Trigger Warning: This article mentions trans abuse and sexual assault
Popular beauty influencer and content creator Nikita Dragun was arrested this past week in Miami, Florida after alleged disorderly conduct and felony battery of a police officer. She was accused of walking around a hotel pool naked and intoxicated and assaulting an officer with a water bottle after being confronted about the disturbance. This story is making headlines as Dragun is notably one of the largest transgender creators on the internet and is also no stranger when it comes to controversy, such as cultural appropriation and disobeying COVID-19 protocols during the pandemic. But despite Dragun being publicly perceived as a problematic person, there is an element to this story that looms greater than your everyday celebrity gossip: Nikita Dragun, a woman, was held in the men’s unit of this Miami correctional center. A clip of Dragun speaking to the judge overseeing her court hearing has gone viral where she asks, “Do I have to stay here in the men’s unit still,” and the judge responds with, “Yeah, I don’t make the rules up there.”
In the United States, transgender people are systemically targeted and misgendered by the prison system, leading to high rates of abuse and neglect from fellow inmates and guards alike. Before even entering a detention facility, transgender people are being arrested and prosecuted at disproportionate rates for ‘poverty-related crimes’ like theft and sex work, and even on mere suspicion of crime alone. Once inside a prison, the horrors a trans person could face are unthinkable. Harassment from police and denial of medical care is common, along with long stints of solitary confinement. A US transgender survey in 2015 found that, “…transgender people are ten times as likely to be sexually assaulted by their fellow inmates and five times as likely to be sexually assaulted by staff”. This is a human rights emergency that is being swept under the rug because of its association with the label of criminal.
A major reason that violent transphobia exists within the prison system is because of situations similar to Dragun’s: misgendering leading to incorrect unit placement. Transgender women are more likely to be placed in units designated for men, as it is in practice to make assignments based on assigned sex at birth or genitalia at the time of the person’s arrest. The violence they face as a result is unconscionable. The fact that someone’s genitals are being discussed by government officials in any situation or capacity is inhumane, plain, and simple. This practice is just one example of how ingrained transphobia is in our legal institutions, as well as our society as a whole. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is a federal mandate that has introduced specific protocols within prisons to address the abuse LGBTQ+ people face due to neglect, but as we’ve seen, it has yet to prevent situations like Dragun’s from slipping through the cracks.
Although Nikita Dragun may not be considered the best representative for the transgender community, it’s no excuse not to advocate for the protection and existence of all transgender people in America and around the globe.