Incarcerated Transgender Women's Lives Must Matter

“I am not alone in this struggle”

Candice Crowder, a 33-year-old Black trans woman who filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court alleging she spent months in solitary confinement after she said she was raped while in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Photo Illustration by Anagraph.

Candice Crowder, a 33-year-old Black trans woman who filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court alleging she spent months in solitary confinement after she said she was raped while in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Photo Illustration by Anagraph.

On Jan. 7, a 33-year-old Black trans woman named Candice Crowder filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court alleging that she spent nine months in solitary confinement after she reported that she was raped by a cellmate while in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The lawsuit amends an August 2017 complaint filed by Crowder alleging that while in CDCR custody, she “endured extreme abuse, trauma, discrimination, and retaliation,” which included sexual assault, death threats, and “being deliberately placed in harm’s way by correctional staff.”

Crowder’s ordeal began in August 2015 when she was housed in California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility at Corcoran State Prison with a man who she said harassed her and forced her to perform sex acts on him. On Sept. 13, 2015, according to the lawsuit, Crowder’s cellmate raped her. After reporting the assaults, Crowder was placed in solitary confinement for approximately nine months. Crowder sought to press charges against the cellmate and when she demanded medical attention, she was reportedly told that it “was unnecessary because the incident had occurred four months prior.” Years later, Crowder was informed by prison officials that her rape case had been closed just days after it was opened.

On Sept. 15, 2016, Crowder was transferred to the California Medical Facility where she encountered a former boyfriend who she said threatened to kill her and later slashed her in a dining hall with a box cutter. After the attack, Crowder was placed in isolation again and began experiencing seizures. In her lawsuit, Crowder describes how correctional staff blamed her for her assault and said “it was her fault for choosing to live a transgender ‘lifestyle’” and that she was “asking for it.” When Crowder was finally able to access medical care, she received 63 stitches and 14 staples in her head; the brutality of the attack caused significant hearing loss in her right ear and chronic pain.

“I am not alone in this struggle,” Crowder said in a statement released by her attorneys. “I refuse to be silenced while correctional staff harm me and my community. Unfortunately, my resilience has come at a great cost. I hope that CDCR finally realizes it has a problem and takes meaningful action to address its anti-LGBTQ culture so that no more transgender prisoners have to endure what I have survived.”

Recently, the #MeToo movement promised a much more expansive fight against sexual violence. But Crowder and Norsworthy—who was serving a sentence for second-degree murder—remind us that we cannot abandon so-called “difficult victims” like incarcerated people, particularly incarcerated women and particularly incarcerated trans women.

This article by Zoé Samudzi originally appeared on The Appeal on January 28, 2019.