Formerly Incarcerated People and Advocates Call for an End to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in CA Prisons at a Rally at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | October 31, 2019

Leaders of the #MeTooBehindBars campaign rallied at CDCR to expose how the prison system uses sexual and gender-based violence to target people who they incarcerate

Press Contact: 

Layla Crater, layla@change-llc.com, 310-804-3107
Bilen Mesfin Packwood, bilen@change-llc.com, 510-681-5978

SACRAMENTO, CA — On October 30, California Coalition for Women Prisoners and Young Women’s Freedom Center organized a #MeTooBehindBars rally at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in Sacramento. The rally aimed to expose how the prison system uses sexual and gender-based violence, including homophobia and transphobia, to target incarcerated people, particularly transgender, gender non-conforming and LGBQ people and women.

“My story is one of thousands of stories,” said Rojas, an organizer with Young Women’s Freedom Center (YWFC) and California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), a survivor of homophobic assault behind bars and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It has taken a lot to get us to this place to even have complaints to file against CDCR. Physical and sexual assault happens all the time. If we don’t stick together, continue to call for CDCR to be held accountable and keep this movement going, it will happen again.”

The rally included remarks from formerly incarcerated activists sharing their experiences behind bars, CCWP members, YWFC staff and leadership, Survived and Punished members and civil rights attorneys working on the #MeTooBehindBars legal team. Attendees marched to the CDCR building holding banners and chanting “stop abuse by COs, stop abuse behind bars”, “no business as usual” and “sexual assault is not consent.”

“While incarcerated, I watched seven people pass away in 18 months,” said Taylor, a member of CCWP. “I know if I go back in, I will not make it out. CDCR, you didn’t rehabilitate me, you scared me to death. I’m only asking the CDCR to be accountable for their actions like I was held accountable.”

The #MeTooBehindBars campaign was launched in response to a lawsuit filed against the CDCR by four plaintiffs who are or were incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). The lawsuit denounces two assaults where correctional officers used physical force, sexually harassed, and used homophobic and transphobic insults against the plaintiffs, all of whom identify as transgender, gender non-conforming (GNC) or queer. Medical treatment was not provided for their injuries and they were placed in isolation cages where they were subjected to further sexual humiliation and denied access to bathrooms.

“What happens to people behind bars is torture perpetrated by an intentional, evil system,” said Anne Butterfield Weills, a civil rights attorney representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit against CDCR. “It’s based not just on punishment but on an attempt to destroy human life psychologically and physically. To take this system down, we need legislation and lawsuits, but we also need movements like these. Thank you for being here today.”

The #MeTooBehindBars campaign contextualizes this injustice within the growing movement against prisons and state violence in California and across the U.S. The campaign also expands an understanding of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and harassment beyond specific incidences as a systematic form of power and control enacted through the state. It exposes how women, transgender, GNC and queer people remain unprotected from daily harassment, humiliation, assault, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia and how the system fails to hold accountable those who inflict harm. #MeTooBehindBars also aims to influence the #MeToo movement by encouraging transformative justice rather than expanding systems of policing and incarceration that rely on gender violence.

While many women in prison are sexually violated and harassed, in the past few years there has been an increasing pattern of physical and sexual violence against transgender, GNC and queer women prisoners at CCWF. These incidents represent a backlash against hard-won legal rights for trans people in prison.

About California Coalition for Women Prisoners

California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) is a grassroots social justice organization, with members inside and outside prison, that challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC). CCWP sees the struggle for racial and gender justice as central to dismantling the PIC and prioritizes the leadership of the people, families, and communities most impacted in building this movement. For more information visit womenprisoners.org.

About Young Women’s Freedom Center

The mission of the Young Women’s Freedom Center, originally called Young Women’s Development Center, is to empower and inspire young women who have been involved with the juvenile justice system and/or the street economy to create positive change in their lives and communities. Since 1993, the organization has begun their transformative work by meeting young women where they are: in juvenile halls, jails, and on the streets and linking youth development and youth organizing strategies with the mission to provide gender-specific, peer-based opportunities for high-risk, low- and no-income young women. For more information visit youngwomenfree.org