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Thursday, 15 April 2010

South Africa: The woman who spent 7 months in a male cell

Prison cellImage by decade_null via Flickr
Source: Global Voices

By Haute Haiku

Before she was acquitted of attempted robbery and hijacking in South Africa, Denise Abbah was imprisoned in a male cell for seven months as she waited for her trial. The prison officials mistook her for a transvestite. Ms Abbah is now seeking justice as she is suing the Department of Correctional  Services for damages amounting to R100 000.

According to IOL six years after her release Denise Abbah is ready for a fight with the department on the ordeal she went through. Denise is a mother of five:
There is nothing manly about 36-year-old Durban mother Denise Abbah. She is quite pleasant and no one in their right mind would suggest she looks like a man

Yet she was thrown into a men's prison cell for seven months, which resulted in her being raped and sodomised, she claims.

Now, six years after her release, Abbah wants revenge:
“I have been in hiding. My life has been turned upside down. I cannot go anywhere without people picking on me, calling me a man,” says the Durban mother of five. […]

In papers filed in the Durban Magistrate's Court, she is suing for R100 000 in damages, although she is seeking further advice on how to increase her claim.

Abbah's alleged torture began in September 2002 when she was sent to jail to await trial for armed robbery, attempted murder and hijacking - she was later acquitted on these charges.
Denise had her name mistyped as “Denis” instead of Denise and thrown in a cell with men where she was raped multiple times.

Christina Engela writes on her blog Sour grapes- The Fruits of Ignorance:
I think it should be pointed out that it's not so nice to be treated like us, is it? And therefore it's not nice the way WE are being treated - DESPITE provisions in existing laws that supposedly protect people from this sort of treatment.

Apparently some typically over-qualified genius in the employ of the State mistyped her name as “Denis” - when she was actually Denise. (Yes, that's right, with an “e” - as in “education“) That one slip of a key could easily have cost this woman her life. In point of fact, I would say that her life has been effectively ruined. Yes, she was detained on suspicion of having committed a crime - but now, despite having been cleared in court of all charges - she is a multiple rape victim, has suffered various forms of abuse and trauma, is suicidal, may have contracted HIV and numerous other diseases. A simple “We're so f***ing sorry” from the court and the Prison Service - or the State - is just not going to be good enough.

On the blog Queerlife, the blogger asks if the prison official refused to believe that Abbah was menstruating why didn't they provide medical care? And is it right for Denise Abbah to undergo other medical exam for the government as a complete verification that she is a woman?:
When Abbah began to menstruate, the prison guards told her that this was “because of the operation”. Because, you know, people bleed after miraculously-healed-up-and-scarless operations all the goddamned time.

4a) Believing that Abbah was bleeding, they did not attempt to provide medical care which, presumably, would have revealed that Abbah was cisgendered.

5) Now the government wants to subject Abbah to further humiliation by having her undergo gender testing to verify her claims, as though the above narrative (and the fact that she has borne five children, which should be readily legally verifiable) is not enough.
In what universe are any of the above things okay?
In “Judging a book by its cover” Helen G she describes Abbah's case as barbaric and a breach of human rights and gives a contrast of Nastaran Kolestani a trans woman imprisoned for eleven years in a men's cell :
For example, I’ve recently written about the trans woman prisoner referred to only as ‘B’ who was incarcerated in a cis men’s prison for five years; Nastaran Kolestani in the U.S.- held for 18 months before her case came to court – and a Spanish trans woman who was held in a cis men’s prison for eleven years – yes, eleven years – before she was granted the basic human rights that many of us take for granted.

But this is not about creating hierarchies of oppression – Ms Abbah’s treatment has been utterly barbaric: seven minutes would have been too long, let alone seven months – but to point out that comprehensive breaches of human rights are inflicted on trans women prisoners with almost sadistic cruelty over time periods of years, not months.
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