In August, a Canadian transgender person filed a multimillion-dollar suit against U.S. and Montana officials, claiming abuse. Alexandria Tucker, a self-described preoperative male-to-female transsexual, was allegedly sexually assaulted while housed in Montana's prison for men. Montana prisons officials have said the case is without merit and that the prison made adequate arrangements for Tucker's safety.
Such lawsuits have had mixed results in the past.
Last May, a U.S. district court jury in Ohio ruled against Traci Greene, a transgender inmate who sued the state. Greene's lawyers alleged their client was severely beaten by another inmate at the all-male Warren Correctional Institution in southwest Ohio in 1996.
Officials had originally classified Greene as a woman, but then moved Greene to the male facility when they learned the inmate was anatomically male and undergoing hormone treatments.
Despite a size 36-D bust and other feminine characteristics, Greene was still theoretically capable of impregnating females, officials said during the trial.
In a 1994 case brought by a transgender inmate named Dee Farmer, the Supreme Court ruled that prison officials must protect inmates from sexual attack. The plaintiff, a pre-operative transgender inmate serving time for credit card fraud, alleged repeated sexual assault while housed with a group of male prisoners.
The problem of sexual abuse in prisons goes far beyond the transgender population, of course. More than 200,000 men are raped behind bars each year, according to the group Stop Prisoner Rape. Hensley, the Morehead State University researcher, says research has found that between 14 percent and 22 percent of male inmates are subjected to sexual violence or threats.