On the Science of Changing Sex

Safety First

Posted in Editorial, Transsexual Field Studies by Kay Brown on August 7, 2018

female_scientistPersonal Safety: Women’s and Transgender Rights in Prison

In one of the episodes of Pose, Blanca, a very feminine pre-op transwoman is unjustly arrested and is held in a cell with a number of very scary looking men.  The scene is presented without any editorial comment as the visual tableau speaks for itself.

When I was just 18 years old, my friend Marcella, a 24 year-old pre-op Latina transwoman and I were talking about what happens when a pre-op transwoman is arrested and jailed.  I was concerned about it to the point of not just not committing any crimes, but of ensuring I never was in a position where I might be suspected of a crime.  Marcella thought I was silly, saying, “In jail the men are there for you honey!”  She shared her experience of having been arrested for drug possession and spending some time in county jail.  (She had a fondness for Quaaluudes.)  She related that she was very well treated by some of the men who protected her from harassment and violence.  Me?  No.  I still wouldn’t have been willing to prostitute myself in order to purchase that protection, the price would be too high.

Over the decades, I have taken in a number of transfolk and non-transfolk for varying periods of time.  I had rules.  One of them was no illegal activities or substances, period.  (The same rule that fictional Blanca had for her house in Pose.) A decade ago, that rule was broken by one of the young transwomen I allowed to stay in my house during her recovery from SRS.  She had hidden that she was a drug addict and had brought into my house drugs and paraphernalia.  Taking a spare key, she also stole my airplane and crashed in a hay-field while high!  She spent some time in jail, presumably in a women’s ward as she was then of course post-op.

This brings up the issue of where we place transfolk during incarceration.  Our rules should be based on safety for all concerned.  But they aren’t always.  I’ve already brought up the issue of placing clearly feminine pre-op transwomen in with men and how one either trades sexual favors for safety or risk sexual and/or violent assault.  But is that the only concern?

Sadly, transwomen are not homogenous as a population.  Most transwomen, both pre- and post-op in Northern European and English speaking countries are gynephilic and autogynephilic.  And a minority… a small minority… are prone to criminality and violence… including sexual assault against women and children.

In the Dhejne study following up a cohort of post-op transsexuals they found,

Male-to-females had a significantly increased risk for crime compared to female controls (aHR 6.6; 95% CI 4.1–10.8) but not compared to males (aHR 0.8; 95% CI 0.5–1.2). This indicates that they retained a male pattern regarding criminality. The same was true regarding violent crime. By contrast, female-to-males had higher crime rates than female controls (aHR 4.1; 95% CI 2.5–6.9) but did not differ from male controls. This indicates a shift to a male pattern regarding criminality and that sex reassignment is coupled to increased crime rate in female-to-males. The same was true regarding violent crime.

Note that transfolk, both MTF and FtM had nearly as many criminal convictions as men.  It’s interesting that men still exhibited more criminality as both MTF and FtM by a slight amount.  If I had to guess, I would hypothesis that this is because of the inhomogeneous taxonomic structure of the MTF community in Sweden where the study is from.  While most transwomen would be AGP and thus likely to have identically the same criminality as men in general, the minority of ‘early onset’ transwomen pulls the rate down by 20%.

There are very few studies that explore the issue of transfolk and the risks that some may pose to others in a prison setting.  However, there are some disturbing hints.

In the Canadian court case of Kavanagh, a transwoman in prison, the following excerpt may be found,

“Dr. Watson’s suggestion that pre-operative male to female transsexuals would pose little physical risk to female prisoners was addressed by several of CSC’s witnesses. Dr. Dickey, Dr. Hucker and Ms. Petersen all disagree with Dr. Watson’s statement that most male to female transsexual inmates are attracted to men: To the contrary, they say, the majority of transsexuals in federal prisons are actually attracted to women. It takes serious criminal activity to qualify a person for a federal prison sentence in Canada. According to Dr. Dickey and Ms. Petersen, homosexual transsexuals do not generally have the degree of aggressiveness or psychopathy necessary to get them into a Canadian federal prison. The transsexuals that Dr. Hucker has encountered in the correctional setting tend, he says, to be “more ambiguous” in their sexual orientation… Dr. Dickey, Dr. Hucker and Ms. Petersen all say that they would be very concerned about putting a pre-operative male to female heterosexual transsexual inmate in a women’s prison, given the risk that the inmate would prey on female prisoners.”

Then there is the concern that some transwomen may be a danger to children.  There have been several cases of transwomen in prison for sexual assault on, and even murder of, children.  There is even documentation of two pedophiles seeking to transition and receive medical interventions who admitted a belief that as women their interest in being around children would be more socially acceptable!

Denying it does not serve the transgender community.  Balancing safety and respect for human rights for all concerned should be the goal and recommended policy.  Thus, while this is just my personal opinion, I highly recommend the following policies concerning transwomen, incarceration, and access to “women’s spaces”.

First, when arrested but before conviction of any crime.  Transfolk should be kept separate from non-transfolk to ensure personal safety and to respect their dignity.  Someone not convicted of a crime should not be “punished” by being put at risk and of being disrespectfully treated.

Transfolk convicted of a crime should be evaluated on a case by case basis as to their placement to maximize safety for all concerned.  Transfolk’s sexual orientation, etiology (taxonomic diagnoses), and surgical status must be considered but no hard and fast rule applied.  Where there is no risk of violence or sexual predation, a transwoman may be placed in a female facility regardless of genital surgical status (e.g. ‘early onset’ – androphilic transwomen are not a risk to women, but are at very high risk from men).  Risk factors considered should include the prisoner’s history of violence, especially toward women.  A transwoman who has ever exhibited violent or sexual crimes (not including prostitution) should NEVER be housed in a women’s facility regardless of current surgical status.  That is to say, a rapist has forfeited the privilege and the prison system shouldn’t provide new victims to a predator.

References:

Dhejne, et al. “Long-Term Follow-Up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery: Cohort Study in Sweden” (2011) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0016885

Kavanagh vs. Canada

Saunders, et al., “Gender reassignment: 5 years of referrals in Oxfordshire”
https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-psychiatrist/article/gender-reassignment-5-years-of-referrals-in-oxfordshire/6B5F217162ABD9B3189F2EB82787034E/core-reader

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