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A transgender inmate in Michigan has sued the state prison system after allegedly being raped and sexually assaulted by two separate cellmates at an all-men’s prison.
The woman, who goes by “Jane Doe,” a pseudonym meant to protect her privacy, was issued a medical order in December 2019 that was supposed to prohibit her from being housed with a cellmate who did not have gender dysphoria.
But a month later, she was housed in the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, Mich., and assigned to a cell with a male prisoner who did not have gender dysphoria. She protested, noting the medical order, but corrections officers ignored her pleas and threatened to place her in solitary if she didn’t enter her cell.
Her cellmate, a convicted murderer and sex offender, did not want to be placed with a trans woman, and made several threats against her, yelling that he shouldn’t be placed with “this faggot.” Other inmates taunted and harassed her, and made transphobic jokes about her and her cellmate.
Later that night, less than 24 hours after receiving her new assignment, Doe claims her cellmate raped and sexually assaulted her.
Doe reported the incident to prison officials the next morning, and was taken to the prison hospital for treatment. While being treated, her security level was moved from level 2 to level 4 — meaning she was subjected to more security restrictions and allowed less freedom of movement — despite the fact that she was the victim and had not engaged in any misconduct, Doe claims in her lawsuit.
She was later given a new housing assignment with a different cellmate, also a convicted sex offender. Though the new cellmate was less hostile, he detailed the sexual assaults he had committed, both before and during his incarceration, and demanded the plaintiff expose her genitals.
Doe submitted a grievance report, and was temporarily moved to protective custody and allowed to see a therapist. But she was soon placed back in her cell, where her second roommate sexually assaulted her.
Doe, who has since been transferred out of the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility, filed a lawsuit on March 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. In it, she accuses the Michigan Department of Corrections of failing to abide by its own policies when it housed her with two men not suffering from gender dysphoria.
She also accuses the department — as well as six correctional officers individually — of violating the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a law passed in 2003 meant to protect prisoners from sexual assault.
In 2009, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission released a report warning that transgender female prisoners who are housed in men’s prisons are at elevated risk of sexual violence. Doe claims the failure of the department and the officers to sufficiently protect her from penetrative rape and sexual battery violated her Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
“Prisoners, regardless of their gender identification or sexuality, have a constitutional right to be safe from sexual abuse,” Nakisha Chaney, Doe’s attorney, told Michigan-based news website MLive. “MDOC failed to follow its own policies, clear national guidelines and the housing plan that applied to our client. As a result, our client was raped.”
A spokesman for the Department of Corrections has declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing department policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
A future court date has not yet been scheduled, but the case, known as Doe v. Washington et al., has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Georg Caram Steeh.
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