The Grim Numbers and Human Cost of Violence against Trans People
By Carla LaGata/Carsten Balzer & Boglarka Fedorko
Every 36 hours a trans person is reported murdered, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring project conducted by Transgender Europe (TGEU). Since 1999, these victims have been mourned each year on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, held annually on November 20. Sadly, this year the names of 271 trans and gender-diverse people will be added to the list to be remembered and honored.
The project recently released its 2015 update, in which it revealed some sobering statistics about acts of violence against trans and gender-diverse people worldwide. Since it began tracking deaths at the beginning of 2008, a total of 1,933 trans and gender-diverse people were reported killed in 64 countries. These cases, of course, are only those that could be found through internet research and cooperation with trans organizations and activists in selected countries. As the killings of trans and gender-diverse people are not systematically recorded, the actual number is almost certainly much higher.
While any trans or gender-diverse person from any background can fall victim to murder, the patterns of such crimes are anything but random. Of the reported murders since 2008, 99 percent of the victims were female-identified trans and gender-diverse people, and 65 percent of those whose occupation was known were sex workers.
Trans sex workers report alarmingly high levels of physical or sexual violence, often committed by the police. For instance, TGEU’s ProTrans project recorded more than 100 hate-crime incidents between June 2014 and August 2015 in Serbia, Hungary, Moldova, Turkey, and Kyrgyzstan. In the incidents that involved physical and sexual assault and psychological violence at the hands of the police, the majority of the victims were trans-women sex workers.
The findings of the ProTrans project are bolstered by the conclusions of a 2015 survey by TGEU’s Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide project [PDF], which analyzed the results of 863 interviews with trans and gender-diverse people in Colombia, India, the Philippines, Serbia, Thailand, Tonga, Turkey, and Venezuela, who reported numerous forms of violence, including death threats, sexual violence, blackmail, extortion, and physical aggression. Many—especially sex workers—were disproportionately harassed by police. For instance, all trans sex workers interviewed in Colombia reported experiencing police harassment, as did 97 percent in Venezuela and 79 percent in Turkey.
Transphobia manifests not only in murder, but also rape, psychological threats, and emotional abuse. It is subtly woven into the fabric of everyday life, perpetuated by historically and culturally rooted social structures and hierarchies that treat trans and gender-diverse people as second-class citizens or mentally ill. This creates a climate that allows transphobic violence to flourish. Legal measures that criminalize so-called cross-dressing and gender reassignment surgery are still enforced in several countries. Sex work and public nuisance laws are also regularly used to arrest trans and gender-diverse people.
These legal provisions all contribute to an environment of impunity. After all, hate crimes don’t garner much sympathy if the victim is seen as a criminal.
Hate crimes and murders don’t only harm individuals, they do damage to social cohesion and stability and thus affect society as a whole. This year, when remembering those trans and gender-diverse people whose deaths have gone unnoticed, unchallenged, and unpunished, we must not forget the close ties between transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, and sex worker–phobia.
These are all coexisting forms of gender oppression and gender-based violence, and undermine what has been achieved in terms of equality in a society. They have to be denounced not only by the trans community, but other social movements as well. Only if we stand in solidarity can we begin to overcome the violence and hatred against our communities and in our societies.
Transgender Europe is a grantee of the Open Society Foundations.
Carla LaGata/Carsten Balzer is the lead researcher with the Transrespect versus Transphobia project of Transgender Europe.
Boglarka Fedorko is a project manager for Transgender Europe.