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Protections for Transgender Survivors under VAWA

The 2012 winter may not have been as cold as this past year, but it was surely chilling when the 112th Congress failed to reauthorize an amended version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). These amendments included enhanced protections for immigrant, Native American and tribal, and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) survivors of domestic and sexual violence. But with the 113th Congress, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 was passed and signed into law on March 7, 2013. Although not all the provisions were adopted into the new law, considerable steps were taken in protecting a population that is so often overlooked: the transgender and gender non-conforming community.

Violence against members of the transgender community is so often invisible and ignored, yet the numbers associated with violence against transgender people are alarmingly high. Studies have shown that over 50% of transgender people have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives, which is almost double (1 in 3 girls) or triple (1 in 6 boys) the already high rates of sexual abuse in the general population. Transgender individuals face the same rates of domestic and interpersonal violence (respectively 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 relationships with at least one transgender-identified partner) as their cisgender counterparts. Unfortunately, due to a lack of training and lack of anti-discrimination laws, transgender folks are often deterred from receiving necessary services from sexual violence and domestic violence programs, such as being denied access to domestic violence shelters or experiencing re-traumatization from police and medical professionals.

In a historic step towards equality, the new VAWA explicitly defines the LGBT community as an underserved population. Gender identity is now a protected status. Transgender and gender non-conforming survivors may no longer be turned away from crisis services. Domestic violence shelters are no longer allowed to deny survivors shelter due to gender identity. VAWA also explicitly outlaws discrimination based on gender identity in VAWA-funded programs and provides funding for LGBT-specific anti-violence initiatives. FORGE, an organization that supports, educates, and advocates for the rights of the transgender community, offers trainings, webinars, and conferences for VAWA-funded service providers on providing culturally-sensitive and respectful care to transgender survivors of domestic violence. This new VAWA will greatly enhance the work FORGE does, as well as allow for an increase in research and assessments that will be helpful in future advocacy efforts.

The new provisions in VAWA are not limited to the transgender and gender non-confirming community. They also explicitly protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual; Native American and tribal; and college campus survivors. While VAWA still lacks certain protections (i.e., the provision that would increase the number of U-Visas available to immigrant victims of violent crimes was excluded) and is still far from a perfect law, such a historic step to protect these underserved populations is progress that must be recognized, applauded, and talked about.

Sherise De Leon is interning at the Center while earning the Masters of Social Work from UNC-Chapel Hill. In addition to supporting clients, Sherise is designing a training module for OCRCC staff and volunteers to learn about working with trans-identified people.

Shamecca Q. Bryant is our Executive Director and has served on the staff since 2007. She also serves on the board of directors for the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault. 

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