Transgender Prisoners Face Sexual Assault and Discrimination at Pittsburgh Jail

Photo: Allegheny County Jail

Prison is a traumatic experience. For transgender women, it’s magnitudes worse.

Jules Williams, a transgender woman, suffered sexual and physical assault and harassment multiple times while detained at the Allegheny County Jail between 2015 and 2017 in Pittsburgh. Even though she is a woman, which the state recognizes on her identification card, Ms. Williams was processed and incarcerated with men.

Last week, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien sued Allegheny County on behalf of Ms. Williams for the numerous traumas she suffered after the jail’s officials and guards refused to house her with other female prisoners during these periods of incarceration. The jail administration’s indifference to the threats Ms. Williams faced as a transgender prisoner violated her rights under the Constitution by failing to protect her from harm.

While Ms. Williams was in their custody, jail officials put her and other transgender women in holding cells with 10 to 15 men for as long as 72 hours while awaiting transfer to a cell in the main area of the jail. They also routinely violated their own (inadequate) policies by holding her and other transgender women in cells with male prisoners even though jail policy requires trans prisoners to be housed in single cells.

Ms. Williams’ ordeal demonstrates the serious and harmful deficiencies in the jail’s practices.

Jules Williams at a press conference at the ACLU of Pennsylvania
Jules Williams (center) at a press conference at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

After an arrest in September 2015, Ms. Williams found herself in a holding cell, where she was harassed and humiliated by other prisoners and corrections officers alike. She was so frightened that she requested protective custody — basically a form of solitary confinement — because she feared for her safety.

But protective custody turned out to be anything but safe for Ms. Williams. Corrections officers put her in a cell with a male inmate who repeatedly raped her over the next four days. Ms. Williams continually begged to be moved; she told staff she was being assaulted; she cried for help. But her pleas were ignored.

The jail and its staff not only failed to protect Ms. Williams, they also exacerbated her trauma and even put her at greater risk of harm with their own discriminatory actions. Guards called her “faggot” and “freak show” and referred to her as “s/him.” They forced her to shower in the presence of male prisoners and corrections officers and put her in a transparent-walled “suicide cell” when she experienced post-traumatic stress from the sexual assault. Once inside, they removed her clothes and left her naked in front of male prisoners and staff while they searched for an anti-suicide smock called a “turtle suit.”

Ms. Williams experienced trauma that no one deserves — trauma that violates her constitutional rights. But she is not alone. Due to discrimination in housing, education, employment, and family rejection, 21 percent of transgender women have spent time in jail or prison, according to a 2011 survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found that trans women are nine times more likely than other prisoners to be victims of sexual harassment or assault. The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) recognizes that, “Being transgender is a known risk factor for being sexually victimized in confinement settings.”

PREA also mandates that transgender prisoners be assigned to male or female housing on a case-by-case basis that gives “serious consideration” to the prisoner’s sense of where he or she would be safest.

Yet jails and prisons around the country, including Allegheny County, have failed to meet their obligation to protect trans prisoners from abuse and assault by placing them in unsafe conditions. That’s why we’re going to court — to vindicate the right of Ms. Williams and other transgender people to have their gender identity acknowledged and to be free from emotional and physical abuse while incarcerated.

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RoyMoore

Sorry about the Transgernder rape. This is a butt fuck me in the ass prison for people like Roy Moore of Alabama who likes to rape young girls. Go Trump!

CoreyHaim

One time Rush Limbaugh invited me over to his house in Mira Lago and touched my penis with his mouth. Sean Hannity watched as he described it to Roy Moore on the phone. Thank there was no facetime back then. Just mine I guess.

Dr. Joseph Goebbels

The article fails to mention why she was in jail "multiple times ...between 2015 and 2017". Was it prostitution ?

Anonymous

It really doesn't matter why she was in jail as long as it wasn't child molestation the only time someone deserves to be raped repeatedly as if they are a definite child molester

Dr. Gerbels

Hitler one time called me to his state room. I was scared but we was the fuher so I felt compelled. He proceeded to put his had on my penis then my breast. He gave me brandy and took me for a ride in his Mercedes Benz along autobahn 1. He choked me and tried to force me to give him oral sex. Rommel said he tried the same with him. Van Hofenstein said he outright ass raped him. God bless you Corey Haim. Haim is Caucasian German right, y’all like that boy rape shit along with the Muslims.

Anonymous

That's irrelevant. Violations of rights are violations of rights.

Anonymous

Why would prostitution be illegal anyway? What is prostitution anyway. The selling of ones body for money? Is this definition limited to sex or can others be “prostitutes”.

Was Jesus the ultimate prositute when he sold his body. Who did he sell his body too or for what. Well, once he was “dead” on the wood, Luke poked a hole in his foot and directed the mourners to drink a drop of the blood.

We all live today untouched prostitutes. We drank the actual blood and it really did give us ever lasting life. Many powerfuls have tried to find us, but never will.

Btw, fuck Russia.

Dr. Joseph Goebbels

The article also failed to mention the race of the people abusing her. What color was their skin? Did they smell like a monkey cage?

Elle

It doesn’t matter why she was there, what matters if she was abused by the staff and other prisoners.

Anonymous

Yes it does matter. Some trans "women" are in jail for murdering women or domestic violence against women and you want to force a real woman to share a cell with them? I am so sick of men pushing women's needs to the side just because someone else with a penis wants something that the women are keeping him from getting (in this case the female gender).

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