May 14, 2019

Trans Woman Sues IL Dept. of Corrections for Ongoing Sexual Abuse & Retaliation

ILLINOIS – A transgender woman currently housed at Danville Correctional Facility, a medium security men’s prison, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) after being repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment and assault by both prisoners and IDOC staff.

The complaint has been filed anonymously under the name “Tay Tay,” at the request of the plaintiff for fear of threats and retaliation.

“As a result of the IDOC’s systemic failure to keep trans women in custody safe from sexual violence, Tay Tay has survived attacks, threats and constant harassment,” said Sheila Bedi of the MacArthur Justice Center. “She is seeking emergency relief because she is terrified and without any other recourse.  Women like Tay Tay should not have to file lawsuits to force IDOC to protect them from rape and harassment. But until IDOC completely overhauls the way it cares for people in its custody, women like Tay Tay will live in constant danger and the lawsuits will keep coming.”

For over 15 years, Tay Tay has consistently raised concerns about her physical safety that were ignored and even reinforced by IDOC personnel.  IDOC employees have repeatedly targeted her with vulgar slurs, ignored direct requests for help, and actively stood by while she was being physically and sexually assaulted by other prisoners.

Tay Tay repeatedly expressed to prison officials her fear of her cellmate. At one point her cellmate raped her, during which a prison guard entered the cell to conduct a cell check, witnessed the crime, and simply kept walking. Tay Tay was briefly placed on suicide watch before being placed back in the same cell. She later filed a report according to Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) guidelines, which was never fully investigated.

Tay Tay’s multiple attempts to file PREA grievances have been largely disregarded and discounted.  Earlier this year, she spoke to IDOC Internal Affairs and was informed that if she filed another PREA report, she would be punished and placed in solitary confinement. Internal Affairs never investigated any of Tay Tay’s complaints.

“IDOC must ensure all its prisoners are safe, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Tay Tay must not be held in a prison that doesn’t match her gender, where she has continually been a victim of sexual harassment and assault,” said Alan Mills of Uptown People’s Law Center.

Tay Tay has consistently and repeatedly informed IDOC personnel that she identifies as a woman. It took eight years before an IDOC mental health professional recognized she is a transgender woman, and three additional years before she was given hormone treatment. When Tay Tay raised a medical question about potential side effects, her hormone treatment was abruptly stopped.

Tay Tay first filed a request to be transferred to a women’s facility in 2012. Her grievance was denied. Since then she has filed multiple grievances requesting such a transfer—all of which have been denied. Instead, IDOC has transferred Tay Tay to four different men’s facilities, and was subjected to continual physical, verbal and sexual abuse at each one.

This is the third lawsuit brought by the MacArthur Justice Center and Uptown People’s Law Center on behalf of a transgender woman suffering mis-gendering, abuse, and assault while incarcerated within IDOC. In December 2018, Strawberry Hampton was transferred to a women’s facility after a year-long legal battle, during which she was incarcerated in four men’s prisons and subjected to extended abuse and sexual assault. Ms. Hampton has filed a petition for clemency with Governor Pritzker because, while having completed her original sentence, she remains imprisoned due to retaliation she received as a result of filing her lawsuits.

Ms. Hampton’s case is the second case in the country in which a federal court has recognized that a prison’s decision to mis-assign transgender people is a form of unlawful discrimination.

Both cases illustrate IDOC’s policy of disregarding gender dysphoria and assigning placement and housing decisions entirely on the gender assigned at birth. This policy is in direct contrast to the policies and best practices put forth by the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Because IDOC receives federal funds, Illinois prisons are required to adhere to PREA standards and make individualized determinations of housing when it comes to transgender prisoners, which must include serious consideration for the prisoner’s safety.

The complaint requests that Tay Tay be transferred to Logan Correctional Center, a women’s prison, and placed in general population.