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.