Who’s Been Bullying our Prisons?

Originally published on Medium on September 12th 2018

In a Guardian report about the conviction of male transgender prisoner and rapist Karen White for sexual offences against female prisoners, Frances Crook, CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said this:

“It is a very toxic debate, but I think prisons have probably been influenced by some of the extreme conversations and have been bullied into making some decisions that have harmed women and put staff in an extremely difficult position,”

So who bullied the prisons into accepting a male rapist into a female prison based on his ‘gender identity’ rather than his sex?

It all started in the autumn of 2015 when transgender rights were on the table in the form of the Women and Equalities Committee’s Trans Inquiry. There were two high-profile incidents involving trans prisoners in UK jails. The self-inflicted death of Vicky Thompson in a male prison caused outrage, although it was not clear that the death was intentional, or that any request had been made for Vicky to be housed in the female estate. In other words, prison reform was not necessarily something that would have prevented this particular tragedy, although that was the lesson that was taken from it.

The bigger public story though was of Tara Hudson, a male transgender offender who caught the public imagination with the help of a convincing, if pornified, feminine appearance. A huge public campaign was set up and promoted via a Change.org petition, which received massive publicity on social media. Thousands of people got involved in the campaign. Some of the people backing Tara were politicians:

Caroline Lucas wrote personally to the Ministry of Justice on Tara’s behalf and Tim Farron wrote to Justice Secretary Michael Gove.

Predictably, all the LGBT and trans organisations and activists came out in force in support of Tara, and promoted the petition over all their social media sites:

Some organisations you would hope might be more neutral, or at least equally committed to the safety of women, were instead surprisingly gung-ho about putting a violent male in a women’s prison:

Even some purportedly feminist organisations backed Tara’s campaign:

The press gave a voice to the campaigners and the Ministry of Justice subsequently announced a review into the care and management of transgender offenders in December 2015. This coincided with the publication of the Transgender Equality Report, produced by the Women and Equalities Committee. This report contained a section on transgender prisoners written solely on the evidence of trans advocacy groups. The subsequent review from the Ministry of Justice was published in November the following year, and its recommendations drew heavily on a combination of evidence from trans lobby groups such as Gendered Intelligence, the Trans Report, and the well-publicised campaign for transgender prisoners following the case of Tara Hudson. The most far-reaching change in the management of transgender prisoners was that now it was no longer necessary to have a Gender Recognition Certificate in order to be moved to the prison of the opposite sex. Prisoners who were legally as well as physically male could, and should, now be considered for transfer.

At no stage in any of the decision-making process did the government ask for the views of women. On the contrary, women who did raise objections were vilified as transphobes. Many women did voice their concerns over the Tara Hudson case, but no one was listening.

Some very good blogs and articles were written by women on the subject, but these were ignored by mainstream media. Articles which minimised the risk to women and painted us as prejudiced and discriminatory found a home in the Guardian. The press and the BBC did not inform the general public of the seriousness of Tara Hudson’s crimes, nor did they mention the fact that Hudson had referred to himself as a ‘she-male’ and ‘a bloke’ with a ‘seven-inch surprise in my panties’ for the benefit of his escort clients. Hudson became a cause celebre for transgender rights and facts were not allowed to get in the way of the near-religious support for him.

Fast forward to September 2018 and Tara Hudson popped up again, this time as the trans guest on Victoria Live on BBC 2 to debate the recent case of Karen White. The other guests were a former professional acquaintance of White’s and Dr Nicola Williams from campaign group Fair Play for Women. Surprisingly, to start with, all guests were in agreement that White should never have been transferred to a women’s prison in the first place. However, factions appeared when the reasons behind these views were expressed. In the eyes of feminists White should not have been transferred to a women’s prison because he is male. It’s that simple. Women have had that protection in place for a long time and there is no sensible reason to change it now. Hudson though took exception to this, as in his view it was because White wasn’t a *real* transwoman like himself. Hudson was so agitated about this point he ended up being rather rude to Victoria Derbyshire on national TV.

Hudson’s point about ‘real transwomen’ illustrates the impossibility of distinguishing people by ‘gender’. If a ‘real transwoman’ has had no reassignment surgery apart from a boob job, and if trans people themselves cannot agree on what makes a ‘real transwoman’, then to keep women safe we must obviously continue distinguishing people by sex instead of gender: there is no other sensible or possible way to do it.

Other commentators have expressed the view that only trans-identified males who have been convicted of rape or other violent crimes against women should be prevented from moving to a women’s prison, but this argument too is flawed. There are men in prison for lesser crimes who may be sexually violent but have no conviction for any sex crime (we know this from the under-reporting of rape, and the low conviction rate). There are men in prison who have not been convicted of sex crimes, but will have sex (coerced or otherwise) with other men whilst they are incarcerated. Rape happens in male-only prisons already, it is naive to think it won’t happen in a women’s prison. Danger is one part of the problem, but privacy and dignity is another. The pressure to allow males to urinate, shower and undress alongside women and girls is coming from trans rights groups in and outside of prisons.

The answer to the question ‘Who’s been bullying our prisons?’ is this: Politicians, Social Justice Warriors, Human Rights Activists, virtue signallers, the press, the BBC, every single person who has used the derogatory term ‘Terf’ to diminish and dismiss the concerns of women. And all of them have been bullied in the first place by Trans Rights Activists. We are allowing legislation to be influenced by people who care more about the rights of rapists than about the safety of women. Groups like Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids, GIRES, Stonewall, TELI and Trans Media Watch campaign solely for the rights of trans people and do not care about the collateral damage caused to women and girls. Our elected representatives are failing us by giving in to the bullying tactics of extreme lobby groups.

Prisons are a small microcosm of society at large: what has happened here is already happening elsewhere, and will continue to escalate as long as the people who are supposed to be looking out for us continue to appease and to capitulate to bullies. If the unintended consequences of transactivist demands on prisons are exactly as women have predicted, then it’s important we should be consulted on other scenarios too: schools, changing rooms, refuges, rape crisis centres and women-only exemptions in the Equality Act for example. Women’s experience and expertise counts for something. Speak up everyone, it’s not transphobic to care about women and girls. Don’t give in to the bullies.

By Helen Saxby on .

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Exported from Medium on July 7, 2021.