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WOMENS WORDS

Amanda's Story - Women are not Human Shields

Women in prison are human, and their lives are just as important as anyone else on this earth. These women are daughters and sisters, mothers and wives. Women are not worth less than men and they are certainly not any less deserving of privacy, dignity and respect because they are in prison.


Female prisoners are extremely vulnerable.

The fact that they cannot leave automatically puts them at a higher risk of abuse if they have to live in close proximity with violent men who claim to be women, but have committed rape, murder and serious sexual and violent offences against women. These men are extremely dangerous to women and they have disproportionately higher rates of sexual offending than men who don’t claim to be women. Approximately two and a half times higher.


The fact that men are in the women’s estate is appalling enough, but to serve women up to these predators on a rainbow platter in a place where they have no escape is beyond evil to me. How can anyone say they have a trauma informed approach when looking after these women whilst forcing them to live with violent males? They are either lying or they are wilfully ignorant. Both excuses are unacceptable.


Women in the female estate usually come from backgrounds punctuated by male violence.

They have experienced domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and much more. These vulnerable women come from households where domestic abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse and/or gambling are all seen as normal everyday life. What we are doing in these situations is criminalising trauma and poverty. Most are imprisoned for non-violent crimes because female criminal behaviour is very different to male criminal behaviour.


Allow me to share some of my experiences during my 7-week remand in a female prison.

It’s something I’ve put to the back of my mind in order for me to survive without exacerbating my trauma. Like most of the female prisoners, I’ve also experienced all of the aforementioned traumas and more.


To be taken to prison is frightening, it’s traumatic and it’s highly dangerous. When I arrived I was terrified, I was disorientated, embarrassed and in so much pain from missing my children. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.


When I realised I was to be housed with two men I thought I might actually pass out! I felt the colour drain from my face and my heart began to pump at a higher rate than it already was, my knees began to feel weak, and the tidal wave of panic crashed over me. I was having a full-blown panic attack.


Here I was in prison, with no means of escape, no privacy, no dignity and no hope. I was worrying about my future, my children, their schoolwork, their homelife, their extracurricular activities, their homework. Who will look after them in my absence? Who will keep them safe and feed them? Who will make sure the effects on them are minimal? Will I be able to see them? My head was swimming with worry for my children and I couldn’t think about anything else.


I was on a mission to keep my head down, get a job to keep me busy and keep as much contact with my children as I could, and NOTHING was going to jeopardise that for me. My aim was to get through this horrific experience as best I could, by keeping myself busy with education, exercise and a job in the prison. I have serious mental health conditions that I’ve never been able to get professional help with and I was very aware that with the way I was feeling there was a possibility that I could very quicky become suicidal.


Yet here is a man in front of me.

There was no mistaking it, no denying it, no getting away from it. This man was huge, way over 6ft and very heavy. He wore male clothing, he had a male voice, he wore no makeup, he took no wrong sex hormones, and had no GRC. What he did have was a penis. Like over 95% of these men who claim to be women do. He was also in prison for domestic abuse against his female partner and here he was lording it over the vulnerable women.


We were forced to call him by a female name. We were forced to use she/her pronouns for this man. This man who attacks women. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t catch my breath, I was frozen to the spot and I was frantically trying to work out if I was hallucinating. This couldn’t be real. How could this be possible?


How is it possible that in a female prison I would need to worry about being attacked and/or raped by a man? A man who has committed violence against women. Violence serious enough to land him in prison.


It seemed to me I’d been dropped into the fiery bowels of hell and this man had just been given a golden ticket to heaven.

From that moment on I couldn’t concentrate properly. I found it very difficult to feel safe and spent the whole time in prison on constant high alert. You can imagine my shock when I discovered there were in fact TWO men in the women’s estate. The second man was serving time for murder and just like the first he had no GRC and still had his penis. I felt like someone had let the foxes into the hen house and I didn’t want to leave my cell.


We didn’t have showers in our cells and so we had to shower in the communal shower block with only a curtain for safety.


Women who are traumatised and vulnerable are having to be naked and shower with men in their spaces.

Some decided not to shower at all. We feared we would be raped or assaulted and that is not something any woman should ever have to worry about, and certainly shouldn’t be a worry any female prisoner ever has.


I made sure that I went to the prison doctor, and I was given a contraceptive coil. Something I have never used nor wanted to use but I couldn’t take the risk of being raped and becoming pregnant. And so I went to the medical bay and had a procedure done that I’ve never wanted.


Women should never be in the position where they need to even contemplate these things. Soon I need to make another appointment to have this device removed which fills me with dread due to being a rape and sexual assault survivor. I can’t believe I have to go through this again, four years after leaving prison, it almost feels like another violation on my body. And as usual it stems from men.


I didn’t want to see men there, but I did. I didn’t want to share showers with men, but I was forced to. I didn’t want to see men prance about naked in my shower area, yet there they were doing just that. I didn’t want men in my gym class, but they were there.


I tried to escape them by working in the salon, but the murderous man worked there. I attended the education classes and still there were men. Locked in a holding cell with no prison officers, waiting to attend a visit with my children and who’s sitting next to me? A male prisoner. What could have happened to me in those 15 minutes while I was locked in that holding cell without any protection, with a violent man and no means of escape? Was this a risk I would have to take every time I want to see my children? Should I be placed at risk? Do I not matter because I’m a woman? Or is it because I’m a woman in prison?


There is no escaping these men from morning until night and unless women refuse to work and remain in their cells, they can’t be safe.

Women in prison don’t deserve to be confined to a cell where they have no interaction with others. They don’t deserve to be ostracised from the other women due to trauma and fear. Why should these women lose out on education, exercise, religious groups, mental health support and family visits?


Women are tiptoeing on a never-ending bed of eggshells every time a man is placed in their prison. The crippling fear that you might accidentally call this man “he/him” is palpable throughout these vulnerable women. The punishments for “misgendering” these men vary. A woman can be charged, a woman can be written up which affects too many things to mention. She can have privileges withdrawn. She can be locked in her cell for longer than the usual 23 hours. She can have visitation removed and she can also be transferred to a different prison. Literally evicted for using the wrong pronoun (well the correct pronoun).


But the thing that kills them is the fact that they are often moved hundreds of miles away from the families because there are so few women’s prisons in the UK. Do these women really deserve to be dragged through the criminal justice system like this? Like they’re worthless? Do their children deserve any of this?


Prisons have a way of looking after vulnerable male prisoners in the male estate.

They’ve managed to do it up until now so what’s changed? There are many men who are more vulnerable than a man who changes his pronouns. Gay men, skinny men, effeminate men, younger men, older men, men with serious mental health issues, men with addictions, men who have committed crimes against children. These men are far more vulnerable and yet they are never transferred to a women’s prison, because we know mixed-sex prisons are not the answer.


It’s unethical, evil, extremely dangerous and downright wrong to house any male prisoner with female prisoners and we ALL know this.

That we’re pretending we don’t is quite frankly abhorrent. I can only assume some sort of cognitive dissonance has taken over the policy makers because to believe they do this wilfully to the detriment of women and their families makes me physically sick.


The legislators are taking one set of “vulnerable” men and housing them with extremely vulnerable women, some of the most vulnerable women in society. Men who have have committed crimes such as rape, murder, paedophilia, domestic violence and sexual assault, and yet these “vulnerable” men are locked up with women.


WOMEN ARE NOT HUMAN SHIELDS

"How a society treats its most vulnerable is always the measure of its humanity."

Statement by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the UK Mission to the UN at the Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict


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