At the end of January, women’s groups across the UK joined together to launch a series of protests at women’s prisons to loudly and visibly object and draw attention to current Ministry of Justice policies enacted in 2019 that allow men to simply identify their way into the female prison estate. Many women have come together to challenge this, and KEEP PRISONS SINGLE SEX has become a rallying cry. It’s insane that we should have to campaign for this but here we all are, doing exactly that.
I was present at the first protest, representing Northern Radfem Network and speaking as a former inmate of HMP Styal. All of the points I made that day remain pertinent – namely the lack of mental health provision, the epidemic of self harm and the extreme vulnerability of women in prison. Today I’m speaking again on behalf of my incarcerated sisters, and I hope my words represent their perspectives and fears whilst they are unable to speak out.
Women in prison do not operate in a hierarchy. We innately recognise trauma in one another and in circumstances of extreme pressure, like those in prison, we tend to band together and form attachments, in groups and as individuals. Inside, this tendency is amplified because all we have is each other. Of course there are fall outs and shifting alliances, because prison is a microcosm of wider society, but despite this there is always a stable power balance that remains relatively static. The presence of just one man takes this stability and throws it into chaos. Even if, for the sake of argument, that man is one of the ‘good guys’ the dynamic in a group of women will be irrevocably altered, and they will have to sacrifice the links of comfort and security they’ve been able to build and count on in an otherwise abysmal situation.
We KNOW, however, that these particular men are never, ever, even remotely ‘good guys’. They’re predators. A full 60% of male prisoners presently identifying as transgender have been convicted of sex offences, and knowing what we know about the pathetically low rates of conviction, it’s safe to assume these are extremely serious offences. These men know exactly what they’re doing, and so do the prison officers, governors and policy makers that have green lit this disgusting process at every step, allowing them access to some of the most easy targets.
There is not one single aspect of life inside that wouldn’t be adversely affected by having mixed sex facilities. Women will avoid showering in communal washing spaces. They’ll stay in their cells during any recreation time if common areas are dominated by men. They’ll stop going to the gym and stop partaking in enriching activities – this has already happened, in 2018 a male murderer named Alex Stewart was placed in HMP Greenock and proceeded to destroy a women’s fitness tournament, decisively ending any inclination women felt to enter. Of course, anyone that had a problem with this was labelled transphobic and thusly dismissed.
There aren’t many ways women can keep mentally and physically healthy whilst serving sentences, and this is lessened even further by the idiotic, sadistic decision to house men alongside them.
Ultimately, male and female prisoners are VASTLY different demographics. The female prison population is just 5% , and we’re imprisoned overwhelmingly for non violent offences. This cannot be overstated. We are not the same as male criminals, we do not share anything like the same offending pattern. Again, ministers and legislators know this damn well and flagrantly disregard the already scant wellbeing of women to appease the whims of manipulative men. It is utterly contemptible that the women bearing the sharp end of this abhorrent capitulation are the ones most in need of protection.
This mad idea that men magically become women on their say so – and a GRC is not required to move to the female estate – is a nefarious lie, and this twisting of reality is making its way into legislation and the highest echelons of law making. The analogy of foxes in henhouses has never been more apt. HOW has it happened that rapists, child molesters and murderers are being given a state sanctioned free pass to continue abusing? Who the hell let this happen?
We’re here to hold to account every person that implemented this dangerous nightmare, and urge them to consider the devastating consequences of their actions. We want nothing less than a total reversal of this awful policy. We demand the removal of every single man from women’s prisons, recognition that a mistake of unfathomable magnitude has been made, and a promise that this can never, EVER happen again.
Speech by Rebekah Wershbale