Intersex woman sues after ‘cruel treatment’ in men’s prison

yatala labour prison south australia intersex woman
Yatala Labour Prison. Image: 7News

An intersex woman has lodged a discrimination complaint after suffering “cruel and degrading” treatment when authorities put her in a men’s prison.

South Australian authorities put the complainant in a male prison, despite a judge recommending she serve in a women’s facility, a tribunal heard.

The woman has lodged a discrimination complaint against the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) and the Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN).

She says they violated the state’s Equal Opportunity Act in the services they provided to her, ABC News reported.

The complainant was born as an intersex person and assigned female at birth. But as a child she was given a male name and lived as a male.

In 2014 she transitioned to female and took hormone replacement therapy. She has official documentation confirming her gender as female.

In 2019, the woman was arrested and the court ordered that she be remanded in custody.

The magistrate noted she identifies as female and recommended that she be sent to a women’s prison.

But the Department of Correctional Services instead took her to Adelaide men’s facility Yatala Labour Prison.

‘Cruel and degrading’ treatment in men’s prison

While in custody, the woman claims she was exposed to ridicule and “cruel and degrading” treatment.

Authorities then transferred her to two hospitals before she entered home detention. The charges in the case were later withdrawn.

Then in 2020, police charged the woman with further offences and again remanded her in custody.

She was initially taken to a women’s prison in Adelaide,  but was then transferred to Yatala men’s prison.

The woman claims there she was subjected to further ridicule. A male guard allegedly asked her inappropriate questions about her genitalia and referred to her as “he” or “it”.

She said the prison denied her access to her medication and subjected her to invasive medical examinations without consent.

The woman alleged another prisoner also threatened her with rape.

Tribunal rejects call to dismiss intersex woman’s complaint

Both of the South Australia government departments named asked the Tribunal to throw out the complaint.

They argued there was “inadequate” detail on the individual incidents and how the incidents involved “services” under the Equal Opportunity Act, the ABC reported.

However, the tribunal disagreed and has ordered the case proceed.

The tribunal noted that department’s own policy on Transgender and Intersex Offenders offers clear guidelines for staff.

Those include specific rules around privacy, strip searches, and the process determining if a prisoner is housed in a male or female facility.

A spokesperson for DCS told the ABC “thorough assessment and planning” is undertaken when a transgender prisoner is admitted to custody to ensure “appropriate placement and supports are in place”.

“DCS is committed to meeting the needs of transgender and intersex offenders and prisoners, while seeking to ensure their safety and the safety of others is not compromised,” the spokesperson said.

“The department’s relevant policies ensure transgender and intersex offenders and prisoners are treated with equivalent respect and dignity that is accorded to all offenders.”

The spokesperson said they could make no further comment as the matter is still before the court.

The tribunal will hear the intersex woman’s case at a later date.

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