Trans people experience intense sexual violence in Victorian prisons, research finds

Key points

  • Research has identified multiple claims of sexual assaults and rapes against trans and gender-diverse people in Victoria’s prisons, including by staff.
  • The findings have led to calls for the Ombudsman to investigate systematic violence against trans and gender-diverse inmates, and make prison officers more accountable.
  • The number of trans and gender-diverse prisoners in Victoria’s jails is not known.
  • Corrections Victoria says it considers the safety of individual prisoners, other prisoners and staff when allocating inmates to prisons.

Trans and gender-diverse people are experiencing intense sexual violence within Victoria’s prison system, new research has found, and are being isolated “for their own protection”.

A paper published last month in the International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy said trans and gender-diverse prisoners were “much more likely to be subjected to violence than perpetrating violence” in Victoria and had been told they were complicit in their own sexual assault.

Dame Phyllis Frost Correctional Centre, a women’s prison in Deer Park.Credit:Joe Armao

The paper reported multiple claims of sexual assaults and rapes against trans and gender-diverse people in Victoria’s prisons, including by staff.

Criminal defence lawyer and co-author of the paper, Isabelle Skaburskis, said the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass should investigate systematic violence against trans and gender-diverse people in prisons and make prison officers more accountable for complaints made against them.

“Corrections and the Victorian Government should be actively collecting this data and identifying whether or not there is an issue, and if they think there is, starting to learn how to deal with it,” Skaburskis said.

The number of trans and gender-diverse prisoners in Victoria’s jails is not known.

Documents obtained by The Age under Freedom of Information have revealed that Corrections Victoria does not keep any record of transgender, gender diverse or intersex prisoners.

The research – co-written by Skaburskis, La Trobe University crime and justice lecturer Dr Matthew Mitchell, Adrien McCrory of the Australian Catholic University and transgender advocate Brenda Appleton – was based on surveys of 42 trans and gender-diverse people who had been in the Victorian prison system, as well as lawyers who have represented such clients.

The paper said many participants reported harassment and abuse perpetrated by both prisoners and prison staff.

One participant said their client had been offered as the “prize” for a prisoners’ billiard tournament and raped.

Hopkins Correctional Centre, a men’s prison in Ararat.Credit:Justin McManus

Mitchell said trans people reported being treated as deserving of the violence committed against them, because of their identity.

“Trans and gender diverse prisoners are being told they might have been deserving of [assault] and, being a trans person in prison, that in some way they’re already a sexual deviant. So if sexual violence happens to them, they’re in some way complicit.”

Mitchell said common misconceptions about trans people, including that they were “inherently dangerous and posed a threat to women’s safety” extended to prison populations.

“We have found the opposite. Trans women in custody are victims of sexual violence and assaults when they’re in these spaces,” he said.

Earlier this month, prisoners at the women’s Dame Phyllis Frost Correctional Centre petitioned for the removal of a transgender inmate reported to have committed serious sex offences against women while still identifying as a man.

The petition said the presence of the transgender inmate had traumatised other prisoners, particularly those who had been victims of sexual assault or family violence.

The prisoners said they had no concern about transgender individuals, but were concerned the inmate had a penis and a history of violent sexual assault against a woman and a girl.

Mitchell said anybody could perpetrate sexual violence.

“You can’t say there are no trans people ever who might have perpetrated a sexual or violent crime, but actually trans people in custody are being subjected on a systemic level to forms of violence,” he said.

A Department of Justice and Community Safety spokeswoman said a range of factors were taken into account when allocating inmates to prisons.

“Corrections Victoria considers the safety of the individual prisoner, safety of other prisoners and the safety of staff, in addition to the security of the prison and relevant legal requirements,” she said.

“The placement of prisoners is subject to regular review in order to achieve a balance between health, safety, social cohesion and rehabilitation.”

In May, an allegation of sexual assault of a prisoner in Tarrengower minimum-security women’s prison, near Maldon, by a transgender inmate was investigated by the Central Victoria Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team.

Sources suggested the alleged perpetrator was moved to Hopkins Correctional Centre men’s prison in Ararat. Police said their investigation did not substantiate the complaint.

If you or anyone you know needs support, contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636. QLife provides anonymous and free LBTIQA+ peer support and referral on 1800 184 527 (3pm to midnight) or online.

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