Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Comment
10 January 2022

Female prisoners shouldn’t be used as a shield for trans women from male violence

The House of Lords must vote to keep prisons single-sex.

By Jean Hatchet

Today (10 January) an amendment will be proposed in the House of Lords to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeking to ensure that prison estates remain single-sex, with prisoners housed according to their sex recorded at birth.

The background to this bill has been the fraught question of where to house inmates who identify as a gender other than what they were assigned at birth. Much of the debate has centred around the rights of trans people – particularly trans women, who may be pre or post-gender affirmation surgery – when it comes to single-sex facilities.

Often lost in this debate, however, is the focus on the women actually in those prisons. Eighty-two per cent of women are in prison for non-violent crime and with short sentences. Fifteen per cent of women are serving less than a year. A high proportion are working class, poor and/or BAME. They are often sentenced because of offences committed in order to feed and clothe themselves and their family, or because they committed offences to provide for the drug use of another.

Among them are many women who have been coerced, abused, prostituted and raped by men. Fifty-three per cent of women in prison have reported childhood sexual abuse, and 64 per cent of women in one study exhibited brain injuries consistent with having experienced domestic abuse (of which 96 per cent reported they had been victims of).

So it is hard for such women to advocate for their own safeguarding needs, and cruel to ask them to “be kind” and ignore their need to be incarcerated away from male-bodied people, especially after the violence men have committed against them. Many express acute unease when housed with trans-identified males, but of course we don’t hear their voices.

Some activists insist the risk from trans-identified men – some of whom have committed violent and/or sexual offences – is low. But it is never low enough. Some say that “not all trans women will be violent”. Of course this is the case – but the point is that some have been convicted of being violent, and women have no obligation to ignore that risk. Trans-identified males retain male patterns of offending and criminality. A gender recognition certificate is not a magic piece of paper that removes this risk – and we must remember that the majority of these prisoners retain male genitalia.

Some argue that male guards in women’s prisons are also abusive. This is true, and needs to be addressed. Yet it is odd to argue that because women face a threat from men in positions of authority, they should also face yet more risk from male prisoners incarcerated alongside them.

The seminal Corston Report of 2007, which focused on women in the criminal justice system, concluded that the “differences between male and female offenders… indicate that a different and distinct approach is needed for women” – and yet this has been all but ignored in favour of the latest ideological push to grant trans demands in female spaces.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

Trans activists insist that “trans women are women” and should be safe from men in prison, just like other women. They say that the third space option, as is often suggested, isn’t fair as it isolates these inmates. Of course, these prisoners should be incarcerated safely – all prisoners have that right. But it is deeply wrong to ask incarcerated women to be the shield for trans women, from the violence of other men.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Topics in this article: ,