By J Smith
Late last year a trans woman who had been forced into a men’s prison was allegedly raped by two members of staff at Whanganui Mens prison upon her transfer to the prison. This was not investigated. Again this year she alleged she was raped by two guards in a gymnasium stairwell. In a move that is exemplary of the mechanics of rape culture Corrections say they doubt her second allegation because she has a history of her allegations last year. These allegations were never investigated. But we should not be too surprised how corrections view the allegation, since in the words of Corrections National Commissioner Jeremy Lightfoot: “We absolutely refute any suggestion that rape is a systemic issue in New Zealand prisons”. Corrections can refute whatever they want: it won’t change the fact that rape is a systemic issue in New Zealand prisons and it won’t change the fact that Corrections have failed to do even the bare minimum for this woman. The prison officers in question should have been immediately suspended until the investigation was complete.
It is widely accepted in our society that prison is a place where rape happens. Indeed for some it is considered a natural part of the punishment: witness the chilling ‘jokes’ around double-bunking from previous years and Key’s radio stunt last year. Anyone foolhardy enough to pay attention to the social media outfall pertaining to Pride 2016 will recall a host of implications that if people didn’t want to be raped in prison they shouldn’t have committed the crime. Indeed it was just late last year that john key made his joke about prison rape. Considering New Zealand’s policies of double bunking and privatisation there is no reason to suggest we would be any sort of outlier in this global trend. Sadly corrections are so sure of their perfection with respect to prison rape that they essentially refuse to record anything.
In response to this trans woman’s rape, and the absolute refusal of Corrections to engage in anything resembling accountability, prison abolitionists No Pride In Prisons hosted a “call in to call out corrections” on the 17th of March demanding that an independent body “conduct a full and thorough investigation” and that in the interim the accused officers be suspended. Emails, phone calls and faxes poured into Corrections’ inboxes from the whole world. Nothing but scripted emails and a PR campaign came back out. We were told a police investigation was under way.
So No Pride In Prisons mobilised again culminating in Friday’s action; a picket outside the Northern Region Corrections Headquarters at 666 Great South Road. The prison state is an inherently abusive institution. Its origin was as a tool to suppress Maori resistance to European colonialism and to this day Maori are imprisoned at at least 8 times the rate of non-Maori. Prisons have never been about keeping people safe: rates of recidivism alone illustrate that. They are a tool for the ruling class to maintain capitalism and colonialism and hence when trans women are raped within their confines, Corrections simply does not care. It is not within the purview of corrections to protect its inmates, simply to maintain a positive spin when people discover that their family members, their friends that are incarcerated have been hurt or even killed. Corrections refuses to talk to its own people, to even brief them about the situation happening in Whanganui.
We will not stop until this woman has justice, and we will not stop until this kind of thing cannot happen again. Rape has no place in our society especially for the increasing numbers of those incarcerated. Prison is an institution of violence, not just for trans people, but for all prisoners. The incarceration system is prejudiced by racism, homophobia and transphobia and that means that we will not stop until the prison state is abolished, because only that can bring about liberation. Trans liberation equals prison abolition.
Photo credit: Marc Inzon