Campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp have brought sexual harassment to the forefront of the national conscience like never before. But the conversation hasn’t been as inclusive as it should be. The movement must do more to reflect the voices and needs of the transgender community, a demographic that consistently gets overlooked despite facing sexual violence at staggering rates.
Although you wouldn’t know it from mainstream advocacy campaigns, trans people have long been involved in efforts to stop gender-based violence. We are also among the most vulnerable to this violence. Based on a recent survey, more than one in three trans women and one in two trans men have been sexually assaulted — and the rates of sexual assault against non-binary people are even higher.
Trans people of color are disproportionately affected by sexual violence. So are trans people who have done sex work, who have been homeless, and who have disabilities. Many trans survivors face painful barriers when they seek visibility or support.
“[T]here are femmes and black trans women out there who are doing the work to survive and to live, and some of them are screaming ‘Me too’ from the ground that they've just been beaten up on,” says Jari Jones, a Black trans femme actress and photographer, in a video interview. “Some of them are screaming ‘Me too’ from the hospital that they’re laying in. And some of them can't scream because they’re dead.”
KC Clements, a non-binary trans writer who has survived sexual assault, notes that trans people’s experiences often are not reflected in advocacy campaigns. “We need to be recognized as an especially vulnerable population, as well as an especially fierce, beautiful, and empowered community,” they said in an op-ed for HuffPost.
Violence against trans people takes diverse forms. For example, some trans people are perceived as cisgender women or girls, and thus get targeted in the same way as women or girls who are not trans. Other times, trans people get specifically targeted for being trans.
Trans people are also more likely than people in the general public to work in high-risk occupations. For example, roughly one in five trans people has served in the military, where service members encounter high rates of sexual violence according to HuffPost and CNN. Also, a little more than one in 10 trans people has done sex work. Sex workers face high risk of sexual violence and barriers to reporting such violence, according to HuffPost and Time.
When trans people do seek support, we often face hostility or inappropriate assumptions about gender, bodies, and violence. Some have been turned away for services because their voices were too deep. When they called a hotline the listener could not believe they were survivors rather than perpetrators. Some have been told by their therapists or loved ones that no survivor of sexual assault could really be trans.
Some trans people of color, like Eisha Love and Ky Peterson, have been prosecuted when they defended themselves from their attackers. Love was held in prison for three years and nine months over an incident that occurred while fleeing a hostile group of men, while Peterson is still serving a 20-year sentence for killing his rapist in self-defense.
It’s not hard to see why many are simply too scared to speak out at all. “I’ve often felt like I couldn’t discuss my experiences with sexual harassment and assault because I’ve witnessed the difficulty that even cisgender women face when they disclose,” says Raquel Willis, national organizer for the Transgender Law Center, in an op-ed for INTO. “My transness, queerness, and Blackness render my claims even less believable in a society that views me as inherently deviant.”
Despite these barriers, trans people, cis women, and others have been organizing to tackle sexual violence and support each other for a long time.
We have called on cis men to unlearn sexism. We have created and contributed to events, anthologies, and art projects that break the silence about violence against us. We have organized to support those criminalized for survival and sued government officials about rape in prison. We have formed organizations, support groups, and helplines where no means for support existed before. We have fought back against the myth of trans people committing sexual assault in restrooms. And we have advocated for policies that support survivors and defend reproductive freedom.
We still have a long way to go. To get there, trans people must also be heard when we say, “Me too.”