Domestic violence affects all populations, but the transgender community is victimized at higher rates than the general population: according to a review completed by The Williams Institute, 30 percent to 50 percent of transgender people experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetime compared to 28 to 33 percent in the general population.
There are a variety of reasons that transgender individuals are victimized at such high rates, and it is important to understand a few main factors so that we can take steps to change them.
Barriers for the Transgender Community
- Many transgender individuals have been subjected to abuse from a young age. They may have been rejected by their family for their gender identity, been subjected to emotional abuse because of who they are, or been told that who they are is not acceptable. This baseline of discrimination and violence is something that can increase the risk of trauma later in life.
- Discrimination and oppression against transgender people often leads to homelessness and lack of family support. They are also disproportionately singled out for police violence as much as three times as often as the general population.
Nathan Brewer, a trauma therapist and crisis counselor at the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center at Boston University who is also pursuing his Ph.D. in Social Work from Simmons College, states, “For many queer-identified folks, calling the police is not really a safe option — often it is trading one form of violence for another.” Individuals in these situations often lack avenues for assistance, and without family, friends, or even law enforcement to turn to, it is easy to see how someone can become a target of violence and abuse.
“Disclosing abuse to these providers is less likely because they see them less frequently and feel less comfortable disclosing sensitive information. Many trans* folks don’t want to have their identity medicalized or pathologized, something that happens all to frequently in the medical world.”
Transgender individuals are also often afraid to come forward and disclose abuse in their relationship. They experience negative reactions from medical and social service providers, and given the dearth of attention to domestic abuse in the transgender community, many survivors are unaware their experiences are domestic violence. Typically victims are told that domestic violence is not their fault, and that they did absolutely nothing to deserve the abuse; however, transgender individuals are often not met with that same sympathetic and reassuring response from medical and social service providers. Instead they are often met with the message, “You had it coming,” whether that is being communicated explicitly or being implied.
“Additionally, trans* folks are less likely to feel comfortable with their medical and mental health providers. Even well-intentioned providers often use micro aggressions against this population, or even outright discriminate,” Brewer says. “Disclosing abuse to these providers is less likely because they see them less frequently and feel less comfortable disclosing sensitive information. Many trans* folks don’t want to have their identity medicalized or pathologized, something that happens all to frequently in the medical world.”
But there are ways to support transgender survivors and help end domestic violence.
Supporting the Transgender Community
If you are concerned about a friend or a family member, common red flags to be aware of include:
- Does it seem as if your friend can’t be an individual apart from the relationship, where their partner is involved in many or all of their decisions?
- Does your friend’s partner seem jealous or possessive?
- Does your friend’s partner email, text, or call constantly during the day? Does their partner demand to know where your friend is and whom they are with?
- Has your friend’s mood or behavior change dramatically?
- Is your friend exhibiting an exaggerated startle response and/or suffering from panic attacks?
Here are a few simple ways you can support a survivor:
- Listen closely, believe the survivor, and tell them abuse is never their fault.
- The goal should always be to work toward a safer place. There are ways to mitigate harm if the survivor chooses not to leave the relationship.
- Never tell a survivor what they should do, rather help them explore options and decide what feels right for them. For example, ask them if they’d like your help finding a therapist who has experience working with LGBT clients and in trauma-informed practice.
- Ending an abusive relationships can be dangerous for the survivor, and survivors are best served by safety planning with a professional, friend, or alone with tools that can be found online.
A few helpful resources for the transgender community:
- Safety Planning Tool PDF: FORGE’s safety planning guide can be used to help someone think through the safety options while living in an abusive relationship or planning to leave one.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: You can anonymously reach trained advocates 24/7 or access other resources and information directly at www.thehotline.org
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE or online at www.rainn.org
- The following LGBT specific agencies can help you find resources in your area:
- TheNetworkLaRed: The Network/La Red is a survivor-led, social justice organization that works to end partner abuse in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, BDSM, polyamorous, and queer communities. Learn more at www.tnlr.org
- FORGE: FORGE is a national transgender anti-violence organization providing direct services to transgender, gender non-conforming and gender non-binary survivors of sexual assault as well as providing training and technical assistance to providers around the country who work with transgender survivors of sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking. Learn more at www.forge-forward.org
- The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program: NCAVP is a national coalition of local member programs, and affiliate organizations who create systemic and social change, working to prevent and respond to all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ), and HIV-affected communities. Learn more at www.NCAVP.org
- The Northwest Network: The NW Network increases our communities’ ability to support the self-determination and safety of bisexual, transgender, lesbian and gay survivors of abuse through education, organizing and advocacy. Learn more at www.nwnetwork.org
- In Our Own Voices: In Our Own Voices works to ensure the physical, mental, spiritual, political, cultural, and economic survival and growth of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people of color communities. Learn more at www.inourownvoices.org
Whether we are personally struggling with violence, have a friend who may be, or have not had any direct experience with these issues, it is still important to be aware and sympathetic to this issue. Domestic violence within the transgender community deserves awareness and support. Please, share this article with someone who may need it and advocate for the victims who have not yet shared their voice.
About the author: Megan Dottermusch is a community relations coordinator for 2U, Inc. supporting mental health and advocacy programs for the Masters in Social Work program online at Simmons College. She is passionate about promoting proper nutrition and fitness, combating mental health stigmas, and practicing everyday mindfulness.