San Francisco, August 19, 2005
Hello, my name is Cecilia Chung, and I had
unprotected sex against my will at San Francisco
County Jail. I was taken to jail on the charges of
soliciting prostitution in 1993. An undercover
police officer in the Tenderloin asked me to have sex
for money. I refused, but he persisted and kept
upping the price. At the time, I was 28 years old.
I was at a very early stage of my gender transition.
There was a time when I was rejected by my own
family, I was homeless, and I was suffering from drug
addiction. I was so economically marginalized that
when he offered me $200, I finally agreed to his
solicitation, and I was arrested.
When I was taken to jail, I was placed in
the so-called gay pod. San Francisco had no
protocols in place at that time for housing
transgender inmates. We were being housed with other
gay men or perceived-to-be gay men in the same jail
cell. Unfortunately, the gay pod contained all kinds
of inmates, and that includes sexual predators.
The jail environment was very frightening
and unfamiliar to me. One of the inmates sexually
propositioned me, and it caught me off guard. I was
too intimidated to deny him. I did not know what
would happen to me if I said no. I was afraid that
he would try to force me against my will. I was
afraid I would get hurt. I had sex out of fear.
The inmate draped towels from an upper bunk
to block the view of the other prisoners and guards.
He had sex with me without a condom or lubrications.
It was physically painful, but the emotional pain was
even worse. The degrading experience caused damage
to my self-esteem for many years to come. I
definitely felt that I did not own my own body. It
was enough to convince me that my life did not belong
to me and I was robbed of every single drop of
dignity of a human being.
Afterward, the inmate gave me a Snickers bar
as payment for the sex. It made a cheap encounter
If you are asking yourself why I didn't just
refuse the inmate's sexual advances or fight him off,
I know from my experience that refusing sex can be
dangerous and even deadly.
A few years after this encounter I did say
no to someone, and I was stabbed as a result. Later
that year I got some devastating news. I learned I
was HIV positive. Although I'm not sure I contracted
the virus during that encounter in the jail, having
unprotected sex put me at high risk for contracting
not only HIV, but also Hepatitis B and C.
Although I have been told that the
San Francisco Jail has since adopted policies and
protocols to protect transgender inmates, my
experience as deputy director of the Transgender Law
Center shows me that we must make more changes and we
need an enforcement of these protocols.
Transgender inmates still experience sexual
harassment from staff and inmates. They are still
being housed with the vulnerable populations which
also contains men who are perceived to be effeminate
Transgender inmates are among the most
vulnerable individuals in our jails and prisons, but
there are ways to make their incarceration safer.
Transgender inmates need to be housed in a way where
they can be safe from sexual harassment and
intimidation. At the same time, they need to have
access to the same services offered to inmates of the
gender with which they identify. Each facility must
train its corrections officers and staff to
understand the needs of transgender inmates and the
unique dangers they face in custody.
Most importantly, there should be an
independent monitoring group, a neutral group that's
free from the power dynamics of staffing inmates
separate from the corrections systems with the
ability to investigate abuse reports in each
Electing these reforms at every facility
will help ensure that transgender inmates are
incarcerated in an environment free from sexual abuse
Although you may think that I'm not like
you, we are not so different. I want to have control
over my own body and my life, just as you do. I want
to choose the people with whom I get intimate with,
just as you do.
I absolutely did not want to have sex with
that man in the San Francisco Jail, but I felt
powerless to refuse him. As a transgender woman,
I've experienced the worst kind of treatment our
society has to offer. I've experienced unbelievable
discriminations. The incident in the jail cell
wasn't the only time I've been subjected to degrading
sexual abuse, but it was one of the worst because the
authorities have an obligation to protect us when we
are incarcerated, but they failed to do so.
We as transgender individuals already are
being treated as outcasts of society. Please ensure
that transgender inmates are safe from sexual
violence behind bars.
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