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Queer Injustice: The Widespread Sexual Abuse LGBT People Face in Prison

While sexual violence is part of the daily prison experience for many inmates, LGBT people are disproportionately targeted by staff and prisoners.

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Often such searches are conducted merely to satisfy a guard or medical staff’s curiosity regarding a person’s genitalia, but ostensibly justified as necessary for determination of appropriate placement in sex-segregated facilities. Victoria Schneider, a transgender woman arrested for prostitution in 1996, was subjected to an un- necessary and degrading strip search in the San Francisco County Jail that included an inspection of her genitalia while she was forced to bend over and cough.

In 2002, a transgender woman of color held at the same facility was ordered by a sheriff to “strip naked, masturbate, and show him her body and dance for his arousal.” According to Judy Greenspan, cofounder of Trans/Gender Variant Prison Committee (TIP) in California, transgender men also “face a lot of oppression on the part of guards . . . When they’re strip-searched, many FTMs [female to males] who have had their breasts removed or take hormones are put on display. It’s psychological brutality and they’re demonized.”

Beyond violent sexual assault, both men and women prisoners also must often submit to nonconsensual sex acts with guards or with other inmates for safety, to be free from disciplinary punishment or further harassment, or in return for drugs, commissary items, or other survival needs.40 For example, a gay inmate in a male institution who described himself as “a free-world homosexual that looks and acts like a female” reported to HRW that he had no choice but “to hook up with someone that could make them give me a little respect . . . All open Homosexuals are preyed upon and if they don’t choose up they get chosen.” As Sunny, a transgender woman in a male prison in New York, told advocates from SRLP, “If you’re not fucking somebody, you’re gonna get fucked by everybody.”

The response Roderick Johnson received to his repeated pleas for help illustrates how indifference to the plight of queer prisoners often shown by penal officials derives from beliefs that gay men and trans- gender women, particularly those of color, are sexually degraded, inviolable, and more likely to be sexual predators than victims. Ac- cording to Linda McFarlane, deputy director of JDI, “We’ve heard multiple times about officers openly expressing a belief that gay and transgender inmates cannot be raped, that they deserve to be raped due to their mere presence in the environment, or that if they are raped it’s simply not a concern.”

Carl Shepard, a gay Mississippi man serving time for larceny and a narcotics offense, who was anally raped by his cell mate during a prison lockdown, tried to report the rape to a unit administrator, a major, and a warden. “When those three were questioning me, they actually made fun of me. The major said that I was gay, the sex must have been consensual. He said I got what I deserved.” Shepard had previously been denied medical attention even though he was bleeding from his anus. Timothy Tucker, a gay HIV-positive man raped by another male inmate in a federal prison in Virginia, reported, “After I was raped they asked me if I had learned my lesson . . . [Guards] said that since I am gay I should have enjoyed it.” An inmate in Florida told HRW, “I have been sexually assaulted twice since being incarcerated. Both times the staff refused to do anything except to lock me up and make accusations that I’m homosexual.”

Prisoners and inmates who report sexual violence not only fail to receive protection, they are frequently subject to retaliation from penal officials and other inmates for reporting the abuse. For instance, LGBT victims of sexual violence are often written up for violating the rules banning consensual sex, which leads to disciplinary action. In many institutions, when a prisoner reports he or she was raped, they are placed in solitary confinement under the pretense that penal officials are providing them protection during the investigation. Instead, it sends a message to inmates that reporting the assault will only lead to further punishment. Inadequate grievance procedures also make LGBT prisoners who report the sexual violence vulnerable to future attacks.

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