Injustice at Every Turn — Part VIII: Police and Incarceration

(1 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Scarlet Letter

Injustice at Every Turn (pdf) is a 122-page report of data gathered in 2008 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality concerning quality of life issues for transgender people living in this country.

Most people interact with police officers during the ordinary course of their lives. Transgender and gender non-conforming people may have higher levels of interaction with police. They are more likely to interact with police because they are more likely to be victims of violent crime, because they are more likely to be on the street due to homelessness and/or being unwelcome at home, because their circumstances often force them to work in the underground economy, and even because many face harassment and arrest simply because they are out in public while being transgender. Some transgender women report that police profile them as sex workers and arrest them for solicitation without cause; this is referred to as “Walking While Transgender.”

Previous “turns” have covered the basic data about who transpeople living in America are in Who we are — by the numbers, Part I: Education, Part II: Employment, Part III: Health Care, Part IV: Family, Part V: Housing. Part VI: Public Accommodation and Part VII: Identity Documents.  This is the last in the series.

54% of respondents reported having interacted with police as a transgender or gender non-conforming person.  Of those, 68% reported that “officers have generally treated me with respect.”  But 30% reported having been treated with disrespect.  Respect was generally more easily given if the respondent had a higher household income and/or had attained a higher level of educational.  Disrespect was more common than respect for those who were Black (43% to 47%) and those who had no high school diploma (same percentages).

After I was raped, the officer told me that I got what I deserved.

6% of respondents reported having been physical assaulted by police and 2% experienced sexual assault.  For Black respondents, those numbers were 15% and 7% respectively.  Those who worked in the underground economy had rates of 15% and 8% respectively.  12% of those having under $10K household income reported physical assault and 4% reported sexual assault.  11% of those with no HS diploma reported physical assault and 7% reported sexual assault.

I did not pass as male, but I was obviously presenting as a masculine person at a nightclub. I kissed the cheek of my girlfriend at the time. … The security guard picked me up and carried me towards the door, kicked the door open with his foot and launched me out the door of the nightclub. I tumbled to the ground to find three police officers standing over me. One said, ‘Do we have trouble here?’ The security guard said, ‘The trouble is that this fucking lesbian needs to know what it’s like to be with a man.’ They all started to laugh. ‘I could show her,’ one police officer said. Just then my friends bolted through the door and instructed me to run. I stumbled to my feet and narrowly escaped the officer’s hands. ‘Fucking dykes! Don’t come back here unless you wanna get fucked!’ one of the officers screamed as we ran off.

46% of the sample reported that they were uncomfortable seeking help from police, while 35% said they were comfortable doing so.

Street harassment is the most constant gender-related experience of discrimination in my day-to-day life: from cops, other government workers, as well as fellow city residents. My experience ranges from catcalls, to being followed (on foot and in cars) by threatening groups of people, to having things thrown at me. Enough of this harassment comes from cops that I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d either report it to the police or want them to intervene

54% of FTMs reported discomfort in seeking assistance from police, as compared to 40% of MTFs.  By race, the most uncomfortable were multiracial people (55%), Latino/as (51%), and Blacks (48%)…but even 44% of Whites and Asians expressed discomfort.

7% of respondents reported being arrested and held in a cell strictly due to police bias generated by their gender identity or expression.  Blacks (41%) and Latino/as (21%) had much higher rates of incarceration because of such police bias.  

16% of respondents had experienced being sent to jail or prison for any reason.  The corresponding rate for Blacks was 47% and for American Indians was 30%.  21% of MTFs had experience in jail or prison, compared with 10% of FTMs.  A DOJ report in 2003 reported that the rate of incarceration in prison of the population as a whole was 2.7%, but the DOJ omits time spent in jail.

I was arrested recently and the officer thought it necessary to announce in a loud tone to the entire jail that I was a transgender man.

5% of African American respondents were incarcerated for 10 or more years and 10% were incarcerated for between 5 and 10 years.  MTFs reported serving more time than FTMs

Not surprisingly, harassment and assault at the hands of correctional officers and other inmates from whom they have no chance to escape was frequent for both transgender and gender non-conforming respondents.  35% of respondents who had spent time in jail or prison were harassed by other inmates, with Latino/as (56%), American Indians (55%), Blacks (50%), Asians (44%) and multiracial people (43%) the most likely targets.  37% of those who went to jail or prison were harassed by corrections officers or other staff.  Respondents of color were more likely to be targets than whites.  It is perhaps interesting that while only 44% of Asians were harassed by their peers, 56% reported being harassed by guards and other staff. [Note:  the sample size for Asians and American Indians was small enough as to be somewhat unreliable].

While I only experienced verbal harassment and rape threats during a night in jail, I watched a trans woman arrested with me experience physical and sexual assault from the police that night as well as extensive verbal harassment and humiliation.

16% of those sent to jail or prison experienced physical assault and 15% were subjected to sexual assault.  Such assaults were perpetrated by both other inmates and by guards or other staff.  Black respondents were most likely to be sexually assaulted (34%).  MTFs were physically assaulted at a rate of 21% and sexually assaulted 20% of the time.  The corresponding rates for FTMs were 11% and 6%.   One study from California (pdf) suggested the overall sexual assault rate in state correctional facilities was 4.4%.

I was arrested one day regarding something minor. Due to my gender being marked as male, I was put in with the men. Within 15 minutes, I was raped by 3 different men. My mother even called and warned the officers NOT to put me in with general population as I would be an easy target. When I got out I tried to seek help from Victims Services but was denied. I was also discouraged from trying to press charges on the men.

12% of respondents who were sent to prison were denied routine health care and 17% were denied hormone treatment.  These rates were higher for Blacks and multiracial respondents, those who had lower household incomes, and transwomen.

it is important for readers to also understand that denial of hormone treatment to transgender inmates also has serious health consequences. Interruptions in hormone therapy can be physically painful and damaging to a person’s physical and mental health


  • Police departments should reform their approach to transgender and gender non-conforming people:
    • All officers, both new and those who are already serving, should be given comprehensive training to treat transgender and gender non-conforming people respectfully, regardless of whether the person is seeking assistance or is being arrested.
    • In order to sustain and reinforce the effect of training, departments need written policies related to respectful treatment, arrest procedures, and placement in housing, so that all officers know the expected protocols or can consult them when necessary.
    • Officers who fail to follow these policies, or otherwise engage in disrespectful treatment or violent behavior, should face discipline, including termination when warranted.
    • A culture of respect for diversity, including of transgender and gender non-conforming people should be established by departmental leadership.
    • Police departments should establish LGBT liaison units to be an internal voice for fairness, respectful treatment, and appropriate policies. Existing lesbian and gay units should expand to include transgender and gender non-conforming officers and issues as well.
  • Jail and prison officials and systems, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, should reform their approach and policies related to transgender and gender non-conforming inmates:
    • The U.S. Department of Justice should swiftly adopt strong, binding national regulations to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.
    • Until national regulations are established, prisons, jails and detention facilities should fully implement the recommendations of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.
    • Corrections staff should be given comprehensive training on how to treat transgender and gender non-conforming inmates with respect, including allowing people to express their gender identity through clothing and grooming.
    • Jail and prison systems need written policies on transgender and gender non-conforming inmates, to ensure they are housed according to their gender identity, unless their safety is jeopardized by this classification; however, this does not mean transgender and gender non-conforming inmates should be held in solitary confinement or administrative segregation or otherwise have their privileges reduced in a misguided attempt to keep them safe.
    • Jail and prison systems should enact policies and procedures that ensure all inmates are free of physical and sexual assault.
    • Jail and prison systems should provide appropriate medical care to transgender and gender non-conforming inmates.
    • Department of corrections must terminate staff who physically or sexually assault prisoners and otherwise ensure that staff are accountable for their actions when they endanger the health and well-being of inmates.

From every angle, the justice system is broken for transgender and gender non-conforming people. Instead of administering justice, it perpetrates injustice.


    • Robyn on February 26, 2011 at 22:53

    …that in an interaction with a police office, who was called when she and a woman friend were attacked by a group of high schoolers throwing rocks, hitting the diarist in the neck and causing damage to her friend’s car, the officer told them that they got what they deserved and that nothing would be done…even though witnesses had the license number of the vehicle in which the assailants departed.

    The diarist has also spent time in jail…pre-transition during the 60s in the Tulsa jail after being arrested for dodging the draft…several times before that for minor offenses (trespassing, loitering, hitchhiking) during hippie days, and once during transition for using a women’s restroom in the Boise bus station.  She was not treated with respect on the latter occasion.

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