Following allegations of mistreatment, Ashley Diamond, a Black transgender woman, is suing the Georgia Department of Corrections for sexual assault by both inmates and correctional staff. Diamond, who is being represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), filed the lawsuit on Monday. In it, she alleges that officials failed to protect her from sexual assault and they inflicted harm on her directly.
Since 2019, Diamond says she has been assaulted 14 times. In addition to verbal and physical abuse, Diamond accused the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) of denying her medically necessary treatments and putting her in a men's prison — despite the risk to her safety. The lawsuit alleges that being put in a men’s housing assignment has specifically caused her to be violated repeatedly.
“Being a woman in a men’s prison is a nightmare. I’ve been stripped of my identity. I never feel safe. Never. I experience sexual harassment on a daily basis, and the fear of sexual assault is always a looming thought. I’m bringing this lawsuit to bring about change on behalf of a community that deserves the inherent dignity to simply exist,” Diamond said in a statement from CCR.
This is not the first time that Diamond is suing the GDC, either. In February 2015, Diamond filed a lawsuit challenging the abusive conditions that incarcerated transgender people in Georgia prisons face and won a historic settlement agreement, which triggered significant reforms in Georgia. The GDC rescinded its “freeze frame” policy that prevented trans people from receiving the hormone therapy treatment they need, and adopted new sexual assault prevention policies. Diamond was released on parole later in 2015. However, since becoming incarcerated again in 2019, Diamond has been met with similar unconstitutional conditions.
According to CCR, Diamond’s case “exposes how GDC's policies and practices perpetuate transphobia and gender and sexual-based violence.” Black transgender people, who are incarcerated at disproportionately high rates, also face disproportionate levels of violanece. A survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality shows that approximately 16 percent of trans people of all ethnicities are incarcerated in their lifetimes, and that one out of two (or 47 percent) of Black trans people are incarcerated.
Data collected by the Department of Justice also shows that at least 40 percent of incarcerated transgender people have been sexually assaulted — which is more than ten times the general prison population rate. 2020 has been one of the deadliest years for trans people so far — specifically Black trans women — with 36 violent deaths in the U.S. that have been documented, though it’s likely that the number is even higher.
“We sued Georgia prisons on Ashley’s behalf before and, unfortunately, we’re having to sue again to end the abhorrent treatment of transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, in Georgia’s prisons. Five years after changing its policies in response to our first lawsuit, GDC tragically continues to flout its legal obligations to protect transgender people in its custody,” Beth Littrell, senior attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement. “The assaults and threats that Ashley continues to face on a daily basis are based on the fact that she is a woman in a men’s prison – it’s intolerable and inexcusable.”
Diamond’s lawyers are advocating that she be transferred out of a men’s facility, and that she be given access to vital healthcare. They're also arguing that the minimum standards of adequate attention for incarcerated transgender people goes beyond hormone therapy and includes additional care that affirms their gender.
“Together with the Southern Poverty Law Center, we are holding the Georgia Department of Corrections accountable, helping to make more visible the experiences and courageous organizing of trans people in Georgia prisons and working with and uplifting the incredible work of grassroots allies who are fighting for the safety, dignity, and rights of all trans people,” CCR says.
Refinery29 has contacted the Georgia Department of Corrections for comment, but was unable to reach a representative. We will update this story as we know more.