Credit: The Silenced Protest

‘Violent Men in women’s prisons’: Protest at Mountjoy over housing of transgender inmate 

Campaigners who organised a protest outside Mountjoy Female Prison’s Dóchas Centre on Saturday over the housing of a transgender inmate there have told Gript that their presence was met with support from members of the public.

The Silenced Protest urged the government and the prison service to act now to “protect female prisoners.”

Activists from The Silenced Protest and Women’s Space Ireland were among those who gathered outside the prison on Saturday to protest a violent transgender inmate being held there.

Shauna Kavanagh, previously known as Shaun Kavanagh, was convicted on Friday after pleading guilty to causing harm to a homeless woman at the Novas Centre on Rathmines Road in Dublin, in April last year.

Kavanagh (35) – who holds a gender recognition certificate – has 15 previous convictions for offences including several for assault, public order, theft and criminal damage, and is already serving sentences imposed in May and in March.

Dublin District Court heard how the hairdresser repeatedly punched and pulled clumps of hair out of the victim’s head during an unprovoked assault. The court heard how Kavanagh, who was jailed in 2021 for assaulting a family friend, was unrepentant.

Kavanagh targeted the victim after a confrontation broke out, when the woman accused Kavanagh of stealing an Easter egg, the court was told. Kavanagh attacked the woman in the homeless shelter, sitting on top of her, and repeatedly punching the woman with a closed fist – leaving the victim “terrified.”

Kavanagh’s defence solicitor, John Shanley, said that his client had been doing “extremely well” prior to going into custody, and was now housed in Mountjoy Prisons’s Dochas Centre, where 23 and a half hours a day are spent locked up with no socialising.

Kavanagh was finding life very difficult in prison, according to Mr Shanley.In 2021, Kavanagh’s defence barrister during the trial for the assault of a family friend, told the Judge that there were only two transgender prisoners in the Irish Prison system, both being held in women’s jails, and kept separate from the rest of the female population.

Marie Purcell, spokeswoman for The Silenced Protest, said concerned women from across the country comprise the group, which made headlines in May for its protest as Justice Minister Simon Harris opened the new male wing at Limerick Prison.

The group were also behind the questioning of Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Broin, who, earlier this year, seemed to have difficulty answering the question, “What is a woman?” when approached by a member of the group outside Leinster House.

“We’ve received support from several TDs and senators, who have come and spoken to us and stood with us,” Ms Purcell said.

Ms Purcell told Gript that the organisation’s message was a straightforward one – that biological males should not be housed with biological women, regardless of whether or not they have a Gender Recognition Certificate.

She said the women most impacted by the housing of male-born prisoners have already suffered “trauma” and male violence, making them particularly vulnerable and in need of protection.

“We know from statistics around the world, that female prisoners make up a very small percentage of the prison population – because they are women. The majority of that very small percentage are in there for non-violent crimes. In Ireland, a lot of it would be for petty crimes and non-payment of fines. Overwhelmingly, these women are drawn from socially deprived areas,” Ms Purcell said.

“They’ve almost invariably had trauma in their lives, and the majority of these women have suffered male violence at one point in their lives. So these are vulnerable women. They are the most vulnerable women and the most disenfranchised women not just in Irish society but in every society,” she said.

“These women do not have a voice, and they are stuck in there. Because of the Gender Recognition Act, passed in 2015 by a huge majority, brought in under the radar, we now have a situation where someone can simply fill out an A4 form for free, have it stamped by a solicitor, and that’s it: you are then, for all purposes, now a woman.

“The Law Society did flag this a number of years ago, but this presents huge problems because it means there are going to be men in women’s prisons.

“We were at Dochas protesting because this individual, who has committed very serious assaults, decided he was a woman, got himself a gender recognition cert, and was sent to Limerick women’s prison,” she added.

“This man was able to access a women’s only refuge centre for vulnerable homeless women, after being released from prison, and it was there, in late 2022, that he was free to seriously assault a woman there. He punched her with a closed fist four or five times. He was on top of her, punching her repeatedly. He should never have been sanctioned to go into that female facility.

“He is currently being housed in Dochas for offences, according to the Irish Mirror, for offences which occurred in March and May, and he is due to get out this month. He was automatically sent to a women’s prison, and this shouldn’t be the case,” Ms Purcell added.

She said that Kavanagh was in this cell for most of the day, but that this was happening because the authorities were going along with the “pretence” that he was a woman.

“It’s reported that he is kept in his cell for 23 hours a day, which is of course a breach of his human rights. He has to be kept away from the women, but yet he is in the women’s prison. There is an insistence that he must be in a women’s prison because we all have to pretend that this man is a woman,” she said.

“He is a very violent man, but even if he wasn’t a very violent man, he remains a man. It is a breach of the UN rules on imprisonment and the safety and dignity of prisoners,” she said.

“That is what is happening at the moment in Ireland, and there will be more cases like this. Our protest was about highlighting our opposition to this, and we got huge public support, because everybody – male or female – knows that this is really wrong. This man shouldn’t be in there, and it is also a breach of his human rights.

“Under international regulations, it amounts to torture that he is kept in the women’s prison, in his cell for 23 hours a day. We’ve already heard about the experiences of women, as ex-prisoners, and ex-residents of hostels, having to be housed with males.

Ms Purcell referred to the testimonies given by female prisoners at Limerick Prison on the Paddy O’Gorman podcast:

“These women have spoken about how they have had to endure the threats and abuse of these men – threats of rape and murder. They may not be able to access them physically, but they have been able to intimidate them. These are women  who have been at the hard end of male violence and male sexual violence before in their lives. Prison is a really intimidating place for anyone, and this is what these women are having to tolerate, and what the State is doing to Irish women,” she said.

“This situation just shows that these women, who are already at the bottom of the heap a lot of the time – they’ve been sidelined in the education system and in life – and when they end up in jail, they are subject to this abuse. The State, therefore, is showing them again and again, ‘We have no respect for you, you don’t matter.’

“The Silenced Protest is trying to send a message that these women do matter, just as much as any other women, and every woman matters. The point of our silent protests is to show the public that we stand in solidarity with the women inside the prisons, and we will not stand for this any longer,” Ms Purcell said.

Laoise De Brun, head of the Countess, said that the placing of men in women’s prisons was “an abomination” which must be dealt with by politicians as a matter of urgency.” Ms de Brun, a barrister and activist, called on TDs to sign a bill designed by the group to tackle the issue – months after the British government changed the law to stop male-born prisoners being kept in women’s prisons in England and Wales following a series of high-profile cases which sparked public concern.

“Our message to progressives, conservatives, concerned citizens and the increasing number of politicians with misgivings both public and private, is this: the placing of men who say they are women, in the shelters and prisons of vulnerable females in this country is an abomination and perhaps the most visceral of the many unintended consequences of our radical Self-ID laws,” Ms De Brun told Gript.

“As a matter of urgency, we are calling on TDs to sign our bill which will remove all men from Dochas and the Women’s wing of Limerick Prison. It is clear that these violent men are exploiting the GRA to avoid serving their time in male prison. We welcome this protest and stand in solidarity with our fellow activists and grassroots groups in Ireland,” she said.

Women’s Space Ireland, who were also in attendance at Saturday’s protest, pointed to the change in British law, which means that male-born prisoners can no longer be housed with females. The new transgender prisoner policy for England and Wales came into force in February, which applies regardless of whether the individual has a Gender Recognition Certificate.

“Another transgender prisoner, Barbie Kardashian, has been moved to a men’s prison proving that men with Gender Recognition Certificates don’t have to be in a women’s prison” a spokeswoman for the group said.
The group said it was calling on TDs to support the Gender Recognition (Amendment) (Prisons) Bill 2023 proposed by The Countess women’s group to stop men being housed in women’s prisons.
They referred to comments made last month by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who said that Ireland’s self-id that “It’s in place for almost 8 years & generally has worked well.”

“Putting men in women’s jails is one area which the Taoiseach would probably agree hasn’t worked well. He also said recently that he doesn’t believe violent males should be kept in women’s jails,” Jill Nesbitt of WSI said.

“Why is the Government rushing to put through referenda on ‘gender equality’ but hasn’t yet produced a policy on transgender prisoners to protect women?” she asked.

“We see yet again that the safety and well-being of vulnerable women – homeless women and women prisoners – have been neglected in order to facilitate men who ‘identify’ as women. We haven’t heard one word yet from Government about how the rights and needs of women are to be protected,” Ms Nesbitt added.

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