Sexual Assault Victim Shares ‘Trauma’ of Prison’s Transgender Policies

Produced by: Kelsey Bolar & Andrea Mew

Written by: Andrea Mew

As a victim of sexual assault, Evelyn Valiente* is particularly sensitive to the presence of abusive and aggressive men. But under SB132, a California law that opened women’s prisons to male offenders who identify as “transgender women,” Valiente had no choice but to share her living space with dangerous male predators. 

The policy was implemented with no regard for Valiente’s safety or past traumas. 

“It’s like constant high alert,” she said, describing the feeling of being trapped. “I don’t know if I can handle more [of them] coming in here. That was the constant stress, like, ‘Oh my gosh, we got to get out of here. We got to get out of here. How are we going to get out of here?’ Because this is not stopping, and they’re going to keep bringing more.”

After serving two decades in Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) for murder, Valiente was granted parole in 2022. Despite now being far away from Chowchilla, Valiente still fears blackmail and retaliation for speaking out about her experience being incarcerated with male inmates. For that reason, Valiente spoke with Independent Women’s Forum using a pseudonym.

“I don’t want anything that could put me in a situation they could use to violate me, send me back to prison, give me a hard time,” she said. “If this person found out that I’m speaking out, he would continue to make a lot of problems for me.”

Valiente voiced particular concern about one male inmate inside CCWF who she said was known to be “manipulative, calculating [and] vindictive.”

Valiente refrained from sharing specifics because the inmate is allegedly litigious and had already weaponized his legal connections against other female inmates.

In CCWF, there are around 276 inmates per housing unit. CDCR groups inmates in housing units based on their threat level of I through IV and has a separate unit for inmates with death sentences. This man lived in a single cell inside Valiente’s housing unit. While Valiente and other female inmates didn’t have to sleep alongside him, other male inmates did sleep alongside women, she said.

In a cell close to her own, Valiente said one male inmate entered into a relationship with a female inmate, and the two could regularly be heard yelling, fighting, and kicking doors. At one point, she said, the male inmate tried to attack Valiente’s own roommate.

“That was scary,” she said. “A lot of us as women, we come from very abusive backgrounds, so it’s a lot of walking [in] that trauma.”

When California first implemented its new transgender policies for prisons, Valiente said she thought it wouldn’t be a problem. But “it didn’t take long,” she said, for the male in her housing unit to begin weaponizing his legal connections and money.

“He was always doing everything in his power to keep me from going home, or to send me to jail, which is ‘Ad Seg’ [administrative segregation], or shipped to another institution,” she said, adding:

“If he didn’t get his way, he felt—I shouldn’t have said that, but he is a man—he felt from his perspective that he was victimized. But in all actuality, he was victimizing others.”

Valiente said she believes the fear of retaliation is why more current and former inmates aren’t speaking out about the consequences of California’s SB 132.

Moreover, Valiente said the public appears to care more about the feelings of the small “trans” community than the safety and well-being of women. After finally being released on parole after two decades, she was struck by a culture that suddenly allowed men into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms, sports teams, and other female-only spaces, despite the loud objections of a few brave women.

“‘Trans’ seems to be more important than what we are going through as women… or women, period,” she said. “I believe the public doesn’t care.” 

By speaking out, Valiente hopes her testimony can help protect the women she left behind in prison. Like her, as many as 60-90% percent of women currently behind bars also have histories of sexual assault and abuse, and many try to use their sentences to rehabilitate and seek forgiveness. Being forced to live alongside violent, predatory men who trigger these past traumas, however, makes rehabilitation and healing feel impossible. Worse, it violates their physical safety.

Now living in the free world, Valiente hopes others will heed her warning.

“In prison, we’re taught to put ourselves in the shoes of the people that we’ve harmed. We are taught empathy, which is something that we lost or we never even had,” Valiente said, explaining how the bulk of their rehabilitation process is to re-discover (or discover) their sense of empathy and compassion. She continued: 

“So what I’m asking is for the public… put yourselves in the shoes of those that are in prison and have no voice, no rights anymore. No anything. Imagine if it was your daughter in there. Anything could happen that can get you in prison, anything, even an accident. And you would have to be there and experience that. So imagine, put yourself in our shoes.”

*To protect her identity and ensure safety, a pseudonym has been used throughout this profile.

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