This paper will provide a critical reading of a recent and highly controversial case in England, involving Karen White, a trans prisoner with a history of sexual violence, who was transferred from a men’s prison to a women’s prison and subsequently assaulted four women prisoners. White was then moved back to a men’s prison and given a life sentence. The paper will explore the media response to this case, in the context of broader debates about proposed legal reforms pertaining to the Gender Recognition Act and sex-segregated spaces such as prisons. Rather than reading these debates through mainstream framings of ‘women’s rights versus trans rights’ or ‘sex versus gender’, these narratives can be read as conflicting claims about the surface and depth of gender/sex embodiment on the one hand and safety/danger on the other. Drawing from a queer transformative justice perspective, the paper will argue that the public discourse surrounding this case obscures more fundamental questions about gendered violence, power and the carceral state.
Sarah Lamble is Assistant Dean for Education and Reader in Criminology and Queer Theory at the School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London. Sarah’s research addresses gender, sexuality and punishment, with a focus on grassroots community engagements with transformative justice. Sarah is co-editor of the Routledge Social Justice Book Series and a member of the Reclaim Justice Network. Sarah is also a founding member of the Bent Bars Project, which coordinates a letter-writing programme for LGBTQ prisoners in Britain.