesota Star Tribute quote corrections spokeswoman Sarah Russell as claiming that, eventually, the state determine McDonald’s gender, an assessment that will involve reviewing “any and all collateral documentation and a physical and psychological evaluation.”
Here’s hoping that whatever this investigation unearths, it serves to protect McDonald from prison abuse–whether that means moving her to a safer facility or ensuring her safety in the men’s one. One thing is certain: regardless of how the state decides to gender-identify her, McDonald herself will still live as a woman. And as a woman, it’s hard not to imagine her fate relative to my own; just I’d never want to see the inside of a men’s prison as an inmate, I shudder at the idea of a transgender woman being sent to one.
If any good can come of McDonald’s high-profile case, it’s that it makes visible the challenges that black transgender women experience–and they are myriad. What we do with this knowledge remains to be seen, but if you’d like to start by supporting one woman’s cause, you can write a letter to Cece McDonald or raise awareness about her case and others like it by visiting http://supportcece.wordpress.com/.
(Stacia L. Brown, Clutch Magazine)
Trigger Warning: Rape Culture, Physical Violence, Prison Industrial Complex, Neoliberal Gay & Lesbian Events
Sylvia Rivera’s *amazing* speech in 1973 at the Christopher Street Liberation Day from my talk at the We Who Feel Differently Symposium; she gets on stage after being beaten up, boo’ed and refused speaking time to talk about the trans people left behind by the gay movement, specifically people in jail. I’m also reflecting on CeCe McDonald’s case & what it means for our movement. All the audio from the We Who Feel Differently Symposium is now available to listen and download as mp3 tracks online here: http://wewhofeeldifferently.info/ephemera.php#Symposium
Wow! and the pictures are SO GOOD! thanks to everyone who organized such a great event.
We Who Feel Differently: Journal” launched its second issue in May, “Disastrous Inclusion: Critical Reflections on the Legacy of DADT” guest edited by Ryan Conrad and featuring texts by: Karma Chávez, Ian Finkenbinder, LAGAI, Tamara K. Nopper, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. http://wewhofeeldifferently.info/journal.php
really worth checking out!
This is a beautiful talk by Reina Gossett that amplifies the voices of Sylvia Rivera and CeCe McDonald. All three of these women are huge inspirations to me and my work.
Sylvia Rivera is such a beautiful person and an inspiration. I heard about her speech in 1973 and what happened to her, but it breaks my heart to actually hear the hatred that she experienced. To hear her talking about imprisonment and rape of trans women and the crowd yelling at her to shut up. To hear her talking about women’s liberation and knowing that self-identified “feminists” physically assaulted her and that she was so devastated that she actually tried to take her own life.
CeCe McDonald’s words bring us full circle and show us how little has really changed in the last 39 years. We’re just now catching up to the greatness of Sylvia Rivera. It’s only last week new guidelines were announced regarding the issues of trans women being raped in prison that she talked about four decades ago. And this is simply the beginning. Why did has take so long? We know why. If Sylvia Rivera and other trans women revolutionaries weren’t exiled from the movement in 1973, imagine where we might be now.
TW: Prison violence, rape, trauma.
A culmination of 9 years of work, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project marks the release of the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Standards to Prevent, Detect and Respond to Prison Rape as a significant victory. The Department of Justice’s new standards come in response from recommendations from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project -including those of incarcerated trans and gender non conforming members- and allied organizations.
Advocates praise the new Justice Department standards, though questions remain about separate rules for immigration detention, to be finalized by the Department of Homeland Security.
“There has been a lot of discrimination and violence against LGBT inmates in correctional facilities,” a senior Justice Department official said Thursday, “and DOJ has devoted a lot of attention in this rule to LGBTI issues because of these unique vulnerabilities.”
Among the final rules pertaining to gay, transgender, and intersex inmates, per DOJ:
-Agencies must train security staff in conducting professional and respectful cross-gender pat-down searches and searches of transgender and intersex inmates.
-Transgender and intersex inmates must be given the opportunity to shower separately from other inmates.
-In deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex inmate to a facility for male or female inmates, and in making other housing and programming assignments, an agency may not simply assign the inmate to a facility based on genital status.
-LGBT and intersex inmates cannot be placed in dedicated facilities solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Timed with the final rules, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released sobering figures Thursday on the incidence of prison rape among gay and bisexual inmates. According to a survey of former state prisoners conducted in 2008, 39% of gay male inmates reported that they had been assaulted by a fellow inmate, compared to 3.5% of heterosexual male inmates.
About one third of bisexual male inmates also reported that they had been sexually assaulted, while lesbian inmates reported incidents of sexual violence perpetrated by staff at twice the rate of female heterosexual inmates. The survey did not include transgender individuals, who by all accounts are among the most vulnerable to sexual assault in prison.
“This is absolutely lifesaving work,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said of the Justice Department’s rules. “Transgender people are 13 times more likely to be assaulted in prison. … This is about how we protect vulnerable people, how we protect against HIV transmission, and how we end the misery and horror of sexual assault in prison.”[Full Article]
These are graphs from “Injustice at Every Turn” showing rate of sexual assault in jail/prison. The first graph is the rates of sexual assaults for trans women by race. The rates break down as follows:
According to “Injustice at Every Turn,” a report of institutionalized discrimination against trans people: “Transgender women of color were particularly vulnerable to sexual assault in jail/prison. Thirty-eight percent (38%) of Black [trans women] respondents reported being sexually assaulted by either another inmate or a staff member in jail/prison.”
Multiracial, Latina, Black and American Indian trans women are twice to more then three times as likely as White trans women to be sexually assaulted in prison.
This is the only statistic in the report that simultaneously accounts for both the race and gender of participants. Taken by themselves trans women and trans people of color experience higher rates of discrimination than trans men, nonbinary and white trans people.
The second graph shows sexual assault rates in prison/jail by gender. The rates are for trans women:
For trans men:
For all trans people:
Gender nonconforming people:
Trans women in jail/prison are three to nine times as likely to be sexually assaulted by inmates, nearly twice as likely to be sexually assaulted by staff, and about three (2.5 - 3.33) times as likely to be sexually assaulted by anyone when compared to trans men and gender nonconforming people in jail/prison.
The third graph shows sexual assault rates in prison/jail by race. These break down for all trans people who went to jail/prison:
American Indian (sample size too small for reliable analysis):
Asian Pacific Islander (sample size too small for reliable analysis):
With a similar break down to that of the first graph showing race and gender, trans people of color in jail/prison are significantly more likely to be sexually assaulted when compared to White trans people in jail/prison.
In 2007, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice placed transgender woman Brittney Allen Young into the Powledge men’s prison unit in Palestine.
Early in her sentence, Young’s cellmate, Charles, began overpowering and raping her, according to a letter Young wrote to Dallas Voice recently.
Young says when she reported the assaults, the guards simply placed her in a different cell on the same wing where Charles and another inmate continued to rape her.
When Young reported the assaults to prison officials again, she says the TDCJ dismissed her claim as insubstantial because she didn’t have any witnesses.
TDCJ representatives failed to respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
Young was eventually transferred to the Hughes Unit in Gatesville, but after she arrived there, an HIV-positive offender began raping her — and threatened to kill her if she reported it to guards, her letter states.
So instead, Young kept quiet and wrote to TDCJ ombudsman Ralph Bales, who’s responsible for implementing the 2003 federal Prison
Rape Elimination Act in Texas prisons.
With Bales’ help, Young got moved to protective custody, where she’s housed with inmates who are suicidal, former gang members and ex-police officers.
Today, Young says she stays locked up 23 hours a day, unable to participate in the educational, vocational and religious programs her attackers still enjoy.
Young’s story is not unique.
Every year, more than 200,000 adults and children are sexually abused in U.S. prisons, jails and immigration detention facilities.
A 2008 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 4.5 percent of all inmates in America report sexual assaults.
The same study ranked five Texas prisons among the 10 U.S. prisons with the highest rates of inmate-reported sexual assaults.
In those five prisons, between 9 percent and 16 percent of all inmates report incidents of rape by fellow prisoners and prison staff.
And the statistics are even grimmer for LGBT inmates.
Just Detention International, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group that seeks to reduce prison rapes worldwide, calls LGBT inmates “among the most vulnerable in the prison population,” with 67 percent reporting a sexual assault during their sentences — a rate 15 times higher than the inmate population overall.
Juvenile LGBT prisoners report sexual assaults 12 times more often than their straight counterparts, according to a 2009 Department of Justice report.
And transgender adult inmates are sexually abused 13 times more often than other inmates, according to Harper Jean Tobin of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
According to Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, prison rapists tend to target young, physically weak Caucasians — usually first-time, nonviolent offenders who seem kind, unaggressive, shy or intellectual.
Jody Marksamer, an attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says openly gay or lesbian inmates, or those with an “effeminate” appearance, often get targeted for the most brutal harassment and gang rapes, to initiate them as sex slaves.
TDCJ inmate Roderick Johnson, who’s openly gay, entered the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls in September 2000 on nonviolent charges of burglary, cocaine possession and cashing a bad check, according to multiple news reports about his case.
After Johnson’s arrival, he quickly came under the ownership of the Gangster Disciples, a prison gang that hadn’t had a sex slave for a while.
The Allred inmates gave Johnson a woman’s nickname, “Coco,” and forced him to make food, clean clothes and tidy up the cells while they pimped him out to other convicts for $10 payable in prison commissary credit and cigarettes.
Johnson spent the next 18 months being orally and anally raped in the cells, stairwells and showers of Allred prison every day by men he called “a pit of vipers” and “a pack of wolves,” the news reports say. Once they even forced Johnson and a mentally ill man to masturbate each other in the shower while forcing the man to repeatedly insert a finger into Johnson’s anus and then lick that finger.
“I was in prison with people serving two life sentences,” Johnson told The Daily Texan in a 2004 interview. “They don’t care about anything. Their lives are over.”
Rape survivors like Young and Johnson have to overcome several obstacles before they can even report an incident: They must survive the assault, then deal with the shock and disgust of violation without cleaning the evidence off their bodies by showering, brushing their teeth or drinking.
Often, fear of retaliation and shame will prevent survivors from immediately reporting attacks. And those who do don’t always have witnesses to help corroborate their tale.
They might also face a barrage of victim-blaming questions from prison officials such as, “How did you let that happen? Why did you go there in the first place? Why didn’t you tell anyone sooner?” — questions that imply they possibly deserved the assault and should feel ashamed, if they don’t already.
Johnson reported his rapes through a series of complaints, letters and grievances filed to prison officials.
He also appeared before the unit’s classification committee seven times to request placement into protective custody.
But Johnson says the officials didn’t do anything because they considered his proof insubstantial; he says they even took pleasure in his trauma and suggested that he either learn to fight or submit, hinting that he probably enjoyed the rapes because he’s gay.
Marksamer, of the NCLR, says prison guards can be just as dangerous as inmates, sometimes conspiring with prisoners to beat up or rape gay convicts who complain, placing them in the cells of well-known abusers or leaving LGBT inmates’ cells open to sexual predators. They can also encourage the maltreatment of LGBT inmates by referring to them with slurs or by names of the opposite gender.
In women’s prisons, guards will sometimes trade sex for goods and privileges, Marksamer says.
They’re often allowed to watch women shower, disrobe or use the toilet and can harass, degrade, grope and sexually abuse them during frisks and body searches.
And for undocumented people in American immigration detention centers, American Civil Liberties Union counsel Joanne Lin said the abuses can get much worse.
“Many immigration detainees do not speak or read English well, and do not know what their legal rights are in the United States,” Lin told National Public Radio recently. “Traumatized by the sexual assaults, they are understandably loath to report the abuse to the same government authorities that have the power to rape, detain and deport them.”
The American Civil Liberty Union’s National Prison Project eventually sued the TDCJ in April 2002 for violating Johnson’s constitutional rights protecting against cruel and unusual punishment and guaranteeing equal protection under the law, based on his race and sexual orientation. But in 2005, a jury dismissed the lawsuit.
Johnson now lives on parole in Austin, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, taking anti-depressants and facing nightmares and suicidal thoughts each day.
But advocates say Johnson is one of the lucky ones.
JDI’s McFarlane says it’s impossible to know how many prison assaults end in death, how many prisoners pass away due to complications from AIDS, other untreated STDs, and injuries and suicide — the mental and physical toll is enormous.
A 2006 study of sexual violence in Texas prisons from the criminal justice research company, the JFA Institute, attributed Texas’ higher rates of reported sexual assaults to the 2003 implementation of the Safe Prisons program.
The Safe Prisons program aims to reduce prison violence by instructing inmates and guards on how to correctly report an assault, separating vulnerable inmates from attackers, and offering survivors psychological care while investigators and medical forensic experts seek out evidence of the alleged assault.
However, soon after the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2008 study listed Allred and four other Texas prisons among the most sexually abusive in the nation, Just Detention International examined the inmate letters they’d received from Texas —which account for about one-fourth of their inmate letters overall.
JDI found repeated accounts of the myriad abuses described in this article, which the group says indicates that the situation in Texas prisons hasn’t improved significantly.
Although President George W. Bush signed the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act into law with a unanimous congressional vote — the PREA even had the support of the anti-gay group Focus on the Family — advocates say there aren’t adequate mechanisms to enforce the reforms or evaluate prison compliance.
As advocacy groups continue their work, they say the LGBT community can help by pressuring lawmakers and prison officials to adopt standards developed by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission in 2009.
Even though about 1 percent of the U.S. population is in prison, JDI’s McFarlane thinks that the American public has not pressured the government for prison rape reform because it’s easy to ignore an entire population that’s locked away.
When asked how she feels about prison rape jokes and pornography, or LGBT online commenters who think gay-bashers deserve rape in prisons, McFarlane responded: “We do want to really encourage people to think twice about the reality of what they’re joking about. When American citizens in government-run facilities have no rights, then none of us do.”
The word “fear” is repeated constantly in Esmeralda Soto’s testimony. Soto, a transgender woman, says that in 2003 she was forced to perform oral sex on an employee of an immigrant detention center in San Pedro, Calif. The government will soon adopt new regulations to protect victims of sexual abuse in prison—but those detained for their immigration status won’t be included under the protections.
“I desperately wanted to get rid of the taste of the officer’s semen, but the investigators wouldn’t let me wash my mouth out until they got the sample for the rape kit. The assault happened at 2:00 pm and I wasn’t taken to the hospital until the next morning. The memory of the taste is extremely upsetting and I have these memories all the time,” Soto said in testimony compiled by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC).
She is not alone. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), since 2007 in California alone, there have been at least 17 complaints of sexual abuse in prisons in Yuba, Santa Ana and Otay. The state of Texas is leading in this tragic statistic, with 56 complaints in the same period.
The problem isn’t limited to immigrant detention centers; it exists in the general prison system across the country. That’s why in 2003 a law was passed to eliminate rape in prison, called the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).
Under that law, sexual assault in state or federal prison constitutes a violation of the 8th Amendment of the Constitution. The law also demands that all establishments apply a zero tolerance policy to address the problem.
The law called for a comprehensive study and new regulations to address the problem. In January 2011, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a first draft of regulations subject to comments and changes. In it, immigrant detention centers were not included.
Last week the DOJ sent the final regulations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Several civil rights groups are afraid that despite the criticism, immigrant detention centers will continue to be excluded.
“On our many visits to immigration jails, we’ve never found a place where all the necessary standards have been implemented. Many detainees don’t even know who to talk to in case of abuse,” explained Michelle Brané, director of the Women’s Refugee Commission.
The agency that is the biggest opponent of applying these regulations to immigrant detention centers is the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, on Nov. 30, former NPREC president, Judge Reggie Walton, sent a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, in which he specified the seriousness of the situation in an attempt to change DHS’s position.
“Excluding immigrant detention centers from the PREA requirements and the implementation of the final regulations that the DOJ will adopt, will leave detainees in a situation vulnerable to continued abuse,” argues the letter obtained by La Opinión.
A DHS official explained to La Opinión that the problem is not with compliance with PREA, but with the DOJ. “There are serious budget and operational implications for DOJ—which supervises the prison system—by setting standards for other agencies like the Department of Defense, DHS and Health and Human Services, when they can barely manage their own prison system.”
“This is an example of an agency so mired in its own problems that it charges in any direction to change the subject,” he added.
DHS argues that the zero tolerance policy is already incorporated in immigration detention centers and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has developed “reviews of the standards of detention, with requirements to respond appropriately to sexual abuse,” said Gillian Christensen, spokesperson for the agency.
The clear friction between DOJ and DHS on this issue will put the OMB and the White House in a difficult situation when it comes to delivering the final regulations, especially in a critical election year.
Jovanie Saldana, who has been named by prison authorities and the media despite being the victim of sexual assault, has now had her basic rights violated many times over. She was violated when a prison guard entered her cell and forced her to perform oral sex on him. She was violated when her brave decision to report this assault resulted in an investigation that placed her under scrutiny and revoked her right to privacy. She was violated when she was sent to a male prison, both denying her true gender and placing her at extreme risk of further physical and sexual violence. And she was violated when her name was released and spread without concern for her privacy or safety.
Clearly, trans prison inmates are not seen to be deserving of the same rights as their cis, non-inmate counterparts. That Saldana is a black woman also could not have helped these abusive figures to see her as more human. (Indeed, trans women of color are at much higher risk of violence than white trans women.) Saldana’s cousin strongly believes that the transfer to a men’s prison is retaliation for her rape allegations; the timing, media attention, and reaction of the prison guard’s union certainly make these charges credible.