Incarcerated Trans Woman Brings Lawsuit Against New York State After Her Rape in Prison

In February 2013, LeslieAnn Manning reported being raped by another inmate while working in the men’s prison where she was incarcerated. Now she is bringing a lawsuit against the Sullivan Correctional Facility for their “deliberate indifference” in failing to prevent her assault.

Manning had been incarcerated in the Sullivan Correctional Facility, a men’s maximum security prison in upstate New York, and openly identified as transgender for most of the time she spent there. She has fought for and won the rights to access hormone replacement therapy, legally change her name, keep her hair long and wear the underwear she prefers. Manning said the prison staff were aware of the risks posed to her as a trans woman in a men’s prison, but did not take appropriate measures to ensure her safety. Her attack happened while she was at work delivering paper in a minimally supervised area. A male inmate she was delivering a letter to in an isolated area violently raped her and threatened to kill her if she reported it.

Manning did report her attack, and has been living in “protective custody” in a different New York men’s prison ever since. Manning’s suit says Sullivan officials showed “deliberate indifference” in failing to protect her from her attacker. She said she had spoken up before the attack about the lack of supervision in her work area and pointed out that her attacker had raped another inmate.

The Cardozo Civil Rights Clinic, which has filed the lawsuit on Manning’s behalf in conjunction with the Cornell LGBT Clinic, said in a press release, “Ms. Manning was obviously at risk of sexual assault because she is a transgender woman who is also physically weak and frail as a result of several chronic health problems.”  Francesca Acocella, a legal intern at the Clinic, said,”officials in the New York State prison system knew of the risks but failed to take steps to prevent the horrific things that happened to her.”

In 1994, the Supreme Court found that a prison had shown “deliberate indifference” in the case of Dee Farmer, another trans women raped while incarcerated in a men’s prison. “Deliberate indifference,” the Court said, qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore is a violation of the 8th Amendment. Manning argues her 8th Amendment rights were similarly violated, as were the terms of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The PREA advises prison staff to implement protective measures for trans inmates on a “case-by-case” basis, which theoretically leaves trans prisoners with some self-determination in how they navigate incarceration, but as Acocella pointed out, “some prison systems will and do apply this malleable standard in ways that are not consistent with the goals of PREA.”

Manning’s suit pertains to the inaction taken by prison staff members before her attack. However, her case also points to many obstacles to ensuring prisoners’ safety after they report attacks. Manning has been in protective custody since first reporting her attack almost two years ago. According to Acocella, “Ms. Manning feels very isolated in protective custody. She has lost virtually all access to programming offered to prisoners in general population and often spends as much as 22 hours a day alone in a cell.” “Protective custody” is a shiny term for conditions that add up to solitary confinement. The horrific conditions of solitary confinement are well documented. Many incarcerated transgender people have spoken out about the violence they’ve faced while in solitary, demonstrating quite clearly that it isn’t a viable or safe alternative.

Similar sentiments have been voiced by trans prisoners about almost every different measure created under the auspices of “protecting” incarcerated trans people. In a class-action suit brought against San Bernardino County, California this summer, gay, bisexual and transgender inmates who were relegated to an “alternative lifestyle tank” for their “safety” were singled out for harassment by prison staff and were denied access to drug rehab and work programs that were available to the rest of the population, which meant they didn’t have any opportunities to reduce their sentences. As ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio told Slate, “The assumption is that trans people want to be housed based on gender identity, but anecdotally, that’s not always true. The end goal for most people is to make it out of prison, so the priority is staying alive.”

But the dangers of being housed in general prison populations for transgender women also definitely should not be underplayed. More than 20% of trans women will be incarcerated in their lifetimes, and nearly 60% of those women will be sexually assaulted while incarcerated. Of those women, the majority are women of color, and most are black women because of racist prison and policing policies and practices. In October, Lambda Legal filed a suit on behalf of Passion Star, a transgender woman incarcerated in Texas who reports having been assaulted and threatened by inmates and Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) officials. Texas is one of a handful of states that has refused to adopt PREA standards outright. Governor Rick Perry called them “ill-conceived.” The only consequence for Texas is that they don’t get federal funding for the TDCJ, which makes up an apparently inconsequential portion of their budget.

It’s hard to say what impact these suits will have. In this particular case, a positive outcome for Manning would be monetary compensation from the state. But the greater hope is that trans women will no longer be more likely to be raped or assaulted than not when incarcerated. But the fact that there is no consistent option for trans people in prison that allows them to be safe from attack, at least not without compromising some other huge aspect of their lives, leads back to the ultimate reality that no prison is or will be safe for trans people — or anyone.

It’s also important to note that, while this may be the first time we’re covering LeslieAnn Manning’s case on Autostraddle, and the first time her case has been covered in-depth in Slate, a widely read liberal publication, Manning has been advocating for herself and demanding to be recognized and respected as a trans woman for years. We are learning more about her now because trans people have been working relentlessly to demand justice and be heard. In the end of Slate’s piece, they quoted the TGI Justice Project’s Prisoner Survival Guide created for and by incarcerated trans women, saying, “Please keep in mind that there is no specific prison that is safe for [trans] people. As you well know, prisons are not safe spaces for anyone.” These suits and this analysis comes about because trans people are doing the work to be heard. This case has already been successful in winning a platform for trans voices to raise public awareness about the contradictions and dangers of the prison system.


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Autostraddle staff writer. Copy editor. Fledgling English muffin maker. Temporary turtle parent. Zine creator. Swings enthusiast. Political human who cares a lot about healthcare and queer anti-carceral feminisms. I asked my friend to help me write this bio and they said, "Good-natured. Friend. Earth tones." Another friend said, "Flannel babe. Vacuum lover. Kind." So. Find me on Twitter or my website.

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23 Comments

  1. Personally, I agree that the incarceration of trans people should be done on a case by case basis. If a trans woman had committed sexual assault against a woman, then they should remain in a men’s prison system, if they have not had bottom surgery. This doesn’t mean that a biological woman is not capable of sexual assault, but having someone with male genitals in a woman’s prison might make the other women incarcerated more threatened, since a high proportion of women in prison have been a victim of sexual violence. Now, if it were other crimes, then trans women should be incarcerated in a women’s prison. Unfortunately as was said in the article, violence and indifference will happen in every prison. Actually women’s prisons are much worse then men’s prisons in terms of funding and indifference since the prison system was designed for men, and since there are not as many women’s prisons as men’s prisons the chances of being around violent offenders are higher. Also, for people with drug offences I think getting them help and rehab is most important, not locking them up for years with otherwise more violent offenders (just adding that, not necessarily relevant to this article). Still, I think the more support that comes about within society for trans people, the less likely they will end up in prison, homeless, victims, etc. as is true for anyone. Regardless of identity, sexual violence should be taken seriously, and is more important than where trans people are being placed; (I think this thought was mentioned in the article) because it seems besides the legal hurdles she had to go through to get her hormones and documents, she may not have had much trouble with general population, until this event occurred.

    • I don’t even have words for how disgusted I am that you took an article about a trans woman being raped while locked in a mens prison and twisted it to interject your opinion on how some women apparently belong in mens prisons because their genitals threaten you. What is that, some bizarre idea of justice? Punishment for being unable to afford, or simply not wanting GRS?

      I cannot believe that this is the first comment.

      • I am amazed that there are dozens of comments regarding the adjacent article “There Are No Cookies: Ten Ways to Take Action as a Trans Ally (Even If You’re Also Trans)” and yet so little reaction here.

        I wish I could say more, but this level of awfulness leaves me too upset to be articulate.

      • I do not feel threatened. There was a case in California with the exact situation, I mentioned.

        I am transgender and also can not afford GRS.

        Sexual assault should not happen in any case. I believe we need to look at why most trans women and other minorities end up in prison and start with community support in helping prevent the incarceration of people who do not necessarily belong there.

        • OMG, a case in California… and there was a recent case of a cis lesbian murdering her partner’s 2-year old daughter… therefore lesbians shouldn’t be parents. 17%-45% of lesbians report having been the victim of at least one act of physical abuse perpetrated by a lesbian partner… therefore all lesbians should be thrown into SHU in prison because they might be abusive. A trans man abused his trans woman partner (http://brynkelly.tumblr.com/post/64251610347/my-trans-body-my-trans-self) therefore trans men are potential abusers and are dangerous around women… any other facts and conclusions you want to lay on us?

          • You are using generalizations to support your idea that I made a generalization about transwomen. This is the issue: the transwoman in the article was raped. She should receive help and sent to a women’s prison because she a woman and in an unsafe environement.
            The transwoman I mentioned in the case of California was a convicted violent sex offender and being sent to general population of a women’s prison. The prisoners felt unsafe because of it. Two different cases with the only connection that they involve transwomen.

            What is it that you want from me? I apologize for the misunderstanding, this being the internet, but I am entitled to an opinion.

          • This was an article about a trans woman being raped. You started off your response to the article focusing on trans women as potential rapists and how their bodies could make incarcerated women feel unsafe. That, in and of itself, painfully demonstrates where your head is at. That’s NOT a “misunderstanding.” Yes, it is your opinion and there’s no reason whatsoever why I should respect it if I find it highly offensive.

            And I could care less whether you’re transgender or can afford bottom surgery or not, that almost makes it worse.

        • How is your tangent remotely relevant to THIS story? Would you find it appropriate if people responded to stories about violence against lesbians by highlighting random stories of lesbians committing violence? And how is it that when you raise an unrelated real life story, it’s somehow pertinent, but when Ginapdx did the same thing to mirror your argument, with actual links, she’s somehow resorting to generalizations.
          No sex offender should be allowed to wander around prison assaulting other inmates, trans or not, yet you still raise an irrelevant outlying case in order to connect trans women to sexual assault. It is true that women in prison are far more likely to have been sexually violated. THAT INCLUDES TRANS WOMEN, who statistically experience more violence than cis women. When a trans woman enters a women’s prison, SHE is the one whose safety is at greater risk in a community of cis people who may target her for violence just because she’s trans.
          Nevermind that you use the terms ‘biological woman’ and ‘male genitals’ as if these are legitimate concepts.

    • Wow, ok.

      I certainly echo everything that’s already been said re: this comment. There are like seventeen different things to unpack that I can address here. I’ll try for three.

      First of all, as ginapdx said, this is an article about a woman who was raped. I don’t really understand how you took this piece as an invitation to speculate on what should happen in a hypothetical case of sexual assault.

      Second, I suggest you wander over and learn something from Mari’s piece about how trans women were not born boys. The logic behind your use of the term “biological woman” is precisely what keeps trans women in men’s prisons without their consent. I am not about to make an argument that all trans women should be in women’s prisons, but that is only because I respect that not all incarcerated trans women want this for themselves, and I prioritize gender self-determination over violent binary systems that exist to funnel people into different violent existences.

      Third, the idea that keeping trans women out of women’s prisons is a great way to prevent sexual violence is a really dangerous and unsubstantiated claim. It is true that incarcerated women are very vulnerable to sexual violence. The most vulnerable population? Black trans women. If you want to protect women from sexual violence in prison, don’t send them there.

      • I didn’t notice right away that you were the author of this article. Thank you for writing this piece. I know this wasn’t the reaction you were hoping for here on autostraddle, but for that reason it is even more important.

      • I used the term “biological women” not to diminish the gender of a transwoman, but to emphasize how women are not seen as sexually threatening.

        Again, ‘case by case basis’ is important, and you seem to agree, “but that is only because I respect that not all incarcerated trans women want this for themselves” if a transwoman is a woman, then she should go to a women’s prison if that is what she feels most comfortable with. I, personally being black and transgender, would feel terrified being sent to a men’s prison with my born genitalia because I also can not afford GRS, and being a survivor of sexual violence.

        I never said that ALL TRANSWOMAN ARE SEXUALLY THREATENING TO WOMEN, I was mentioning a case that occurred in a California women’s prison. The only thing I talked about keeping trans women out of is prison itself. If transpeople received more support from society, then they would be less likely to end up in prison.

        It is interesting that every reply to my comment assumed that I had made a trans phobic generalization of trans women. It is as if everyone read the first few sentences and ignored the rest. Someone has a different thought process than you do. Is that a reason to be angry and disgusted? Sexual violence is the main issue. Doing what can be done to prevent it is important, FOR ALL POTENTIAL VICTIMS regardless of gender. Getting the victim help is important. Whatever she needs to be safe should be allowed.

        • It is possible to be bigoted against other trans folk.

          I know that until I faced my fear of violence from men I had difficulty talking with older transitioning women. Not a single one of them did anything wrong, but all my self-protective instincts would fire when older transitioners would tell me how great I looked or when they’d be overly familiar. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I could I make eye contact with men who were strangers and once I overcame those fears I found myself feeling quite guilty about my youthful dismissiveness of trans women who weren’t as cis normative.

          Regarding your use of the phrase “biological women”:

          I am a biological woman, you are biological woman, putting cis women on some pedestal of not being sexually threatening is rather misguided. My girlfriend in high-school was sexually abused by another girl and because of what happened to her she sexually abused a relative. When we started dating she clung to me as a way to cure herself of that experience and be straight (as you can imagine that didn’t work out very well).

          Regarding placing trans women in men’s prison to allow cis women to feel safe:

          What type of prison a woman is placed in should not be based on her physical features. I know that in my late teen years any contact with police caused nearly crippling panic attacks. And I was lucky to never have any problems before I had surgery or after. But not everyone is so lucky.

          A friend of mine took a roommate into a hospital for an allergic reaction…and a nurse thought it was drug related: a cop approached my friend and she ran, was arrested for resisting arrest and imprisoned with men. It traumatized her horribly. After being freed she could barely leave her apartment for years.

          I sincerely hope that you give some thought to why you angered others so much with your original post. I know that even when I was living in the dorms in college I still considered protecting the safety of cis women a higher priority than my own safety…I just didn’t think I was worth protecting. Heck, it wasn’t until a suitemate comforted me about my abuse by boys and men (after I mentioned it to explain a crippling injury) that I even realized I was afraid of men. I couldn’t make eye contact with them, but yet somehow I didn’t think my trauma was real abuse. Seeing my life story from the perspective of someone who didn’t know I was trans opened my eyes to the reality of what I had experienced.

    • I am not going to comment on this article again after this. It seems to be upsetting people.

      Unfortunately, I was misunderstood. What I wanted to say was, sexual violence in prison is the bigger issue. The ‘red flag’ for me was that she reported well in advanced feeling unsafe around this other prisoner and nothing was done. The indifference towards prisoners and violence is the biggest issue. Say she is sent to a women’s prison. She could still face physical and sexual violence there too. The article is addressing, from my perspective, is addressing two issues: sexual violence in prison, and transgender rights. This woman is trapped in this cross of issues. When I discussed the differences in prisons is what not that she belonged in a men’s prison, but that she would unfortunately receive better help while in one. She mentioned the programs available to her that she was kept out of due to isolation. My concern is what happened to the offender? Why was he not isolated after the first incident and/or after she reported feeling unsafe? Next is the transgender problem. If she feels that she is a woman she should be sent to a woman’s prison. Simple. Which is why I believe the issue of sexual violence is more important than her gender. Yet it is not up to me where she is sent. IF the opening to my first comment seems irrelevant than disregard it. Because it is. I apologize for the misunderstanding but will not stand for the attacks on my personal opinion and insinuations that I have been making generalizations.

      • “I apologize for the misunderstanding but will not stand for the attacks on my personal opinion and insinuations that I have been making generalizations.”

        Unfortunately your word choice (biological women) and your statement that a sexual related charge should doom a trans woman to being incarcerated with men are problematic at the very least.

        Please keep in mind that New York state has no protections for trans folk (outside New York City). Trans women can be incarcerated with other women, but only at the discretion of the authorities. Generally we are housed with men in the general population or put in solitary confinement.

        -Being in the general population means being raped and or killed, any exceptions to this being amazing.
        -Being in solitary confinement for an extended period of time is torture, it breaks people: they often never recover after release.

        The gender of the woman in the article cannot be separated from her sexual abuse. Her situation was not unusual or surprising, despite how horrific her ordeal must be.

  2. None of you are listening to what I have said. I said, women ARE SEXUALLY THREATENING AS WELL. TRANSGENDER WOMAN ARE NOT SEXUAL PREDATORS TOWARDS WOMEN. I SAID THAT ALL PRISONERS ARE AT RISK OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE REGARDLESS OF GENDER, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, ETC. BUT F IT ALL.

    I am wrong. alwyas have been. Messed piece of trash is what i am. I’m saying it. I know I get it. I f-ed up. okay.

    SORRRY

    its done now

    • Captain, I can tell this is an upsetting topic for you, but please consider the possibility that we are having trouble making sense of conflicting statements in your posts.

      I have my own issue that makes me incomprehensible. Offhand bigoted humor by lesbians freaks me out. Casual jokes by my mother and her friends nearly led to my suicide when I was fourteen, and no matter how many years pass I still can’t react calmly to reckless transmisogynist humor by queer women. Heck, I raged at the founder of this website a few weeks back. (And though I will be eternally embarrassed about that exchange, I know I would react the same way if it comes up again.)

      I am sorry that I don’t seem to be able to understand your thoughts on this article. I hope that you have someone you can speak with in person to help you find a way to articulate your thoughts on this topic. You are not trash and I am sorry that my responses hurt you. Please believe that I sincerely regret any harm I have caused you.

  3. Aren’t a lot of people raped in prison though, through negligence of supervision, so what make trans women any different?

    People are made targets in prison for every reason and “weakness” imaginable. I don’t think it’s always appropriate to transfer the inmate to a women’s prison though.

    • Trans women face incredibly high increased rates of abuse if put in a men’s prison (both from other inmates and from staff). Generally the staff treat the woman as if she was asking for it and resolve the situation by putting her in solitary for the rest of her sentence (if they do anything at all).

      And women should be in a women’s prison. No crime, no matter how horrific invalidates a person’s gender.

    • Trans women in men’s prisons face a highly elevated risk of sexual assault compared to your average inmate. This topic has only become the subject of serious reserach fairly recently, but one California study found that 59 percent of trans women housed in men’s prisons were sexual assaulted vs. four percent of male inmates. Being one of the only women in a sea of predominantly straight men is dangerous, and made more so by the fact that trans people are often treated as less than human. Of course trans people are not the only people at risk of rape, but to act like it makes no difference is absurd.

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