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Before Transgender Day of Visibility, Highlighting Trans Survivors of Violence

Content note: This post discusses abuse and violence, including sexual violence, against transgender people. It does not describe specific acts of violence.

Each November, transgender people and our allies come together to mourn those transgender people lost to murder during the past year for Transgender Day of Remembrance. The victims we honor are a stark reminder that transgender people—and, at a far disproportionate rate, transgender women of color—face stunning and unacceptable rates of violence.

The importance of mourning murder victims, and commemorating their lives, cannot be overstated. It’s also vitally important to remember that an even greater number of transgender people experience nonfatal violence every year. The National Center for Transgender Equality’s U.S. Trans Survey, the largest-ever study of transgender adults, gives us a sense of just how common these experiences are. Among nearly 28,000 adults who completed the survey, nine percent had been physically attacked due to their transgender identity in the past year alone. One in 10 had been sexually assaulted in the past year, and almost half had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.

When we think of violence against transgender people, we often think of attacks by strangers—a real concern, particularly with anti-transgender sentiment stirred up by laws like North Carolina’s HB 2. But transgender people often also experience violence from their own relatives and even their partners. In the U.S. Trans Survey, one in 10 participants who was out to their family had experienced violence from one or more family members, and more than half had experienced intimate partner violence. When it comes to sexual assault, the most common perpetrators are friends and acquaintances, followed by partners and strangers.

The risk for different types of violence seems to be based in part on a person’s other identities. In the U.S. Trans Survey, non-binary people and transgender men were most likely to experience sexual assault at some point in their lives, while transgender women of color were particularly likely to have been attacked in public by strangers, or to have been attacked with a gun. Stunning results from undocumented participants included a 24 percent rate of being physically attacked in the past year, and a 68 percent lifetime rate of intimate partner violence. These findings echo HRC’s Post-Election Survey of Teens, where young transgender and LGBQ people described harassment and fears of violence based not only on their LGBTQ identities but also on their race, immigration status, religion and other characteristics.

The factors that put transgender people at risk for physical attack, partner abuse and sexual violence are similar to those that increase the risk of murder: exclusion from economic opportunities; being pushed out of school; and perpetrators’ belief that transgender victims will not be taken seriously. HRC and the Trans People of Color Coalition’s 2016 report on anti-transgender violence, A Matter of Life and Death, explains how we can begin to address some of these root causes.

While key supports for violence survivors (including domestic violence shelters) too often fail to serve transgender survivors adequately, trans survivors have some protections under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA funds many programs for people who have experienced sexual assault, intimate partner violence, domestic violence or stalking. These programs must provide equal services to everyone regardless of their gender or transgender status. They also cannot require transgender survivors to hide their gender identity in order to receive services. The National Center for Transgender Equality and National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs have more information on these rights.

Many services across the U.S., including a number of LGBTQ-specific programs, are already well-prepared to support transgender survivors. One such group is FORGE, which offers online self-help resources, a support network, and referrals to trans-affirming therapists. Local members of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs may also be able to help.

To learn more about HRC’s work to end violence against transgender people, read “A Matter of Life and Death,” a 2016 report co-published with the Trans People of Color Coalition.