Out of sight, out of mind? - Transgender People’s Experiences of Domestic Abuse

by Helen G // 3 September 2010, 14:28

Tags: domestic abuse, transphobic violence

Cover of "Out of sight, out of mind? - Transgender People’s Experiences of Domestic Abuse" and link to download pageThe LGBT Domestic Abuse Project and the Scottish Transgender Alliance have now published their research document surveying the levels and forms of domestic abuse to which transgender people are subjected, and it makes for grim reading.

The 36-page document, called Out of sight, out of mind? - Transgender People’s Experiences of Domestic Abuse, is available from as a 1.1MB PDF file which may be downloaded directly from the Scottish Transgender Alliance website by following this link.

The report reveals extremely high levels of prejudice and abuse in transgender people’s relationships and home lives, coupled with unacceptable negative experiences of accessing fundamental services and support during the times when they are most needed.

The significance of this document is that it is the first published research focused solely on transgender people’s experiences of domestic abuse in the UK. It is hoped that, in addition to documenting the ways in which transgender people experience domestic abuse, the information will help in determining the specific needs of the community when accessing services which provide support and advice to those experiencing domestic abuse. Additionally, the research explores some of the barriers faced by transgender people experiencing domestic abuse when trying to access mainstream domestic abuse services. Key findings include:

  • 80% of respondents stated that they had experienced emotionally, sexually, or physically abusive behaviour by a partner or ex-partner - although only 60% of respondents recognised the behaviour as domestic abuse.
  • The type of domestic abuse most frequently experienced by the respondents was transphobic emotional abuse, with 73% of the respondents experiencing at least one type of transphobic emotionally abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner.
  • 60% of respondents had experienced controlling behaviour from a partner or ex-partner.
  • 45% of respondents had experienced physically abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner.
  • 47% of respondents had experienced some form of sexual abuse from a partner or ex-partner.
  • 37% of respondents said that someone had forced, or tried to force them to have sex when they were under the age of 16.
  • 46% of respondents said that someone had forced, or tried to force them to engage in some other form of sexual activity when under the age of 16.
  • 10% of respondents stated that someone had forced, or tried to force them to engage in sexual activity for money.

As regards the impact that domestic abuse has on trans people's wellbeing:

  • 98% identified at least one negative impact upon their wellbeing as a result of their experiences of domestic abuse.
  • 76% identified having experienced psychological or emotional problems as a consequence of the abuse.
  • 15% said that they had attempted suicide as a consequence of the abuse.
  • 24% told no one about the domestic abuse that they had experienced.
  • 18% felt that the most recent domestic abuse that they had experienced was "just something that happened".
  • 51% thought that the most recent domestic abuse they had experienced was "wrong but not a crime".

Those last two remarks - that DA is "just something that happened" and that it was "wrong but not a crime" - are particularly telling. They point to not only an internalisation of cis society's busted idea that it's okay to abuse trans people in every way, but also to a depressing resignation that it's to be expected because we're trans. Transitioning should be a positive experience, a connecting with one's body and finding oneself in the world. No human being should be someone else's punchbag, simply for being who we are.

The violence against us, in all its myriad forms, has to stop. If we didn't know the extent of it before, even anecdotally, this document provides damning evidence of a society where transphobic abuse is the norm for 80% of us. It cannot be allowed to continue; things have to change for the better, and soon. Unfortunately, it is not we who have the power to bring about these improvements in our lives. The changes have to start with those who abuse us - and those who condone those abuses by their silence. I only wish I knew how to make it happen.

------------

With thanks to Amy Roch, Domestic Abuse Development Officer at LGBT Youth Scotland, for her help and encouragement.

Comments From You

MsChin // Posted 04 September 2010 at 11:34

This research has made me think about the drift towards universal domestic abuse support service provision, as local authorities, PCTs etc try to reduce costs. They seem to think that generic, rather than specialist, support is sufficient for everyone, but it's clearly not the case. This research will help trans groups to demand that any change to service provision is assessed for its equality impact on trans people.

Things are changing (albeit slowly) here in England. For example, the risk indicators used by Independent Domestic Violence Advisors & Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences were initially criticised for failing to recognise other factors, but were revised to reflect LGBT issues as well as cultural issues. Having a voice in how services are developed & run is crucial.


Christine Burns // Posted 04 September 2010 at 16:52

I'm intrigued as to why this item has not attracted a single comment after more than 24 hours. Why is that?

Of course, discussions about trans people (trans women in particular) and DV or rape have usually (historically) been framed around the assumed threat posed by them working in or using crisis / support services.

So, is that the problem? Does the presentation of trans people as vulnerable people in need of crisis support threaten an established narrative line?

More to the point, how can support workers and services respond best to the kind of needs which the report implies to be unmet?

Helen G // Posted 04 September 2010 at 18:24

Sorry, I've been afk most of the day but even so, there's only been one comment other than yours. Even my cross-post at Questioning Transphobia has only received a few comments (I closed my own blog Bird of Paradox to comments a couple of weeks ago, so obviously there's been no reaction there).

You ask some pertinent questions and it'll be interesting to see what, if any, answers are received.

Carrie // Posted 04 September 2010 at 19:13

To the question of why there are so few comments... I wonder if this about people's ability to relate. I could be waaaaaaay of the mark here, but I'll throw my 2 cents in regardless.

The violence and abuse absolutely retains primacy as the issue that needs to be dealt with, but to the non-Trans majority (and I am guessing this as I am a trans woman), I wonder if the context in which the abuse takes place makes it difficult for people to understand what all these numbers really mean? Of course, any readers that follow the link to the STA article would very quickly understand the context. There are more than enough personal accounts contained in the research.

I think Helen's post is very important, but perhaps night have benefited from content relating directly to personal 'lived experiences'. The posted summary tends to focus on the stats, whereas exploring the drivers of abuse, and the personal experiences of trans people who are victimised may make it a bit more accessible.

Like I said, I could be wrong, but it's near on impossible for the cis population 'to get it' when it comes to the Trans experience. Maybe the general readership thinks it's 'just too different' to offer a comment they feel is worthy of expressing?

Certainly, I believe that after following the link to the paper, people will better understand that the abuse of Trans people, really isn't so different. It's demeaning, marginalising, abhorrent, and above all, totally misappropriates that individuals sense of self expression and freedom. And those are themes I'm sure many of us can relate to, trans or not.

Hannah // Posted 05 September 2010 at 09:44

I think Carrie gives a very good explanation of why there are few comments - I'd read this post, become aware of a new issue, thought 'gosh the levels of abuse are shocking', and that I'm glad there has been a report published looking into it. I hope no-one's concluding that cis people don't care about trans issues from the lack of comments, but I just didn't feel I had anything useful to say about this.

I didn't want to speculate on the reasons because I don't have any experience of trans dv, and only know limited amounts about the experience of being trans, so it would feel presumptive to come on here and talk about it - I wouldn't want people to feel like or accuse me of imposing my view on their experience. I suspect other people might feel the same. Maybe mentioning a few personal stories would have given us more of a talking point, and an entry into discussion? Thanks for posting it though, many people will have read it and become aware of the problem even if they haven't commented.

Helen G // Posted 05 September 2010 at 10:18

I'm really uneasy with this suggestion that including personal stories of survivors of trans dv would have helped cis people get a better grip on the subject. I don't understand how it would have worked; I don't understand how including graphic and distressing descriptions would have helped cis people's comprehension - and most importantly, I don't understand how that would have helped the survivors in any way at all. It seems to me that it would be little more than sensationalism, but please do feel free to correct me if I've misunderstood what's being asked.

I'd also like to add that I'm uncomfortable at how this thread seems to be sliding into a recentring of the subject on to cis people's concerns. Perhaps more useful questions to consider might be, for example, why the levels of abuse are so high, what can be done to tackle this, and how cis people might be able to support and help survivors of trans dv?

Carrie // Posted 05 September 2010 at 11:17

Helen

Snippet "why the levels of abuse are so high, what can be done to tackle this, and how cis people might be able to support and help survivors of trans dv?"

This is absolutely the point - totally. There can be no debate about the primacy of this issue, as my first comment stated. YOU ARE 100% RIGHT!!

But, to the question relating to to how people are engaging with this article, I'm not sure this is a re-centering of the debate towards cis concerns, but a recognition of why engagement 'might' (and I stress this, 'might') be limited.

If anything, I was proposing a personalisation of the trans experience as a way for making the issue more accessible, and by definition elevating the debate to the place we need it to be. I'm sure you'll agree, we need cis allies. As you know, we are too few in number and often suffer significant social exclusion. The STA has done some great research in the space previously and the numbers are shocking.

And I am generalising when I say this, but surely one of the ways we develop those allies is by maximising the chances of empathy, and understanding - the cis population needs to understand, that we as trans people hurt, feel, suffer in the same ways they do.

Surely one of the great divides between cis and trans people is the perpetual belief that trans people are not really people, but things. You recently posted on a very personal experience of this yourself on your main blog.

All I am suggesting is a narrative that helps the wider population understand that while the drivers of abuse may differ, the manifesting impact and experience is not that different from domestic violence committed against cis people.

It feels in our interests to tackle barriers that hinder the cis population's ability to engage with trans issues. I know your not suggesting otherwise, but really, this is the central point I previously commented on.

Empathy strikes me as the most powerful of motivators to action, for the very reasons you so perfectly articulated.

polly // Posted 05 September 2010 at 11:31

Why are the levels of abuse so high?

Well they aren't necessarily. If you read the report you will see that the methodology consisted of an online survey, which people (a total of 60 in all) voluntarily responded to. In other words the respondents were a self selecting group, and were probably more likely to reply if they had experienced domestic abuse themselves, than if they hadn't. So you can't necessarily say that this survey is representative of actual levels of abuse. This is acknowledged in the report itself.

Other surveys showed different statistics for example you might want to look at this one on the same website.

http://www.lgbtdomesticabuse.org.uk/service-providers/signposts-and-resources/statistical-information.htm

Which said 5% of respondents had experienced physical abuse from a partner.

That is still 5% too many of course, but clearly more research is needed to give an accurate picture.

As to what should be done about this problem? Well clearly there need to be comprehensive domestic violence services for everyone - certainly in the area where I live these exist already. And the courts need to take domestic violence seriously. My local area also seems to have got their act together on this quite well, with special domestic violence courts where the victim does not have to share an entrance with the defendant.

Ms Chin makes some points about modifications in services which I don't think anyone else without specialist knowledge could add to.

But the need for adequate domestic violence services applies to everyone. One piece of research has found for example that 29% of gay men have experienced violence in a relationship.

http://www.herts.police.uk/report/LGBT%20DV%20Report%20-%20March%2003.pdf

Men in general also experience domestic violence, though according to Women's aid statistics.

"45% women and 26% men had experienced at least one incident of
inter-personal violence in their lifetimes. (Walby and Allen, 2004) ) –
however when there were more than 4 incidents (i.e. ongoing domestic or
sexual abuse) 89% of victims were women"

http://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic_violence_topic.asp?section=0001000100220036&itemTitle=Statistics

As for Christine Burn's point "Of course, discussions about trans people (trans women in particular) and DV or rape have usually (historically) been framed around the assumed threat posed by them working in or using crisis / support services."

It's worth pointing out that 28 out of the 60 respondents to the survey under discussion here were trans women.

But in any case, she is I think substantially misrepresenting the argument that is being made. The fact that many believe separate services should exist that are only for those assigned female at birth, doesn't necessarily mean that they think trans people pose a "threat". I'm not about to rehearse the arguments again though (largely because I'm fairly certain they wouldn't be published by the F word anyway). Except to point out that not all of those who experience domestic violence use refuge type services. Women who use these services are a very small minority.

As for 'condoning abuse by silence'. I haven't seen any dicussion on the F word of the deaths of Clare Ashill, Kate Mott, Julie McKinley, Francesca and Susan McFall, and Denise Grieve all killed in domestic violence incidents. And many more of course. The estimate is 2 women a week in the UK. Those are just a few cases I found reported in the last month using a google news search. In fact there seems to be very little on the blog as a whole about the topic of domestic violence.

Helen G // Posted 05 September 2010 at 12:17

Whilst the links you include make interesting if depressing reading, I'm concerned that their introduction seems to continue the trend in this thread of attempting to recentre discussion away from the subject of the report; namely transphobic abuse within domestic relationships as experienced by transgender people. In that context, your apparent focus on only domestic violence seems to me to be at the expense of other issues relating to transphobic abuse within domestic relationships.

However, I'm heartened to learn that you believe that more research is needed and that there need to be comprehensive support services for everyone, trans or cis; on that, at least, we appear to be in agreement.

I note your other points and I'm sure those commenters above whom you have cited by name will respond in due course.

Butch Cassidyke // Posted 05 September 2010 at 21:13

Interesting (though a bit depressing) survey. Though, I'd have liked to have some more specific data according to gender of people answering survey (is it the same percentage for trans men, trans women and "gender variant"?) and according to gender and cis/transness of the partner.

(Not in order to do oppressionlympics among trans people, but because I have the impression that violence and oppression can take relatively different forms.)

And I don't want to sound nit-picking, it's just the questions that rose in my mind when I read this survey results :)

Lisa Harney // Posted 05 September 2010 at 21:23

Domestic violence survivors are in a state of crisis when looking for shelter and support, and that is totally the wrong time to start suggesting that a small marginalized group with fairly high unemployment rates and a demonstrated vulnerability to domestic abuse and other violence have to scrape together the resources to assist themselves when the resources already exist.

It seems to me that it is the compassionate thing to do, to choose not to turn survivors away because you privilege assumptions about cis comfort over trans safety.

Lucy // Posted 05 September 2010 at 23:47

In a study cited by a previous commenter, an incorrect abuse rate was given. From the study, a 5% physical abuse factor was cited and the comment made that a 5% abuse rate is still an issue. Except the study did not find a 5% abuse rate. As all of us should well know, physical abuse is not the sum total of domestic abuse. We have long recognised that sexual abuse, verbal abuse, threatening behaviour, and other behaviours are part of domestic abuse. Using those sorts of numbers from the study cited yields higher numbers of abuse of trans people (although admittedly still not as high as the survey quoted in the OP), as much as 48%.

I also think it's an odd argument to make that shelters should be closed to trans women since only a small percentage of cis women use them. I fail to understand why that matters. Categorical exclusion is the issue, regardless of the numbers.

Sarah Brown // Posted 06 September 2010 at 13:50

Of particular concern is the way the UK 2010 Equality Act handles this area. It specifically allows trans people (and in particular, trans women, who are singled out in the explanatory notes for the act) to be excluded from group counselling sessions as well as Dv shetlers, all under the proviso of avoiding making cis people uncomfortable. Furthermore, it is legal, under the same act, to set up a service for cis women only, refusing to employ trans women, but the converse - setting up a trans only service and/or insisting on employing trans people, is sex discrimination.

This act has done a great injustice to trans people. We clearly need support structures in these areas, but under the guise of "equality", we have been systematically excluded from them.

Christine Burns // Posted 06 September 2010 at 18:18

I'm operating on a very flaky WiFi connection at the moment so I'm not going to chance my luck trying to respond to the person who thought I was mischaracterising the issue.

Instead, for those who think this is an outlier report with statistics open to challenge, I would recommend downloading and studying this report for the Northern Ireland Police Service:

http://www.ofmdfmni.gov.uk/index/equality/equalityresearch/research-publications/esn-pubs/final_draft_transphobia_report_may_2010.pdf

"The Luck of the Draw" is a report about the broader issue of transphobic hate crime. It does a good job of summarising what is known about this around the world .. and an even better job of explaining how insidiously the discrimination works on those at the receiving end.

The report cites several studies, all with broadly similar findings about the levels of abuse .. and it is not rocket science to understand how this can translate from experiences at large to experiences in the family.

Lou // Posted 08 January 2011 at 04:12

Helen,
thank you for your article. Found it while researching domestic violence across the community. I was saddened and shocked that the rates of DV were so high in the transgender community. Imbalances of power, inequity and broad societal use of violence seem to be a sad common theme. Am studying community services, thought you'd like to know that information form your article has been used in a student's essay in Australia and your article has been included in the reference list for others to seek out.
Spread of information and education might help a bit. Journeys aren't easy.
Best wishes,
Lou.

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