A trans woman incarcerated in a Michigan men’s prison was forced to share a bunk with a convicted rapist, even after begging to be placed elsewhere. She says that he raped her within 24 hours and that prison officials ignored her pleas, allegedly refusing to help. On Tuesday, she filed a federal lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections, alleging that they failed to protect her by disregarding both their own policies and national guidelines, as well as the housing plan that was designed to keep her away from other prisoners who might harm her.
It’s common knowledge that a horrifying amount of sexual violence occurs within prisons, but trans people are particularly vulnerable to assault. In most states, including Michigan, incarcerated people are placed in prisons based on the gender they were assigned at birth, leaving trans people—especially trans women incarcerated in men’s prisons—particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual violence. Incarcerated trans people are 10 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by their fellow prisoners and five times more likely to be sexually assaulted by staff, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. In many states, the go-to means of protecting incarcerated trans people from harm is to place them in solitary confinement—layering the inhumane cruelty of almost total isolation over the inhumane cruelty of prison itself.
For the trans woman incarcerated in Michigan who filed this lawsuit, there was no comfort in the fact that the abuse and assault she was subjected to was against policy. In fact, she’d received a medical order from the Michigan Department of Corrections on Dec. 5, 2019, that prohibited her from being housed with a cellmate who did not also have gender dysphoria—an order that was blatantly ignored by prison officials when they forced her to share a bunk with a man who had been convicted of raping and killing a woman.
After the alleged rape, she was reassigned to a new cell—where she was forced to bunk with another convicted rapist, who allegedly pressured her to “expose her genitals.”