A survivor’s identity changes their ability to access the resources intended for them. Without intentionally reaching out and making spaces that are inclusive to those who have marginalized identities, there are large groups of people who won’t get access to vital services.
The LGBTQ+ community has been frequently left out, and there is one letter in particular that faces additional burden: the T. There are instances in which transgender people are put on the margins of the greater LGBTQ+ community. Trans people might be excluded from LGBT spaces and there are cases in which organizations are only suited to serve LGB people.
Sometimes it feels like the world is stacked against the trans community. Instances of violent hate crimes- specifically against trans women of color- are occurring at alarming rates, and intimate partner violence rates are higher than that of the general population. It is no surprise to hear that rates of sexual violence are also high. A 2015 report found that nearly half (47%) of respondents had experienced sexual assault in their lifetimes.
These high rates are nothing new, they are based in systemic and interpersonal discrimination.
It is not uncommon for trans people to be kicked out of their home at a young age and/or to experience drastically high levels of poverty. In addition to this, trans individuals may also face discrimination in a standard workplace. Sylvia Rivera, a Latina leader in trans rights, was kicked to the streets of New York in 1961 at 11 years old. Her experiences illustrate the hardships that trans people face. She was surrounded by drugs, poverty, and the threat of police brutality. For Sylvia, and many other trans individuals, participating in sex work was the only option for survival, the violence was just a byproduct of getting by. Young sex workers are seen as targets, and transgender sex workers are particularly vulnerable. Whether trans individuals are sex workers or not, having a trans identity (especially when intersected with a non white-normative identity) increases risk and poses barriers to accessing help for sexual violence.
So what is done for these survivors? Well the short story is not a whole lot. One survey conducted by the OVC indicated that a high proportion of trans individuals don’t seek services after an assault because of fear. There is a general lack of trust in medical professionals and law enforcement in the trans community, because of high rates of discrimination/perpetuation of violence in these environments. In addition, sexual violence is believed to be a gendered violence, men against women. This idea invalidates survivors who are not women as well as those who were not assaulted by men and it sets up a gendered environment that is tailored for survivors who are women. This can be especially problematic for trans individuals. For example trans women have been historically left out and trans men may not be comfortable seeking help from a traditionally cisgender women’s space.
A light in all of this darkness is that there are things we can do to make improvements for the trans community, starting with sexual violence resource centers like Ampersand. The number one improvement to make is reaching out and improving education on gender identity through appropriate sources, organizations such as Forge have specific educational pieces on trans survivors of sexual violence. Improving education and including the trans community won’t fix everything, there is no catch-all solution and each person’s experience is different, but we already knew that. We must raise awareness on sexual violence within the trans community and make a difference in the lives of survivors.
[2015 report: https://transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/usts/USTS-Full-Report-Dec17.pdf ]
[survey: https://ovc.gov/pubs/forge/tips_pro.html ]
[sex work info http://www.transequality.org/sites/default/files/Meaningful%20Work-Full%20Report_FINAL_3.pdf]
[Sylvia Rivera https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/forgotten-latina-trailblazer-lgbt-activist-sylvia-rivera-n438586]
[forge: http://forge-forward.org/ ]