A Story of Strength From a Transgender Person in Prison
Content Warning: The following article details instances of sexual violence in an incarceration setting and may be upsetting to some readers. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence and is in need of help, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1–800–656–4673.
By Janetta Johnson
There are few people exposed to more violence and abuse in our society today than a transgender woman in prison. According to our US Transgender Survey, transgender people are ten times as likely to be sexually assaulted by others in prison and five times as likely to be sexually assaulted by staff. They are frequently humiliated, denied medical care, and kept in solitary confinement for extensive stays.
Sexual violence in prison is largely left out of the national conversation about survivors and the #MeToo movement, even as overcrowding and a persistent lack of oversight leads to increases in violence. According to a recent Department of Justice report, sexual abuse allegations in prison rose from 8,798 in 2011 to 24,661 in 2015 — meaning sexual violence in prisons tripled in just four years.
For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we wanted to give voice to one of the women who endure such abuse in our nation’s prison system. Janetta Johnson of the TGI Justice Project — a Bay Area organization working with those formerly and currently held in prison — detailed her own experiences in a federal facility for us. With her permission, we are sharing it and asking readers to reflect on their own commitment to ending sexual violence wherever and to whomever it occurs.
It started the very moment I was arrested and the police flipped my dress up to show the fellow officers my anatomy as “proof” that I wasn’t a “real woman.” After that, they stopped using female pronouns and treating me with respect, because I’m trans and, to these officers, trans women do not deserve respect.
And then, I entered a cell that had blood and feces in it and they left me there, stark naked. Being sentenced to 6 years in prison as a nonviolent offender, I knew — as I told the judge who sentenced me — that there would be some physical and sexual violence, violence that all Black trans people experience inside jails and prisons.