By Mpume Madlala

The Durban woman who claimed that she had been placed in the male section of Westville prison for six months while awaiting trial lied to prison officials.

Regional Commissioner for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Correctional Services, Mnikelwa Nxele, said yesterday that Denise (Abbah) Wilson, of Isipingo, was not the victim because she had told officials and police that she was a transvestite.

She is suing the department for R100 000 in damages. In court papers she stated that she was arrested on September 24, 2002 and sent to a male prison cell where she had been forced to strip in front of male prisoners during body searches.

She claimed that she was "forced to perform sexual favours against her will" by warders and was also "touched by male prisoners against her will".

Wilson told newspapers last week that she was raped and sodomised over a six-month period after being placed in male prison cells, despite her telling warders that she was a woman.

She said her incarceration in a male cell went ahead despite the fact that she had undergone an examination by a district surgeon to prove her gender.

Wilson, who was awaiting trial on charges of armed robbery, attempted murder and hijacking, was later acquitted.

Nxele said Wilson was placed in the male section of the prison on the day she arrived.

"When body searches were conducted she pretended to be a man who was in the process of a sex change," he said.

Nxele produced a statement which he said was written and signed by Wilson in 2003 after the prison conducted an investigation into how she ended up in a male cell.

Wilson's lawyer, Shireen Soobrathi, said it was the first time she had heard of this.

"I need to get the statement so I can get a handwriting expert to verify if she (Wilson) really was the one who wrote and signed the statement," she said.

In the statement Wilson wrote that when body searches were done, she had excused herself and asked to go to the bathroom before she was searched. She stuffed toilet paper into her underwear to make it seem like she had a penis and testicles.

When it was her turn to be strip searched she refused and told the official he could only search her with her clothes on.

According to her statement when the the warder queried why she had breasts if she was a man, she said they were silicone implants because she was a transvestite.

She was placed in a cell with gay men in the male section of the prison.

"In prison people of different sexual orientation are protected because they also have a right to be who they are. Male prisoners have no access to them at all," Nxele said.

He said in the six months that Wilson was in the male cells, she did not alert warders to the fact that she was in the wrong cell.

Nxele said when prison officials discovered Wilson was a woman, she threatened to slit her wrists if she was removed.

"She is not the victim here. This is a very sensitive matter and we are investigating," he said.