Most transgender people can tell you that they have suffered discrimination and harassment for as long as they can remember. This, in itself, is a problem. But perhaps even more concerning is when cruelty and mistreatment come from the very authority figures who are entrusted to protect and defend them.
Fears of Police
The statistics are disturbing: Almost six in 10 transgender individuals are reluctant to seek out law enforcement assistance when they need it. That is because members of the transgender community – particularly trans people of color – feel that they are often profiled and harassed by police.
Unfortunately, the persecution does not end after transgender people are arrested and locked up. The rates of exploitation and violence are dreadful—with physical and sexual attacks by fellow prisoners occurring at 10 times the rate of other inmates. Even less palatable is the fact that they are assaulted by staff at five times the rate of other inmates. On top of these attacks, transgender inmates report long periods in solitary confinement and the denial of essential medical attention. In total, more than one-third of transgender individuals report having been raped while in prison—and that number is thought to be on the lower side of reality.
One of the biggest challenges for transgender people upon incarceration is the fact that they are nearly always housed based on their gender assignment at birth, not their current identity. Transgender women are thus locked up with men, which puts them at substantial risk of rape and other violent acts. Even when they request to be relocated to women’s facilities, these women are usually denied transfers. This is despite laws requiring states to evaluate placements on a case-by-case basis and to consider where inmates would feel the safest. In fact, only about a dozen of the nearly 5,000 transgender people currently in state prisons are housed based on their lived gender identity.
Along with asking trans people where they would feel safest, federal law requires an interview twice yearly thereafter These inmates’ concerns and their experiences with violence are supposed to be weighed as officials make housing determinations. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is intended to protect all prisoners and specifically transgender people, who are at the highest risk of violence. States who refuse to comply are supposedly at risk of losing significant federal funding—but it does not seem to play out as intended. Some believe that is because specific benchmarks are not laid out, giving states the leeway to do as they please. Continue reading