Protect the female estate

The feminist fix: separate facilities for transgender individuals is the fairest way forward

Artillery Row

“Protect the female estate” is the third article in Julie Bindel’s new online column for The Critic, “The feminist fix”, which explores feminism’s answer to today’s challenges. The second article, on protecting women from male violence, can be read here.

How can we protect female prisoners from the dangers posed by male-bodied sex offenders? Keeping prisons single sex would be a good start.

Earlier this year I interviewed Amy*, a former prisoner who was sexually assaulted by another inmate: a transwoman with convictions for sex offences, including against children. Amy had challenged the Ministry of Justice over the policy of allowing male-bodied sex offenders in the female estate, but the judge ruled that barring all transwomen from women’s prisons would ignore their right to live as their “chosen gender”.

As it stands, women’s prisons can house inmates who were born male but identify as female, regardless of whether they have gone through any physical transformation or have obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate. The arguments from trans activists go like this: “Transwomen are not safe in the male estate because they are raped, sexually assaulted, beaten up, and bullied. Aside from this, trans-women are women, so how can they possibly survive like a fish out of water among men?” 

The MoJ argued that the current policy is about “protecting transgender people’s mental and physical health”, but it is obvious that there is a clash of rights between transwomen and natal women when it comes to protection from sexual assault.

The reason we have single sex spaces is because a sizeable minority of men carry out sex crimes and harassment towards women and girls. There is evidence to suggest that transwomen inmates are five times more likely than non-transgender prisoners to commit sexual assault on a non-transgender prisoner.

Male prisoners need to learn to accept trans-identified males into their spaces

In the tradition of women’s lives and wellbeing falling way behind that of men, female prisoners are expected to accept being at risk of physical and sexual violence, and to accommodate potentially dangerous individuals. Prisons are full of women who have been sexually assaulted and raised with domestic violence, sexual abuse and neglect. The current conviction rate for reported rapes is currently less than one per cent in England and Wales; it is more likely that the victim of a rape will end up in prison as a result of the trauma inflicted upon her than the rapist himself.

What is to be done about it? Men’s prisons are brutal places, with rape and other forms of aggression inflicted on younger, more vulnerable inmates by those higher up in the pecking order. Feminists should be fighting to reform the prison system and to afford better protection for all across the female and male estates. Our prisons ought to be free from individuals that pose no threat to others. Male prisoners need to learn to accept trans-identified males into their spaces rather than kicking their heads in or sexually assaulting them.

Of course, transwomen are also at risk of rape in the outside world, as are natal males. Some transwomen also experience domestic violence. The key issue here is that the perpetrators of these crimes are almost always men. So, rather than trans activists demanding the use of women-only services such as refuges and rape crisis centres, they should do what feminists did back in the 1960s and 70s and set up their own.

Myself and other feminists have on numerous occasions offered to help the trans community establish such organisations. But those demanding that women must roll over to allow natal males in our spaces don’t want to set up these bodies; they want to invade ours. The vast majority of transgender women would be perfectly happy with a third space catering to their own community, and do not feel entitled to use those facilities set up specifically for women.

It is high time that the risk to transwomen — posed not by feminists like myself but by violent and abusive men — is recognised. Why should women mop up the mess of male violence against other vulnerable groups? Why can’t transwomen be welcomed rather than abused in male prisons, changing rooms and other single-sex facilities? When women are at risk of sexual assault and harassment on a daily basis, why can we not have any spaces where we feel safe from the prospect of abuse? Women-only spaces and sex-based legal rights, now massively under threat across the UK, are in place because feminists fought for them.

Apart from the odd exception, women and girls tend to be socialised to put our needs behind those of men, to be “nice” and accommodating to their desires. The sense of entitlement many men have been raised with does not magically disappear once they decide to transition and live as a woman. The solution to keeping transwomen safe from male violence is not to put natal women at further risk, such as by the likes of Karen White, but to recognise that separate facilities for transgender individuals is the fairest way forward.

 *Name has been changed to protect identity

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