A transgender woman who sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) for failing to protect her from being raped and abused repeatedly while in custody has reached a settlement with the department.
Passion Star has been awarded monetary compensation and, according to a press release from Lambda Legal, the TDCJ will make policy changes and train staff on better serving LGBT people.
Lambda Legal transgender rights project attorney Demoya Gordon says she hopes the settlement sends a message to prison officials that violence against LGBTQ people will not be swept under the rug.
“Passion experienced brutal violence, degradation and discrimination in prison,” Gordon says in a statement. “She is a transgender woman who was forced to live in terror in a men’s prison and the officials charged with her care refused to take adequate steps to keep her safe. We are pleased with the resolution reached with prison officials.”
According to Star’s complaint, she suffered years sexual assault and brutality at the hands of other inmates in seven different TDCJ facilities because she was incarcerated with men. Her complaints to officials resulted in inaction or retaliation.
When she reported ongoing abuse in 2007, the complaint details, “Correctional officers responded to Ms. Star’s requests for protection by telling her ‘you can’t rape someone who’s gay,’ telling her she was having the time of her life, frequently calling her ‘faggot,’ and suggesting she was enjoying the attention.”
The complaint details a pattern of sexual abuse, often by gang members, wherein inmates forced Star into sexual relationships with them under threat of violence or the promise of protection. Her repeated requests to placed in safekeeping were denied, the complaint states.
“TDCJ staff did not take reasonable steps to protect her and instead placed Ms. Star at risk for further assault,” it reads.
Instead staff accused her of being a “snitch.”
In a statement, Star says no one should in prison should experience the nightmare she went through.
“For years, I was raped and beaten in prison and when I asked for help I was ignored,” Star says. “I was hurt, scared, and thrown in solitary in hopes that I would be forgotten, but today I can be proud that I never gave up.”
A TDCJ Director of Public Information Jeremy Desel says that TDCJ did modify its policy to further clarify that it is in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).
“That is evidenced by TDCJ fully passing a PREA audit of all its facilities over the last three years,” Desel writes in an email. “Further, in January TDCJ received the Lucy Hayes Award from the American Correctional Association which honors correctional agencies fully in compliance with both ACA accreditation standards and federal Prison Rape Elimination Act standards.”
Reports of violence against trans women behind bars are exceedingly high. Star’s settlement comes on the heels of a number of a complaints against correctional facilities for abuse against transgender women. Just last week, Strawberry Hampton sued the Illinois Department of Corrections. Ashley Diamond, a black trans women who successfully sued the Georgia Department of corrections in 2015 claimed in February that she was singled out by police when she was re-arrested for a “rolling stop.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality Reports that 21 percent of transgender women have been incarcerated at some point in their lives. That number jumps to 47 percent among trans women of color.
Image: Self-portrait drawn by Passion Star via Lambda Legal