Trans Abuse in US Detention Centers

This article from Human Rights Watch documents abuse faced by transgender women in the United States, focusing on their experiences in detention centers. People who identify as transgender are already at a higher risk of being sexually abused, and their vulnerability is even greater as immigrants. As the article points out, the United States does very little to protect this group. Over half of the detained are placed in men’s facilities, half experience solitary confinement, and many are denied hormones. It is not uncommon for prisoners and guards assault transgender individuals, and if the abuse is not physical, profound distress is often caused verbally.

Human Rights Watch did well to make this story personal; they had multiple detailed accounts from transgender women. Each tell a unique story which connects experiences in their home country to those in the USA, and each give chilling accounts of the abuse they faced. These stories, coupled with the statistics Human Rights Watch gathered in what is a well-crafted nut graph, provide a compelling argument for the article’s ultimate message; the US government must protect trans women from abuse and provide adequate medical care. For a richer article, I would have liked to see some statistics on what countries these women are coming from. I am also left curious how this issue has changed over time, especially as it relates to policy. Additionally, I wonder if Human Rights Watch tried to contact government officials, guards, or other prisoners, because having one of their accounts, even if indirect, could add an important perspective to the story.

How do you think this article could make a more compelling argument for better treatment of trans people in detention facilities? How could Human Rights Watch further connect this issue to the broader US population?





8 Responses to “Trans Abuse in US Detention Centers”

  1. I appreciated this article, and I am glad that trans issues are being included in our discussion of sexual assault this week. I agree that the article is strong overall, with a clear and well-crafted lede and nut graph. It is well-organized and flows well, and I found the personal stories of the women effective.

    One point I’d like to make is that Human Rights Watch is not an independent news agency – it is a politically-active NGO that does human rights advocacy work. It has a clear bias and objective. Does this change how we should read the article? You mentioned that the (potentially opposing) perspectives of government officials, guards, and other prisoners were not included in this report. HRW is advocating for these women, so it makes sense that it doesn’t want to bring in anti-HRW and potentially hurtful perspectives. However, we are so used to “balanced,” “unbiased” news articles that the report feels incomplete without some acknowledgement of the opposing view.

    • Thank you Kelly. I made the decision to use this article because it was the most in-depth look at this issue that I could find, but I realized after posting that it may have been wise to avoid using an article from an NGO, and that their motivations may make presenting the “other side” of the issue more unlikely.

      • I’m glad you decided to post the in-depth article! I think it’s still educational, and that news stories with a clear viewpoint/from NGOs still have merit. I was just wondering how this article would have been different if, say, it was written for the New York Times… Anyone have any ideas?

  2. This article is very well structured and organized. It has all of the parts of a news article that we’ve been taught to analyze (lede, nut graph, and kicker). The story adds to the article by making it more personal and the reader can sympathize with her situation. The article does a good job of describing the problem and explaining the need for change.

    I agree that it would be interesting to get the opposite side of the story. It would be interesting to get a comment from a guard or the warden. It would be interesting to find out the financials for these prisons; is there room in the budget to open more prisons for only transgender people? It would be interesting to get a perspective on what can be done to make progress in opening transgender prisons. I would also like to see how the government is responding to this issue.

  3. I agree with Andrew as well as the other blog posters. The article starts out in a very engaging way, convincing readers to read on through storytelling and statistics that highlight the importance of the issue. However, there was one part of this article that I wish the writer put more information.

    “The new policy is an important development, but the measures lack an independent oversight mechanism to ensure that they are carried out at individual detention centers, Human Rights Watch said.”

    I was left confused after this last sentence, which states the new policy toward detaining transgender women was effectively meaningless. I wish the article went more in-depth and explained what this oversight mechanism might look like to prevent this issue from happening in the future. Also, I would have liked to see more information on how other groups are responding to this issue, both private and public, instead of just highlighting the problem.

  4. I agree- this is a very well-thought-out article. One of the things I noticed immediately is that the author has deliberately made the article accessible to anyone from any level of knowledge- LGBT is spelled out before it is abbreviated, and for anyone with questions about Transgender people, there is an immediate link to their page on LGBT rights, clearly detailing their stance. HRW does nothing to conceal its bias- clearly, this organization is in favor of trans rights- but that’s not a bad thing; this is a subject that’s frequently ignored by mainstream media, and by making the article accessible and filling it with powerful quotes, it’d be almost impossible to click away from it without feeling passionately about the issue.

    I’ll copy what Arjan said- the last sentence needed to be fleshed out a little more. It doesn’t feel like a good closer. It’s like there’s something lacking, another paragraph or two to describe who is doing what to protect trans people in detention.

  5. Though Human Rights Watch does have a clear bias as an NGO focused on advocacy, I agree that this subject is well presented and deserves more media attention. By implementing specific transgender women’s stories, the article immediately elicits a personal approach, drawing any reader in and effectively explaining the situation with powerful quotes, as Al mentioned. However, I do feel as if the article became slightly repetitive towards the end, with a less than resolved closer on a direction for the future. I wish that HWR had taken the time to elaborate on direct actions for how they hope to proceed with improving the lives of immigrant transgender women in the US.

    Additionally, I was bothered by the fact that the graphic depicting “Monserrath’s Journey” was only relevant if you watched the embedded video. Because she was not mentioned in writing, this could be potentially confusing for readers who may not take the time to watch the attached clip, especially since dedicating a large graphic to her story seems to elevate its importance.

  6. Excellent discussion! I want to point out that last year, one of our former students won both a Sweetland Writing Center Award and a regional Society of Professional Journalists’ Honorable Mention for her news feature about trans rape on campus. Here’s the link:
    I believe that part of the reason why this story captured so much attention from judges was because it broadened the conversation about sexual assault on campuses to include the trans perspective. Also, it was timely. President Obama’s executive order about allowing people to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity was in the news — as it is again today. Here’s a story about President Trump reversing Obama’s order:

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