Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is an annual event, during which members of the LGBTQ community and allies across the country gather and hold vigils to honor the memories of transgender men and women whose lives have been taken by acts of violence. This will be a big year for the TDOR vigil because since the first of the year, it’s estimated that 20 transgender individuals have been murdered in the United States… that we know of.
So what does this have to do with sexual violence?
The violence inflicted on transgender individuals includes rape and sexual assault. In fact, transgender individuals are at extremely high risk of becoming victims of sexual violence. The statistics are startling. It’s estimated that one in two transgender individuals have experienced sexual abuse or assault. The rates of sexual violence only increase when you take a deeper look at the transgender community. Those who are at the greatest risk of victimization are also the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ community and society at large:
- Transgender youth – 12%
- Transgender individuals of color – 13%
- Transgender individuals who are homeless – 22%
Ok, that’s pretty rough, but that’s why we have rape crisis centers, right?
Yes, to an extent, that is true. However, transgender survivors face significant barriers when attempting to access support services. It is well known that the majority of all sexual assaults – 68% – are not reported to the police. Survivors have many valid reasons to not make a report, such as fear of retaliation, not wanting the offender to get in trouble (especially if the survivor knows them), fear of getting in trouble if they were using drugs or drinking underage when they were assaulted, fear of facing deportation if they are undocumented, and more. A major reason that sexual assaults go unreported is that survivors often feel re-victimized in the process, a type of trauma known as secondary victimization. Victim-blaming attitudes and insensitivity on the part of service providers further traumatizes survivors, especially those who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. In the case of transgender individuals, the perpetrators of sexual violence are sometimes service providers, institutions, and “helping” professionals themselves. Many transgender survivors have reported being sexually assaulted by police officers and health care professionals.
There are always so many barriers!
Yeah, I know. Reducing the barriers that many sexual violence survivors have to face is a constant concern for folks who work in the field of sexual violence. Fortunately, more rape crisis centers are working to become more responsive to the needs of transgender survivors. FORGE is a great example of an organization committed to addressing the specific needs of transgender survivors. They offer professional trainings and support anti-violence professionals in general with providing competent and respectful care to transgender survivors. Staff and volunteers at the OCRCC have participated in training provided by FORGE and integrated trans-competency into service training for Companions.
Ok, by why focus specifically on transgender survivors?
It’s crucial to respond to the needs of transgender survivors for the same reasons that we would cultivate compassion, education, and responsiveness to other marginalized communities impacted by sexual violence. We live in a culture where it is still largely believed that sexual violence is perpetrated only by men against women. This frame of mind excludes the many survivors that do not conform to stereotypical gender roles. It erases and silences transgender survivors and increases vulnerability to further trauma.
The fact of the matter is that transgender survivors suffer the same emotional trauma as any other survivor of sexual violence. Excluding them from the process and opportunity for healing only compounds the initial trauma of sexual assault. So, why wouldn’t we make the commitment to respond appropriately?
Well, what can I do?
I’m so glad you asked. There’s actually a lot you can do! Here are some great ways to start:
- Get educated! Throughout this blog post, I have linked to research and resources where you can find more information on statistics and the impact of transphobia and homophobia on transgender survivors.
- Commit to inclusive polices & best practices! What are you and your organization doing to ensure that your clients see themselves reflected in the communities that you serve? Here’s a great tool for model policies and best practices from the Virginia Anti-Violence Project.
- Advocate! There are many resources available to anti-violence professionals for ways to advocate for the needs of LGBT survivors. Take a look at “It Takes a Village, People!” by the NW Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian, and Gay Survivors of Abuse.
- Join in! If you are interested in participating in a local TDOR vigil, you can attend one hosted by the LGBTQ Center at UNC on Friday.
Sexual violence impacts us ALL, so when we commit to doing the work in this field, we acknowledge that we are working in the service of creating a world free from violence. When 20 transgender women are murdered in the span 10 months, it is our duty to respond.
Dolores Chandler recently joined the Center as our Prevention Coordinator. As a member of the Community Education team, they coordinate our StartStrong program, working to prevent peer-to-peer perpetration of violence among adolescents.