Ministry of Justice Protest, London – 12th February 2022

As the sun was getting ready to rise over the London skyline, I was over two hundred miles north trudging through the dark bleak rainy early morning of Yorkshire. A very typical day in the metropolis was dawning, but slowly, and surely, many angry women, and some male allies were making their way to the city. My journey was long, but the warm flask of tea and plenty of Tunnock’s Tea cakes made my squashed position next to the coach toilet more bearable.

My arrival in London was delayed due to road closures, but my enthusiasm for the protest spurred me on. As I approached Petty France the usual sights and sounds of the city were subdued and paled into significance by the thronging, banner waving and chanting of over one hundred and sixty beautiful women’s voices. We had converged together, with passion and conviction, to protest the MOJ’s decision to allow men to self ID into women’s prison. It is time for the MOJ and politicians to listen. It is time for the government to act. It is time to effect change.

From near and from far, from every social class and from every background, women and allies forged as one, with one purpose, to shout to those that would listen and those that would not, that women would not stand by and allow our incarcerated sisters to be used as human shields. For the most vulnerable women in society to be marginalised and forgotten over the drastically elevated feelings of a minority of men.

Men who want both an easy ride whilst in prison and access to women without a voice, women who have been silenced for fear of a backlash inside, for fear of violence, intimidation and ultimately sexual assault and rape. We were determined to make another London day, a day that would enter the annals of the war on women.

Paints of green, white and violet colours had been used to create beautiful shields and vivid placards, huge banners and posters. Each bearing its heartfelt message, each held aloft with determination, as if borne by soldiers heading into battle – the battle for the future of females in prison. These messages meticulously crafted formed an unabating river, a buoyant sea, with wave upon wave of suffragette colours flowing and ebbing in full force in front of the MOJ.

The rhythm of the protest grew regular, it could be touched, it could be felt, it was a pulse, and we were the heartbeat of the city, beating in time to the blowing of whistles and the chanting of moral mantras ‘No Males in Females Jails’, ‘Women are not human shields’ and ‘keep Prisons Single Sex.’

The defiant chants soon tailed off to a solemn hush to listen to the heartfelt and gut-wrenching accounts of the speakers who were bravely there to bring the plight of our female prisoners to a tangible and harsh reality. I won’t be going through all the speeches, as a link will posted down below, where you can listen in full. I’ll just give you a very brief flavour of each speech.

The first speech is by Julia Long (standing on the right in the photo below), who starts by thanking all those who’d come to the protest and hopes that those in power are listening today. Julia goes on to inform the crowd that the MOJ currently runs female prions in the UK as mixed sex, as the MOJ states that “to deprive men of their right to gain access to females only spaces is to deny male prisoners their human rights.” Of course, the MOJ makes absolutely no mention of the horrendous violations on the rights of the female prisoners.

Next up was DJ Lippy (standing on the left in the photo), who read out a horrifying account written by a female inmate, which states, female prisoners are being silenced and their fear ignored. The letter goes on to say that a trans-identifying male housed in her female only prison, complained because he wasn’t allowed to shower with the female prisoners, he said it was a violation of his human rights. Without any care or thought to the vulnerable women, many of whom have been sexually assaulted and raped, he was granted permission to shower with the female prisoners, despite only a shower curtain to separate him from the women, which he pushed aside so all could see his penis.

A very powerful speech came next from Belstaffie (pictured below), a retired probation officer, with twenty years’ experience working for the west Yorkshire probation service, where she was a specialist in the assessment and risk management of sexual offenders. Belstaffie’s experience of working closely with male sexual offenders gives her the professional knowledge that the male prison estate is most definitely “fit for purpose” when housing these trans-identifying men and there is absolutely no reason for them to be housed in female only estates.

Rebekah Wershbale, did the final speech (photo below), a truly emotive account of life in a women’s prison. As an ex-inmate of Styal prison in Cheshire, she gave a harrowing speech on the horrors women face in prison. The high levels of self-harm, depression and the power dynamics which immediately change once a male is allowed to self ID into the women’s estate, which throws the females there into a state of utter turmoil. She finishes with the totally apt scenario of “foxes in hen houses.”

If you haven’t yet managed to listen to these amazing and thought-provoking speeches, please do.

The women’s audience was nationwide. Press photographers took photos and journalists listened attentively to the speeches, penetrating the crowd here and there, eager to give the women a voice. Their passionate pleas now broadcast for all to hear the inhuman policies of the MOJ and for once, women, were no longer “seen and not heard.”

Above is DJ Lippy, Sonia Poulton and Belstaffie, outside the MOJ

The injustice of what is happening to women and teenage girls in female prisons is one of great shame for this country in which I live. Injustice will reflect badly in the image of the weak. But I cannot standby and watch the most vulnerable women in society used to validate these ill men. Every time we learn of injustice and do not act, we train ourselves to be passive, to be acquiescent and therefore lose our ability to defend ourselves and those that need us most.

As an autistic woman who struggles immensely with memory problems, I have often found myself where bills have lay unpaid, and I could have quite easily ended up paying the price for this, with my liberty. Just as the majority of women in prison have found themselves in just that situation and paid the high price with their freedom. I stood in front of the MOJ with these thoughts running through my head, with the anguish of these women, a large proportion who have been victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, and who are now being forced to share their incarceration with male abusers and male sexual offenders and seriously wonder how this damn right despicable injustice was ever allowed to happen. But happen it has, yet those of us who stood in solidarity outside the MOJ, our back will tell the stories of injustice no books will ever have the spine to carry.

Below is also a link to an interview Belstaffie did with Journalist and broadcaster, Sonia Poulton, who also gave her support and attended the protest with us at the MOJ. In the interview, Belstaffie talks of  ‘exposing the state sanctioned dangerous practices happening in female prisons, to women and teenage girls, for the feelings and delusions of these trans-identifying males’.

Written by Marie S