Transgender female inmate sues prison: ‘I was forced to bunk with rapist, then got raped’

DETROIT, MI — A transgender female inmate has filed a federal lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) for its alleged failure in protecting the plaintiff from a male cellmate who raped her.

The plaintiff is identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe and is a male-to-female transgender woman, according to Detroit Free Press.

Born a biological male but now identifying as a female, Doe has what is known as gender dysphoria, according to the newspaper.

The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as “psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.”

It further explains that while the condition often begins in childhood, some people may not experience it until after puberty or much later.

Detroit Free Press reported that according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Doe claimed that on Dec. 5, 2019, the MDOC issued a medical order that prohibited the plaintiff from being housed with a cellmate who did not have gender dysphoria.

One year later, despite objecting, Doe was forced to share a cell with a male at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility, a state prison in Jackson. The male was serving a life sentence for raping and killing a female during sexual intercourse, according to the report.

The male inmate was hostile to Doe and protested to staff officials that he did not want the transgender inmate in his cell and that other prisoners “began taunting, laughing and joking that he would be sharing a cell with a transgender bunkie,” according to newspaper’s report on the lawsuit.

Doe repeatedly requested officials to not be housed with the male inmate who also did not want to be housed with her. In addition, Doe reportedly showed staff her “medical detail” papers that specifically addressed who she could and could not be housed with, according to Detroit Free Press.

But after some back and forth, the officer “said he was tired of (the plaintiff’s) complaints and did not care what the medical details said,” the lawsuit stated.

The prison officer allegedly “threatened” Doe and told her that if she did not enter the cell, he would “issue her a misconduct ticket and (place her) in disciplinary segregation.”

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“Plaintiff had no choice but to enter the cell as receiving misconduct tickets can have substantial adverse effects on a prisoner including loss of privileges, housing in solitary confinement, escalation of security level and negative effects on parole opportunities,” the lawsuit stated.

Detroit Free Press reported that Doe entered the cell against her will and that the male bunkmate yelled to prison staff that “they should not have this ‘faggot’ in here with him and to ‘get her out.’”

The plaintiff was eventually called out of her cell to complete paperwork and again asked not to be housed with the convicted rapist, saying she “feared for her safety because of her cellmate’s threats,” according to the report.

Detroit Free Press reported that Doe’s pleas fell on deaf ears as the officer again threatened her with disciplinary segregation if she did not go back into the cell with the hostile male inmate still there.

Later, another officer called Doe to his desk, where again she expressed her fear about her cellmate, but nothing was done, according to the newspaper.

A third officer allegedly came over and said that nothing could be done and that a supervisor was consulted and “decided to keep (her) in the cell,” according to the report.

“Plaintiff had no choice but to return to her cell,” the lawsuit stated. “(Her) cellmate was yelling that he was a murderer and rapist and did not want (her) in the cell with him.”

One officer allegedly heard the threats, but only laughed as she walked by. Later at night, Doe was raped “with forcible penetration,” according to the lawsuit.

After Doe’s attacker went to sleep, the lawsuit stated the plaintiff was able to safely leave and went for help when she found one officer half asleep, while two others were watching a movie on a computer, according to Detroit Free Press’ report.

It was not clear how Doe was able to leave her cell or who removed her.

The inmate was eventually taken to a hospital for treatment, according to the report. Five days after her attack, the lawsuit stated her security level was hiked from level 2 to level 4, “even though plaintiff had not engaged in any misconduct.”

That same day, Doe was assigned to another cell with another convicted rapist, who “pressured plaintiff to expose her genitals,” the lawsuit stated.

Detroit Free Press reported that the lawsuit cited the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which Congress enacted to address issues of sexual harassment, assault and rape in prisons and later added protections for transgender prisoners.

The lawsuit also cited the 2009 Congress-backed National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Report, which found that transgender prisoners were prone to being victims of sexual violence, with male-to-female transgender women incarcerated in men’s prisons having a special risk of harm. On page 73, the report states:

“Men’s correctional facilities tend to have very rigid cultures that reward extreme masculinity and aggression and perpetuate negative stereotypes about men who act or appear different.

“In this environment, gay, bisexual, and gender-nonconforming individuals are often the targets of sexual abuse precisely because the dominant ‘straight’ males expect and demand submission.”

The lawsuit alleges that MDOC had a duty to protect Jane Doe from violence by other inmates and that the prison ignored its own policy directives on protecting prisoners.

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