Less than 24 hours after being sentenced to 35 years in prison, Bradley Manning, the Army private convicted for leaking classified documents, made an unexpected announcement to the American public. "I am Chelsea Manning," Manning said in a statement read on the TODAY show this morning. "I am female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt, since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible."
In the past, a transgender prisoner like Manning would have been especially vulnerable to sexual violence. That may be changing, thanks to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). Although the law was passed by Congress 10 years ago, it was enforced for the first time earlier this week, when every state in the country had to demonstrate compliance with the new set of federal regulations. The regulations were shaped by extensive research and graphic testimonies showing that gay and transgender prisoners were at particular at risk of victimization.
The reforms are particularly good news for male-to-female transgender inmates like Manning who, historically, have been housed with men in jails and prisons. These trans women, many of whom have breasts and feminine appearances, are frequently exposed to unwanted sexual attention and abuse from male staff and inmates. They are particularly vulnerable in settings like communal showers, and they often find themselves targeted for unnecessary pat-downs and strip searches.