Transgender woman details horrifying, heartbreaking abuse in men's prison

DOJ says prohibitions on hormone treatment are unconstitutional. A report shows just how dangerous old policies are

Published April 6, 2015 2:24PM (EDT)

  (<a href='url to photographer'>sakhorn</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(sakhorn via Shutterstock)

The Department of Justice on Friday took a key stand on the treatment of transgender prison inmates, siding with a trans woman in her lawsuit against the state of Georgia, which she says has illegally deprived her of hormone therapy. Since she entered the Georgia Department of Corrections in 2012, Ashley Diamond claims she has been denied the estrogen, progestin, testosterone blockers and anti-androgen medications that she has taken for nearly two decades, which the Justice Department has now declared to be unconstitutional.

But what's more, Diamond claims she has been the victim of egregious and devastating abuse in prison, highlighting the dark and unfunny reality many trans prison inmates face. In a report on her case against the Georgia prison system, the New York Times details the heartbreaking violence Diamond has experienced being forced to serve her maximum 11-year sentence in more than one men's prison:

A first-time inmate at 33 whose major offense was burglary, Ms. Diamond was sent to a series of high-security lockups for violent male prisoners. She has been raped at least seven times by inmates, her lawsuit asserts, with a detailed accounting of each. She has been mocked by prison officials as a “he-she thing” and thrown into solitary confinement for “pretending to be a woman.” She has undergone drastic physical changes without hormones. And, in desperation, she has tried to castrate and to kill herself several times. [...]

Georgia’s Department of Corrections has declined to comment about the case. As a matter of policy, it also denied The New York Times’s request to interview Ms. Diamond in person at Georgia State Prison, where she was moved a few weeks ago in apparent retaliation for her lawsuit, she claims. Georgia State had more sexual assaults between 2009 and 2014 than all but one other state prison.

Since her arrival there, Ms. Diamond has survived an attempted rape in a stairwell, dealt with inmates exposing themselves and masturbating in front of her, and faced relentless sexual coercion, she said last week in an emergency motion seeking an immediate transfer to a safer institution.

Diamond's alleged treatment is grotesquely unsurprising: According to one oft-cited study, transgender inmates are approximately 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population; 59 percent report sexual abuse. And trans individuals are also disproportionately more likely to end up in prison in the first place, placing them at greater risk of violence. In Diamond's case, in particular, the judge who sentenced her even noted that many of her crimes were committed as attempts at survival, once anti-trans discrimination had left her without options.

The Justice Department's stand with Diamond, who expressed to the Times that she feels she might be better off as a martyr, is an important victory for trans inmates seeking access to basic treatment that will allow them to remain healthy in prison. But it is not necessarily a move to keep them safe -- and given the gut-wrenching violence Diamond and other inmates face, protection is an imperative next step.

Read the full report on Diamond's imprisonment and her case at the New York Times.

By Jenny Kutner

MORE FROM Jenny Kutner