Guest post by Darrick Ing, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach  and Tiffany Woods, Tri-City Health Center

In 2012, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released the Intimate Partner Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ), and HIV-Affected Communities report. Among the key findings were that transgender people, people of color, gay men and people under 30 were groups that were most impacted by intimate partner violence.  The report found that transgender survivors were two (2.0) times as likely to face threats/intimidation within violent relationships, and nearly two (1.8) times more likely to experience harassment within violent relationships. “Transgender people face increased risk of violence because of their gender identity and transphobia within intimate partnerships,” said Aaron Eckhardt, Training and Technical Assistance Director at Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO) in Columbus.  Additionally, because domestic violence is rooted in power, control, and in many situations, reinforcing gender norms within a relationship, transgender people because of their lack of gender conformity, are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

The numbers are likely much higher for transgender people. Transgender survivors of domestic violence often choose not to report the abuse due to a number of factors, including a fear of compromising the privacy and safety interests if one is “outed,” denying access to medical treatment or hormones, or endangering one’s legal status if they are an undocumented immigrant, and a fear of the institutionalized transphobia within law enforcement and the judicial system.   Other abusive tactics used against transgender people include using non-preferred pronouns, eroticizing or fetishizing body parts, telling transgender people that no one else will ever love them, and threatening to take their children.

There are many examples of law enforcement failing to arrest or prosecute offenders after discovering the victim is transgender which have been documented by Transgender Law Center and other organizations working on domestic violence/intimate partner issues.  This has led to mistrust in the trans community to report incidences of domestic violence to the police.  As Aaron Eckhart explains, “To really address the needs of transgender survivors, we need to address transphobic laws, policies and institutions while also providing supportive programs that address transgender people explicitly and that engage transgender survivors in preventing this violence.”  This includes education and dispelling myths that women cannot be abusers, that men cannot be abused, and that the dynamics of domestic violence in a relationship involving a transgender individual is exactly identical to the dynamics of domestic violence in heterosexual relationships.  Other than community education, institutions such as law enforcement, courts, and hospitals should also receive LGBTQ-specific training on screening, assessment and intake.

It is important to understand that survivors of domestic violence often remain in abusive relationships for a number of complicated reasons. Leaving the abusive partner is not always an alternative, especially for particularly vulnerable populations, like transgender people, who may already be facing systemic discrimination and rely on their abusive partner for protection, housing, and income.  At times, an abusive partner may even try to maintain the relationship with a transgender person who is HIV+ and receiving services such as housing/SSI/food vouchers for economic motives.  Sometimes, transgender people will remain in a violent relationship simply because they receive affirmation of their gender identity from an abusive partner.  As Leigh Goodmark in her 2012 article “Transgender People, Intimate Partner Abuse, and the Legal System” has noted, some transgender women may experience gender affirmation through the experience of being abused and identify with the traditional domestic violence narrative.  For transgender men, some may feel the pressure to subject their partners to abuse and idealized notions of gender conformity in a relationship because of their perception of stereotypical masculinity.

Passage of the trans-inclusive Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (which also protects men) to allow federal funding to be directed to LGBT-related efforts to combat domestic violence is an enormous victory for the transgender community and will contribute to the scarce resources that currently exist for transgender survivors.  Under VAWA, many immigration remedies exist to assist immigrant survivors of domestic violence obtain legal status, a tool that is often used by abusers.  Certain transgender individuals in abusive opposite-sex relationships are protected under the law to exercise their ability to self-petition for legal status under VAWA and to qualify for Battered Spouse Waivers as spouses to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.  With the strike down of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), now transgender individuals in abusive same-sex relationships can also qualify for these immigration benefits.

Post VAWA 2013, all domestic violence service providers, shelters, and hospitals who receive federal VAWA funding must implement inclusive policies that include and affirm gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation and ban discrimination. This is important because currently, social and legal resources may be difficult for transgender individuals to access.  For example, many shelters may be “male” or “female” only, which may create heightened privacy, security, and safety issues for transgender individuals who are trying to flee their abusers.  Many transgender individuals also fear losing custody of a child from fleeing their abuser and require family law resources.  It is particularly important that legal and social services address these issues, such as educating and encouraging services to create shelter policies that take transgender individuals’ concerns into account.  For example, do the shelter policies respect the individual’s ability to access the shelter without disclosing their transgender status or history?  Does the shelter allow the individual to access the right type of clothing, personal care items, and medications that they need?  We must continue to address domestic violence in the transgender community by increasing access and services. All individuals have the right to be safe from violence and abuse both in their homes and in their everyday lives.

Domestic violence is an issue that impacts many of the most vulnerable people, especially within the trans community.  Help spread awareness!

Read the full report: