‘I was sexually assaulted in a women’s prison… by a fellow inmate with male genitalia’: Read Amy’s story and decide – can it be right to put trans sex offenders in female jails?
Her sense of shock, and the awful aura of menace that closed in on her, still haunt former prisoner Amy Jones.
Jail should have been a place free from the predators who had sexually assaulted and raped her in her childhood, but the terrifying presence looming over her suggested anything but.
‘The look in her eyes was frightening,’ Amy says, her voice quiet but assertive. ‘She leered at me before lunging forward and grabbing my breasts hard. She squeezed them and I cried out in pain. I was terrified she would rape me.’
The prisoner who sexually assaulted Amy — we cannot legally identify her, so we shall call her J — is a transgender woman, with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), and therefore referred to by the female pronoun, but still had male genitalia.
Amy was equally well aware that J still had male genitalia because she often intimidated her and fellow female prisoners at HMP Bronzefield in Ashford, Middlesex, by exposing them.
Moreover, J was serving time for a serious sexual assault on a child and was clearly a danger to other inmates. Yet she had secured a coveted job as a cleaner at the prison gym where Amy also worked. And it was while she was in the gym’s lavatory block that J assaulted her in 2017.
‘What were the officers even thinking, letting her clean toilets in which women would be in a state of undress and alone? Why was there a child sex offender with a penis cleaning the toilets of the gym in a women’s prison?’
J had already stridently asserted her ‘right’ to be treated exactly like other women prisoners, although this clearly terrorised them.
Predator: Karen White, a transwoman who sexually assaulted two women inmates while in prison
‘When J went for a shower, the prison put a sign on the door saying that no one else should enter, because they knew it could upset the women if they saw her naked, but J objected to this and said it was an infringement of her human rights,’ says Amy.
‘She said, ‘I am a woman and I want to shower with other women.’ Just before she assaulted me, she was seen with the shower curtain open, her genitals in full view of the other women.’
Amy, 38, mother to a daughter, is an articulate woman; small in stature with thick, auburn hair and milky white skin.
On the day we meet, in a cafe, she has been released from prison, just over halfway through a nine-year sentence which she began in 2016, for drug-related crime. She is smartly dressed in a black shirt and cream trousers; quick-witted, innately intelligent — but also very angry.
The reason? This month Amy learned that she had failed in a judicial review challenge to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) policy in relation to the allocation of high-risk transwomen prisoners — including sex offenders like J — to female prisons.
Amy has also brought a separate civil action for damages against Sodexo, the company which runs HMP Bronzefield, and the MOJ.
She argued, through her lawyers, that the law currently discriminates against women prisoners and that the Government has failed to take into account the provisions of the Equality Act which allow for certain single-sex exemptions, permitting men and women to use separate facilities in particularly sensitive circumstances.
The case, for which Amy did not give evidence, involved legal arguments only; neither has J faced any police investigation or charges for the alleged assault.
In a judgment handed down by email, Lord Justice Holroyde accepted there were real concerns raised by Amy, and that ‘a substantial proportion of women prisoners have been the victims of sexual assaults and/or domestic violence’.
He accepted that many would ‘suffer fear and acute anxiety if required to share prison accommodation and facilities with transgender women with male genitalia and convictions for sexual and violent offences against women’.
He also allowed that the statistical evidence showed the proportion of trans prisoners previously convicted of sexual offences was ‘substantially higher’ than for non-transgender men and women prisoners.
Between 2016 and 2019, 97 sexual assaults were recorded in women’s prisons, the judgment said.
As of March 2019, there were 34 transgender women without GRCs allocated to a woman’s prison (Pictured: stock image of women’s jail)
Of these, it appears that seven were committed by transgender prisoners without a GRC. It is not known whether any were committed by transgender women with a GRC because they are, apparently, disregarded in Government figures.
But the judge said the statistics ‘. . . are so low in number, and so lacking in detail, that they are an unsafe basis for general conclusions’.
As of March 2019, there were 34 transgender women without GRCs allocated to a woman’s prison. The number of transgender prisoners with a certificate — of which J is one — is thought to be in single-figures across the prison population as a whole.
Male-born trans prisoners were first allowed to request a transfer to women’s jails in England and Wales in 2016. Just a year later the risks of the policy were made clear when a convicted rapist was moved to women’s jail HMP New Hall in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and sexually assaulted two women inmates.
Karen White identified as a woman but was still legally a man and had not undergone surgery.
She was jailed for life in 2018 by a judge who branded her a ‘highly manipulative’ predator.
Despite the history of such assaults, this month the court decided that, ultimately, the rights of transwomen trumped the concerns of natal female prisoners.
For Amy, who was given legal aid to pursue the case — from which she did not benefit financially — the ruling is profoundly unjust.
Contending that the law needs to be changed, she says the equation is a simple one: ‘If a transwoman is in for violence against women, or sex offences against women or children, you should not be in prison with women.’ Transwomen prisoners were already housed at Bronzefield when Amy arrived there, soon after the law was changed to accommodate them in female prisons.
‘I was a bit shocked because I knew they were sex offenders. An officer told me that, off the record,’ she says. ‘The other women in prison who knew were in shock and angry, too.
‘It’s like putting a crack addict in a crack house, or an alcoholic in a pub. Sex offenders should never be in prison with women. Most women in there have gone through child abuse and domestic violence and rape. What if someone is raped?’
She continues: ‘J would wear a long flowery skirt and sit with her legs wide open. A number of the other girls said it was very distressing to see that.’
Prosecutors claimed White (pictured) – who had a history of sex attacks – used a ‘transgender persona’ to gain access to vulnerable females. White was ordered to serve a life sentence in a male prison for the jail sex attacks
Since her release, Amy has been supporting women victims of domestic abuse on a voluntary basis. Her own story highlights how the sexual violence perpetrated against her shaped her life and led to her spiral into addiction and crime.
Growing up in a big family in South London, she was raped at 13 — coincidentally the same age as one of the children who was sexually assaulted by J; a crime that led to her conviction — and began drinking and smoking crack.
‘I then went out of control and began my life of crime, stealing in order to pay for my drugs. Sexual predators would target me, especially when I was in and out of care.’
At 15, Amy was sent to the youth offender wing of a prison, which was the start of a string of drug-related crimes and prison sentences.
Although she hated prison, Amy tells me that away from male sexual predators, and among other women who had been through similar experiences, she felt safe for the first time in her life.
‘But I stopped feeling safe knowing trans sex offenders were housed beside me,’ she says. Her fears were, sadly, not misplaced: a year or so into her sentence she was sexually assaulted by J.
It is pertinent, too, that she was working at the time in the prison gym — a vital provision because it allowed prisoners to ‘let off steam, talk to others and get off the wing for a bit’, generally improving their mental health. But these benefits were nullified when J was given the job of gym cleaner.
The sexual assault took place in the toilets of the gym, which were left unguarded and without CCTV.
‘It was supposed to be my sanctuary,’ says Amy. ‘I felt so distressed. Prison is an awful place to be under any circumstances, and this just made it 100 times worse.’
It seems that J — wielding the threat that any criticism of her behaviour would be considered ‘transphobic’ — was permitted concessions that would not be granted to other women prisoners.
Although rules state that most cosmetics purchased from outside the prison are banned, J was allowed to have toiletries brought in, including perfume in glass bottles, heated rollers, make-up and a razor to shave her face.
‘Trans prisoners claim they have to disguise their beards and want to look feminine so they are given special privileges,’ explains Amy.
She believes that J had planned the assault and knew that it was likely she would be in the gym when J was cleaning.
‘I think she targeted me on purpose and waited until the coast was clear. After it happened, I went back to my room and couldn’t stop shaking. It brought back feelings of trauma about all the previous times when I’ve been attacked by men. I went to the senior officer and told her what had happened and asked why a child sex offender with a penis was allowed to clean the women’s toilets in the gym?’
The officer simply said: ‘Everyone deserves a second chance.’
Amy adds: ‘Sex offenders are master manipulators, and if they sniff vulnerability they target it. At the same time, they are going on about their human rights and scaring the prison officers into looking the other way. After J assaulted me, I’d see her around the prison on a regular basis. She would leer at me and smirk.’
Amy and a number of other women heard that J had been sent to the segregation unit as punishment for not taking the medication that prevented her penis from getting erect, ‘which begs the question: ‘Why was she still allowed around us?’
Appalled by the inadequate response from prison officers to the assault, and frightened of what would happen next, she took legal action against the prison service and applied to move jails. Extraordinarily she was transferred to HMP Downview in Banstead, Surrey, which had just established a separate wing for high-risk transwomen with a GRC.
The new unit was originally intended for up to 15 female prisoners who were being released on temporary licence, but it was never used for this purpose.
By awful coincidence, it was recommissioned for high-risk transwomen prisoners. Initially three such transwomen were housed there, but since then all have successfully challenged their allocation to this wing as ‘transphobic’. All are now back in the general prison population.
On arriving at Downview, Amy was horrified to discover J was also in the same prison: ‘The reception officer told me and I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. They moved me for my own protection, and then I ended up back in the same prison as this person who had sexually assaulted me.’
At Downview she discovered she was far from alone in being terrified of J. ‘Quite a few women were scared of J, because she would rub up against them in the dinner queue with an erect penis.
‘She would wear very tight trousers which made it obvious she had male genitals. The prison officers protected her more than they did us. They were terrified of being accused of transphobia.’
So as J continues her sentence in the general prison population, Amy’s fears are for the women still terrorised by her.
I meet her on the morning the judgment is made public and as the news comes through she looks distraught.
‘I am on the outside now,’ she says, with tears in her eyes, ‘but what about those young girls, so vulnerable and tiny? Who will protect them now?’
ThE judgment recognises that housing transwomen with convictions for sexual offences creates a real risk, but considers the prison service has put measures in place to manage that risk.
But the evidence seems to belie this. Indeed, Amy’s case against the prison services was bolstered by evidence from another prisoner at HMP Bronzefield who also complained of assault by J.
Amy has also brought a separate civil action for damages against Sodexo, the company which runs HMP Bronzefield, and the MOJ (Pictured: File photo of an English prison)
The woman, who provided a statement for the legal case, reported two assaults — one in the line for dinner and one in her room. J pressed her genitals against the woman’s buttocks.
Yet the prison did not report the assaults by J on either woman to the police.
‘The staff turned a blind eye to this behaviour. They protected themselves and didn’t speak out as they were worried that they would get into trouble because of the trans policy in prison; a policy which doesn’t consider the impact on women prisoners,’ says Amy.
She adds: ‘I have nothing against transgender people. It is the sex offenders that I have a problem with. This kind of thing is happening to women all the time in prisons. I owe it to them to continue to raise this issue and to get the public up in arms about it. Even though we are prisoners and have committed crimes, we are all human beings.’
Meanwhile, Ian Whiteside, prison director at HMP Bronzefield, offers: ‘As this case is an ongoing legal matter, we are unable to comment further except to say that the safety and welfare of all those living and working within our prisons is of paramount importance to us.’
Amy would contest this. ‘Some female prisoners have been punished for ‘transphobic behaviour’ when complaining about transwomen being housed among us. It’s outrageous. How could they not recognise the danger we were in?
‘J is a serious sex offender. This judge’s decision is insulting to her victims, to all female prisoners and to women everywhere. At least this case will have alerted the authorities to how dangerous J is.’
Amy believes the outcome of the case is so iniquitous that she intends to continue to campaign.
‘I want to train as a lawyer,’ she tells me. ‘I want to help women who have been unfortunate enough to end up in prison because of the abuse they suffered in childhood and beyond.
‘I would never have imagined this; that sex offenders would be allowed to prey on the most vulnerable women in society.’
Pseudonyms have been used.
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