Trigger Warning for discussions of sexual violence, prison violence, anti-trans violence, rape apologism, and transphobia and misgendering.

Recently, a woman was allegedly raped orally by a prison guard at Riverside Correctional Facility. She reported the assault to authorities, and an investigation was begun. During that investigation, officials learned that she was not cis, as they had apparently been assuming, and promptly transferred her to a male prison (trigger warning on the link).

Jovanie Saldana, who has been named by prison authorities and the media despite being the victim of sexual assault, has now had her basic rights violated many times over. She was violated when a prison guard entered her cell and forced her to perform oral sex on him. She was violated when her brave decision to report this assault resulted in an investigation that placed her under scrutiny and revoked her right to privacy. She was violated when she was sent to a male prison, both denying her true gender and placing her at extreme risk of further physical and sexual violence. And she was violated when her name was released and spread without concern for her privacy or safety.

Clearly, trans prison inmates are not seen to be deserving of the same rights as their cis, non-inmate counterparts. That Saldana is a black woman also could not have helped these already abusive and oppressive figures to see her as more human. (Indeed, trans women of color are at much higher risk of violence than white trans women.) Saldana’s cousin strongly believes that the transfer to a men’s prison is retaliation for her rape allegations; the timing, media attention, and reaction of the prison guard’s union certainly make these charges credible.

If true, it means that the Pennsylvania prison system essentially punished an inmate for reporting rape by subjecting her to likely future rapes. (Fifty-nine percent of trans women are sexually assaulted while incarcerated, and the vast majority of trans women inmates are housed in men’s facilities.) Even if retaliation was not the primary motive behind the decision to move Saldana, the facts remain the same; a victim of prison rape has not been protected, but instead placed in a position where future prison rape is more likely than not.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, however, is far more concerned with Saldana’s gender presentation and genitals than with the allegation that she was raped by a prison guard who had control over every aspect of her daily life. They also are far more concerned about the prison’s apparently lax policy on cavity searches than the fact that a woman is now residing very unsafely in a men’s prison so shortly after reporting that assault. Indeed, they seem more concerned about the threat that Saldana allegedly presented to her fellow prisoners merely by existing:

A source close to the prison system, who asked not to be identified, complained that the slip-up “jeopardized a lot of women over there [at Riverside],” adding that Saldana tallied at least two infractions for fighting with other inmates during Saldana’s stint in the female jail. On average, Riverside houses about 730 inmates daily, Hawes said.

Of course, it’s not noted how many “infractions” most inmates at Riverside have or whether Saldana is the one who instigated the fights. It’s also not explained how, exactly, Saldana is more of a threat than any other inmate at the prison. We’re simply supposed to “understand” that trans women are “really men,” and therefore threatening to all cis women. The specter of sexual violence is also present, as trans women are routinely portrayed by everyone from Christian Conservatives to self-identified feminists as sexually predatory men in disguise.

Through this defamatory portrayal of Saldana, we are supposed to forget that the true sexually violent perpetrator was a cis man. In reality, it’s Saldana who was the victim of sexual violence, and the real threat to the safety of all women in the prison, both trans and cis, was the armed cis guard lording over them. Only in a kyriarchal society could the black trans woman who was raped and then placed in a position where she is very likely to be raped again be effectively transformed into the “real” sexual threat against more socially valued womanhood.

Indeed, the corrections officers’ union plans to exploit Saldana’s trans status to brand her as a liar, unrapeable, or some combination of both (warning for misgendering):

Lorenzo North, president of the union representing corrections officers, declined to discuss the officers’ failure to perform the required cavity searches.

“I don’t know how [Saldana] got through,” North said, adding that all inmates should be searched. “If you don’t strip-search somebody thoroughly, then you’re not 100 percent sure of getting whatever [contraband] that inmate has. He may have something up his butt.”

But North claimed the goof proved that the officer whom Saldana accused of sexual abuse is innocent.

The officer was transferred to another prison after Saldana’s recent complaint.

“I’m trying to get him back to RCF [Riverside] as soon as possible, because he didn’t do anything wrong,” North said.

How, exactly, Saldana being trans — and officers failing to do their jobs, for that matter — proves that she lied about being raped is not exactly clear. We are either to assume that trans women are “liars” by mere fact of living their lives as women (and that people who lie sometimes cannot tell the truth about being raped), or that trans women have no right to bodily autonomy to begin with and therefore cannot be sexually violated.

Either way, the purposeful dehumanization of Saldana and all inmates by proxy is terrifying, as is the stark inability to accept responsibility and hold guards to a standard of professionalism. North’s attitude as a prison guard authority inadvertently makes it incredibly easy to see how the original sexual assault occurred in the first place. Clearly it’s because those tasked with protecting prisoner safety do not give a shit, and excuses for violations will always be made.

This woman’s safety has been severely jeopardized. She needs protection and recovery services for the assault she endured, not an incredibly more dangerous set of surroundings and public outing. The prison system has behaved abysmally, showing a blatant disregard for inmate safety. Rape is not supposed to be a part of the punishment for any crime. And this rule isn’t only supposed to apply if you’re cis.

via Transgriot

Bookmark and Share

{ 10 comments }

1 SamanthaPink August 22, 2011 at 3:56 pm

This was a very moving article. I hope this issue gets more publicity. It’s so important. It’s hard enough fighting against rape as it is. And this just pushes the line. Thanks for bringing this to the attention of others.

2 Queen August 23, 2011 at 12:03 am

Oh my goodness I just got a a whole brand new education. I am saddened by the carelessness and total disregard for human life and her rights as a human that is evident here. I just found out what a kyriarchy means, what cis means, and a host of other things. I am angry because of how helpless I feel against such an oppressive set of factors. But this can’t be compared to the trapped and caged reality that this woman is living on so many levels. I will be meditating and praying on her behalf. I call on everything that is good just righteous and powerful to come to her aid, in her greatest hour of need!

3 Cat Aguila August 23, 2011 at 5:27 am

This further highlights the general gross misunderstanding that leads to the horrible mistreatment many transgendered individuals suffer.
Many in this world expect everyone to fit into their own version of male and female. And when faced with something different they either abuse or condone the abuse of any such differing personality.
It is a sad shame!!!

4 Cathy August 23, 2011 at 5:22 pm

I am very disturbed by The Inquirer story. The story makes it sound like Saldana was up to something nefarious from the start (it’s said she “suckered the system” in being placed in a facility designated for women), and her subterfuge was just now discovered, and now the top priority is to prevent that kind of “mistake” from ever happening again. We’re meant to understand that the male prison guard’s alleged sexual assault against Saldana is only notable because it led to Saldana’s devious scheme being uncovered.

5 Heather Scott August 26, 2011 at 4:27 am

A couple of other factors:

Her only option if she does not want to be confined in a place where rape and physical assault is common place is to pay $20,000 out of her own pocket (which she obviously does not have!) to have a part of her body surgically removed, and render herself sterile for life. There is no crime on the books that is punishable by forced sterilization, yet this is EXPECTED of trans people if they want to be treated like other prisoners!

Furthermore, she is ACCUSED, but has not yet been found guilty of ANY CRIME. Is this is how we treat people who are presumed innocent? It is if you are transsexual.

6 Kate August 29, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I’m disgusted that North wants to put the rapist guard back in the women’s prison. If Saldana is such a “threat,” to women prisoners, how much more of a threat is a rapist?! And I love how they are willing to smear Saldana’s name but don’t name the accused guard. Nor do they deny that the rape occurred.

It’s enough to make me want to quit my job and become a prison reformer.

7 Rachel August 30, 2011 at 6:35 pm

To Cara:
Does an online petition exists to urge Saldana’s removal from her precarious position and to investigate the rapist and his complicit managers? Thank you for this informative article.
Other Thoughts
How can North assume that the guard “only” rapes trans and not cis prisoners, especially since Ms Magazine noted a study suggesting that ninety to ninety-five percent of rapists are serial rapists? He must consider rape a less serious infraction than minor brawls.

8 Julia Greenwood August 30, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Sad but true . Trans mysogeny is just another unfortunate form of patriarchy. For ts it is passability over everything else, then skin color ect. The most important thing is .. well , people not knowing you are trans, or looking cis. This is deeply unfortunate, but where we are right now.
It’s a pitty that the feminist movement wasted years persecuting trans but things are coming around now. New women’s studies curriculums have incorporated trans issues and see cis gender oppression as what it rightfully is, an unfortunate form of patriarchy.

9 Cara September 3, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Rachel –

A petition was recently begun by care2. They’re currently up to 7,700 signatures, and are aiming for 10,000.

10 Monica October 13, 2011 at 2:43 am

I know I am stumbling upon this article months after published, but its affect is just as stifling. What saddens me is that despite the time since this occurrence a number of related incidences, whether in our institutions or on a more personal level of trans folk’s lives, are happening every day. I’m disgusted by the injustices done onto Jovanie. Since reading this article, I looked up her name to see if there was any follow up news coverage and was concerned when I didn’t. Is Jovanie still being held in the mens ward of a prison where she is forced to hide her gender or face constant threats of persecution? How long will we live in a culture that constitutes what a man and woman is by definition of our genitalia?

{ 1 trackback }

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: