Sturgeon: Some gender Bill opponents using women’s rights to hide transphobia
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A former prisoner has described how she had a contraceptive coil fitted while in jail to avoid becoming pregnant if she was raped as she shared a shower block with transgender inmates. Amanda Benson, 41, accused Nicola Sturgeon of “serving up women to predators on a rainbow platter” in Scotland’s jails. The Scottish Government and Prison Service have been under fire over the decision to allow rapist Isla Bryson, who announced her intention to transition to female after being convicted of two rapes, to be remanded in Cornton Vale Women’s prison.
Bryson has since been moved a male wing at HMP Edinburgh, while the SNP’s Justice Secretary, Keith Brown, announced today that an “urgent review” would be launched into where transgender prisoners would be held.
It comes amid a fierce debate on the issue, in which those critical of the SNP’s stance on trans rights suggest that incarcerating trans women in female prisons represents a danger to female inmates – while others argue that forcing them to stay in a male prison can present serious safety risks to them.
Mum of four Ms Benson breached a good behaviour order for violence in 2018 by biting a police officer who’d just arrested her for assault.
Ms Benson told the Daily Record: “My whole time in prison on constant high alert, my nerves were frazzled with fear. These incredibly violent men were walking around the communal shower area naked and sometimes clearly aroused. Myself and other women were in cubicles with only a curtain to protect us.
“I was shaking with fear. In the end I went to the prison clinic and had a coil fitted because I believed I could be raped at any time. I didn’t want one, I felt forced to do it.”
She said that out of 40 prisoners, two of them were trans.
She added: “All of the women who were forced to be in that prison with these people were vulnerable in different ways, many of them had been the victims of male violence, irrespective of their own offending. I simply do not accept that these two prisoners were women, they were dangerous violent men who could at any point have used their strength to overpower one of the women.”
The ex-convict said she felt “total panic” when she discovered that she would be sharing a prison with trans women, particularly when it emerged that one had a history of violence against women. She said she felt “increasingly suicidal,” but said: “Nobody wants genuine trans people to be discriminated against, but women should be protected too and at the moment that is not happening.”
Following Mr Brown’s announcement today, the movement of all transgender prisoners will be paused until the review is completed.
Meanwhile no transgender prisoners with a history of violence against women – which includes sexual violence – will be placed in the women’s prison estate.
The debate over Bryson’s incarceration comes shortly after the UK government blocked the Scottish Parliament’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which allowed those aged 16 and over to self-identify as the opposite gender without needing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and would allow people to apply for a gender certificate after living in their new gender for three months.
The justification for blocking the order was the argument that the new Bill, which was passed with 86 MSPs voting in favour and 39 against, conflicted with the Equality Act – although trans rights supporters have questioned whether this is accurate. Activists have also highlighted the dangers facing trans women who are kept in male prisons.
In one such case, a transgender woman told news.com.au she suffered “hell on earth” after she was raped and abused over 2,000 times in an all-male prison.
The woman, known only by her pseudonym, Mary, was imprisoned for four years after stealing a car. She said the abuse began as soon as she entered Brisbane’s notorious Boggo Road Gaol and that her experience was so horrific that she would “rather die than go to prison ever again”.
Mary told the outlet: “You are basically set upon with conversations about being protected in return for sex.
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“They are either trying to manipulate you or threaten you into some sort of sexual contact and then, once you perform the requested threat of sex, you are then an easy target as others want their share of sex with you, which is more like rape than consensual sex.
“It makes you feel sick but you have no way of defending yourself.”
Last night SNP MP Angus MacNeil joined a growing rebellion within his own party against Nicola Sturgeon’s gender bill. Reacting to reports another male trans prisoner could be heading to a female jail, he said: “Holyrood’s MSPs who were led to pass legislation that would entrench this have to reverse – and quickly.”
MSP Ash Regan has already resigned as a minister in objection to Ms Sturgeon’s Bill.
A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “We do not comment on individuals. Decisions by the SPS as to the most appropriate location to accommodate transgender people are made on an individualised basis, informed by a multi-disciplinary assessment of both risk and need.”
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