Why ‘Awareness’ Won’t Help Trans (and Queer) Survivors of Abuse

I don’t want a parade. I don’t think many of us do. Parades are a spectacle, and while potentially useful for awareness, always end up portraying those at the top – and in the queer community, that means they get overwhelmed with drag.

There are more institutional problems around abuse in trans relationships than in cis ones – while report and convict rates are low across the board, for trans people reporting is putting yourself in danger. The Transgender Law Centre reports many cases where police have failed to arrest offenders once they found out the victim was trans. It’s a case of active prejudice – after all, why should they arrest when “she was trans” is still a valid reason for choosing to murder someone in many areas of the world?

While the surveys and studies are few and flawed, it can be said with relative certainty that abuse occurs in queer and trans relationships at a higher rate, with a lower report rate.

Those studies that have been done present a range of relationship violence rates reported amongst lesbian and gay couples from 17% to 52%. Very few studies have included people who identify as transgender or intersex. One study found that one in ten transgender people had experienced relationship violence. Another survey of transgender and intersex people found that 50% had been raped or assaulted by an intimate partner. Yet only 62% (31% of the total sample) of those raped or assaulted identified as survivors of domestic violence when asked directly. Research on violence experienced by people who identify as bisexual is lacking and their experiences tend to be lumped into the category of lesbian or gay men . Further, most of the research remains focused on white gay men and lesbians who are often in their mid-twenties or thirties and college educated.” (from Relationship Violence in Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/ Transgender/Queer [LGBTQ] Communities, Moving Beyond a Gender-Based Framework)

Aaron Eckhart outlines the issue for the Transgender Law Centre:

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.

I do not believe that institutional change is the only way forward, not when the violence is so ingrained. While we certainly need to address issues within the law and institutions so that people, if they so choose, are able to report and rely on the police for protection, the wider queer community operates in such a way that education and a transformative process is key. We need to change attitudes within the community – we need to stop the community from protecting abusers and pushing their survivors out. We need to address the harmful idea that women in the queer community cannot be abusers. We need to provide a safe space for these discussions to be held, and we need to provide a way out for those who would otherwise rely on an abusive partner, financially or otherwise.

It is not as simple as “stopping violence”. Until we address the harmful ideas held by so many of us, violence will not stop. Increasing awareness and thus public shame will not work for the queer community – it will simply hide the abuse further, and continue to isolate survivors.

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