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Strawberry Hampton, a transgender woman currently serving a ten-year sentence for residential burglary at Dixon Correctional Center, the fourth male prison she's been transferred to within the year, filed new claims against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) on July 17 stating that she's been sexually and physically assaulted by inmates and prison guards, and requesting she be transferred to Logan Correctional Center, a women's prison.
But her harassment at Dixon is only one episode in the ongoing abuse she claims to have suffered while in IDOC custody, according to her complaints. Hampton's lawsuit, filed on her behalf by the MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People's Law Center, argues that the IDOC has inappropriately assigned her to a men's prison, stating that Hampton's "physical and emotional well-being are in jeopardy at Dixon, and will be in any men's facility."
"The IDOC has never articulated any reasons" for why they won't transfer Hampton, said Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People's Law Center, on Thursday. "The most they've said is that women sometimes get harassed in prison, so there's no guarantee she'd be protected."
Hampton has lived as a woman since she was five and has continued to do so through her incarceration. She is chemically castrated, and her testosterone levels are a fraction of the average male's.
In April, the IDOC filed to dismiss Hampton's complaints, stating that she had "failed to exhaust [her] administrative remedies as required prior to filing." Mills resisted this, calling the motion absurd. He added that Hampton has "done everything required by law, and gone well beyond the minimum required, going so far as to email lengthy documentation to the Director. The IDOC's attempt to deny Ms. Hampton her day in court is beyond reprehensible."
Hampton's lawsuit alleges countless harms that Hampton has suffered while in IDOC custody, with new filings that claim she was "sexually harassed and assaulted [by another prisoner who] kissed her and groped her breasts and buttocks. He also repeatedly threatened to rape her, stab her, and cause her physical harm."
Though Hampton filed a complaint in response to this mistreatment, the prisoner was never disciplined for his actions, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit adds that not only have inmates abused and harassed Hampton, but so have the guards whose duty it is to protect her. She claims that officers at the Lawrence Correctional Facility have repeatedly used slurs such as gay, fag, thing, and it toward her, and that officers at the Menard Correctional Center "forced her to expose her genitalia and breasts, touch herself sexually, stick her finger in her anus, and move her body in sexually suggestive ways all while they stood outside her cell door and watched."
She filed a complaint against Pinckneyville Correctional Center guards for forcing her to have sex with her cellmate for their entertainment, which resulted in her being transferred to Menard, according to the lawsuit.
Months of this abuse has resulted in serious mental harm to Hampton, who in addition to being diagnosed with gender dysphoria by IDOC staff in 2012 was designated "seriously mentally ill." Hampton claims that the abuse she continues to suffer gives her flashbacks to past abuses, resulting in high anxiety and severe depression.
On June 26, Hampton attempted suicide by hanging herself. "Staff found her unconscious and dragged her out of her cell," the lawsuit claims. After leaving crisis watch three days later, Hampton attempted to hang herself again and was once more placed on crisis watch, according to the lawsuit, which adds that in February, while at the Lawrence Correctional Center, Hampton tried to hang herself four separate times.
Mills claimed that Hampton is "not receiving the level of help the department says she needs" while at Dixon.
The lawsuit maintains that the only way the IDOC can prevent this abuse is if Hampton is transferred to a women's prison, which she has repeatedly requested.
IDOC spokesperson Lindsey Hess rejected these claims in a statement via e-mail:
"The Illinois Department of Corrections maintains a strict zero tolerance policy toward all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. While incarcerated within the IDOC, offender safety is paramount and all allegations of sexual abuse and harassment are taken seriously and investigated. The Department maintains 100% compliance with the national standards of the Prison Rape Elimination Act as determined by certified independent privately contracted auditors. The Department carefully considers housing assignments and the unique needs of offenders who identify as transgender. All complaints filed by Deon Hampton have been investigated and handled accordingly."
Hampton's transfer would be one of the first times a transgender woman was assigned to a women's prison. In 2016, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) report showed that there were no transgender detainees at the women's prisons, but 28 transgender women were housed by the 24 male prisons.
This housing assignment is especially hostile toward transgender women, who are more likely to be assaulted in prison, the lawsuit claims, citing the PREA Resource Center ("being transgender is a known risk factor for being sexually victimized in confinement settings") as well as a 2014 U.S. Department of Justice report that found "almost 40 percent of transgender prisoners reported sexual victimization in state and federal prisons—a rate that is ten times higher than for prisoners in general."
If Hampton is transferred, "she won't stand out anymore," said Mills. "She won't be a woman isolated amongst a sea of men."
Her next hearing is August 27 in East Saint Louis. v