UK: Convicted woman could not be “kept safe in a prison environment”

July 14, 2010

Laura Voyce (Image via Manchester Evening News)Via various sources I learn that Laura Voyce, convicted of downloading child pornography, has been handed a nine-months custodial sentence suspended for a year with supervision and 100 hours unpaid work because Judge Lesley Newton, sitting at Manchester Crown Court, said prison would be an “appalling experience” in which Ms Voyce’s safety could not be guaranteed.

Sentencing, Judge Newton told Voyce: “Frankly, you deserve to go to prison, but I can’t bring myself to send you to prison, entirely because I think prison would be an appalling experience for you.”

“I do not see how you could be kept safe in a prison environment with the best will in the world on the part of those who run such establishments.” [Daily Telegraph]

Predictably the tabloids’ “baying mob” (© J. Bindel 2008) – including some of the commenters – has gone to town on the story, not only with its usual bigoted hate speech against trans people generally, but also in its clamour for some sort of vigilante justice to be implemented by demanding that Ms Voyce be sent to a prison anyway, even (especially?) if it’s inappropriate for her as a self-identified woman. And don’t even start me on the cissexism implicit in the assertion that she committed the crime because she’s “biologically male”.

For what it’s worth, I’m not comfortable with the decision either – there are established and severe penalties for anyone convicted of downloading child pornography, and the law applies to all, whether trans or cis. In my view it’s child abuse, no more and no less, and the seriousness of the offence cannot and should not be understated.

But I believe that both the judge and the more reactionary elements of mainstream cis society have failed to address the underlying questions of why there’s no appropriate accommodation for trans women who may be convicted of offences which carry a custodial sentence; and of why nothing has been done to resolve the well-known “no match” situation (in this case, Ms Voyce hasn’t transitioned surgically and therefore is not able to receive any of the protections afforded by possessing a Gender Recognition Certificate)

So now we have a situation where a trans woman has been outed to the general public, convicted of (what is, in my opinion) a particularly nasty offence and (presumably) sent back to the address she was living at before. In the circumstances, I don’t understand how that’s necessarily going to be any safer for her than being sent to prison. It would be very easy to say, “She should have thought of that before she downloaded child pornography”, but to me that is an obvious kneejerk reaction which adds nothing to the discussion. Because until or unless the legal status of trans people who aren’t eligible for recognition under the terms of the Gender Recognition Act is clarified, then cases like this will surely happen again.

10 Responses to “UK: Convicted woman could not be “kept safe in a prison environment””

  1. msruthmoss Says:

    Yeah, everything you said here, in fact.

    The baying mob – I doubt they’ve realised that actually, if trans people were able to have their genders recognised legally more easily, then this woman would be going to (a women’s) prison after all.

    I’ve no sympathy for people who download child porn, but she shouldn’t be subject to a punishment any worse than a cis woman would have for the same crime.

    And absolutely – this idea that she committed the crime because she was “biologically male” as they put it – it’s transphobic, and also does that mean they think cis women don’t ever do anything like this? What bullshit. (Anyone remember Vanessa George?)

  2. Phoebe Says:

    I don’t believe not having had genital reconstructive/reassignment surgery is legally a pre-requisite for gender recognition under the GRA, whatever barriers and inquisition the GRP might throw into the way for non-op trans people.

    There are of course lots of other problems with the GRA.

  3. Helen G Says:

    I don’t believe not having had genital reconstructive/reassignment surgery is legally a pre-requisite for gender recognition under the GRA…

    And I believe your belief may be misplaced :)

    Having made my own GRC application last year, I know for a fact that this condition is referred to, albeit obliquely – unfortunately, it’s hidden away in the hectares of small print and not highlighted on either the main website along with the more well-known criteria, or on the application form itself, which merely states “The guidance notes to section 6 explain the nature of the report that is required”.

    If you download the guidance notes document (Guidance on completing an application form for a gender recognition certificate) from the Application for Gender Recognition page of the website and look at Section 6 Medical reports, it says under the subheading Report B:

    This report must include specific details of treatment ie whether you have undergone, are undergoing or are planning to undergo surgery for the purpose of modifying sexual characteristics.

    If you have not undergone surgery the report must explain why not.

    From discussions with my gender doc before I applied, it seems the view of both the medical profession and the GRP is that the only reasons likely to be considered exceptional would be if the applicant was thought to be either too old or too ill to safely undergo surgery. Otherwise (or so I was led to believe) the GRP would be looking for the specific details of the surgery the applicant had undergone.

    If it’s any consolation, you’re not the first person to believe there’s no requirement for surgery and I doubt you’ll be the last; as you say, there are many problems with the GRA, and the obscurity around the condition about surgery in the GRC application information is only one.

    To my mind, this requirement is nothing more or less than a manifestation of a more substantive problem with the legislation, which is that one’s legal status is tied to one’s surgical history. And, as Ruth points out in her comment above, if the legislation had permitted Ms Voyce to possess a GRC without having undergone surgery, then it’s unlikely her sentence would have been suspended, and she would have been sent to (a gender appropriate) prison. At which point, of course, there would have been a flood of cissexist comments in the media and elsewhere, riffing off the ‘restroom panic‘ trope, which I for one am sick to the teeth of hearing about.

  4. harukoraharu Says:

    I also have some problems with this.

    Doesn’t Italy have special prisons now? I can understand a little better having read the earlier post on EU transgender rights here, why there may be a higher number of people who have not had surgery if it is so difficult to get or keep employment, but I can’t imagine that to be the case here.

    I would be concerned that someone who has problems is changing sex at all when all the medical advice would say you need to be of sound body and mind (and imagine there would be even more fury from the Bindell brigade if her treatment and any future surgery is being funded through the NHS).

    That’s not to say I don’t feel sorry for her. There have been plenty of trans people who have suffered physical and emotional assault (or worse) while a lack of support from Police and Courts allowed it to continue and where were the haters then (probably happy) but who’s going to stick their neck out to defend the indefensible?

  5. Helen G Says:

    Doesn’t Italy have special prisons now?

    Last I heard, Italy was nearing completion of a prison cell block intended exclusively for use by transgender prisoners and was scheduled to open in March 2010.

    I don’t know if the staff are also trans people; and whether there is any long term benefit in segregating cis prisoners from the rest of us was a subject of some discussion, if I recall correctly.

    I can understand a little better having read the earlier post on EU transgender rights here, why there may be a higher number of people who have not had surgery if it is so difficult to get or keep employment, but I can’t imagine that to be the case here.

    I’m not sure I agree with this – society is transphobic by default and trans people the world over are routinely subject to discrimination in employment – although I’m not aware of any published statistics about the comparative extents of such discrimination in different countries.

    Additionally, in the UK, trans people are legally entitiled, at least nominally, to undergo surgery using the National Health Service system. (I say ‘nominally’, because the shortcomings of the system are well known to many in the trans community)

    I would be concerned that someone who has problems is changing sex at all when all the medical advice would say you need to be of sound body and mind…

    I think it might also be argued that the hypothetical ‘average trans person’ is no more or less of sound body and mind than the equivalent ‘average cis person’. Indeed, I’d go a step further and say that many of our health problems, particularly in the area of mental health, arise from the stigmatisation and pathologisation to which we are subjected when we transition. As far as I’m aware, the diagnoses of ‘gender dysphoria’ and ‘transsexualism’ are both categorised as forms of mental illness under both the DSM and the ICD and perhaps it might be argued that this labelling is as much a source of vexation, even as it enables medical/surgical transitioning.

    That’s not to say I don’t feel sorry for her. There have been plenty of trans people who have suffered physical and emotional assault (or worse) while a lack of support from Police and Courts allowed it to continue and where were the haters then (probably happy) but who’s going to stick their neck out to defend the indefensible?

    Agreed.

  6. Phoebe Says:

    Ah, right. I guess that my stipulation that it’s *legally* not the case is then irrelevant as long as the panel can read it into the law that blocking recognition pathways for people who are non-op is legitimate. I’ve known a few people who are post GRS (and several years transitioned through usual medical pathways) who’ve been rejected for spurious reasons so I wonder how much of this is part of a further endemic problem with the people applying the GRA to people.

  7. Youngsook Says:

    If she is sent to prison and even if it is women’s one, she will be probably detained on a vulnerable prisoners’ wing which is a segregated cell from others. Humans are social beings. No human contact for long period can cause another mental health problems such as self-harm in many cases. An American psychiatrist, Dr. George Brown condemns this treatment as an excessive:’This is a type of punishment on top of punishment just because you are transsexual.’

    In Ms. Voyce’s case, public outing is pretty much replaced a public pillory that has put a red marker on her almost permanently. Her life will be more difficult than ever. While her crime is bad enough to be treated in justice system, I wonder this kind of public exposure is the case for all other people who convicted the same crime.

  8. chartreuseflamethrower Says:

    I’m glad they realize that. I think even some trans women who’ve legally changed their gender (and are post-op, so there’s really NO justification) have been thrown into men’s prison, even if just overnight.

    It’s really unfortunate that so many people think trans people deserve extra punishment than cis people for the same crime.


  9. […] UK: Convicted woman could not be “kept safe in a prison environment” […]


  10. I am not familiar with the case myself. Is Britain’s child pornography law written only to cover that which uses children in its production, or, does it have the baying mob standard applied in Canada, where drawings, stories, or any other fictional depiction, even adults pretending to be underage, can be considered child pornography?

    Forgive my ignorance, but it’s germane to the situation and evaluating the sentence, I would submit.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: