Toya J. remembers waking in to the emergency room of George Washington University hospital, not sure how she had got there or what was causing her extreme pain. A police report would later fill in the gaps of her memory, documenting what witnesses described as a violent attack against her by a group of young boys. The witnesses had only caught a fleeting glimpse of an assault that had begun hours earlier when one of Toya’s attackers realized she was transgender.
One of thousands of transgender youths attacked because of their LGBTQ status, Toya, along with the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs are campaigning against transgender assaults during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. “There is a belief, especially among African Americans that those in the LGBTQ community that are sexually violated, somehow brought it upon themselves. There is so little compassion or basic human empathy,” Toya told the AFRO. “The number of times I was asked if I had tricked or fooled that guy into thinking I was born female, is amazing. It essentially makes me responsible for being attacked.”
Sexual assault perpetrated against transgender individuals may be a component of an anti-transgender hate crime or may be linked to other demographic variables such as race. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), acts of hate violence, such as harassment, stalking, vandalism, and physical and sexual assault, are often supported by more socially sanctioned expressions of transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia, and are intended to send a message to LGBTQ communities.
Extreme acts of violence against trans women of color are disturbingly common in the District, according to The D.C. Trans Coalition whose 2015 Access Denied: Washington, D.C. Trans Needs Assessment Report, found that robberies, sexual assaults, stabbings, and murders are a persistent problem for trans women in the area.
Trans people experience high rates of assault and harassment, with 74 percent having been verbally assaulted, 42 percent physically assaulted, and 35 percent sexually assaulted. Black transsexuals are susceptible to sexual assault as retaliation. There were 313 attacks on transgendered people in 2015 compared to 43 assaults in 2014.
According to Metropolitan Police Department statistics on Hate Crimes for 2016, there have been four incidents related to sexual orientation and an additional two related to gender identity or expression. These numbers reflect data through February 29 and reflect no percentage change from that time in 2015. There were 27 hate crimes related to sexual orientation and 10 related to gender identity or expression reported in 2015.
In a separate report released by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC), Addressing Anti-Transgender Violence, transgender women of color were found to have the least access to resources to address trauma related to such attacks. “Transgender women of color are facing an epidemic of violence that occurs at the intersections of racism, sexism, and transphobia,” said the campaign’s Chad Griffin in the report. “Imagine fearing for your life every day. That nightmare is a reality for far too many transgender women, a nightmare that deserves national attention.”
The research suggested that half of all transgender people will be sexually assaulted at some point during their life. According to Rebecca Stotzer, a leading scholar and expert on bias motivated violence, “Violence against transgender people starts early in life; transgender people are at risk for multiple types and incidences of violence, and this threat lasts throughout their lives. There is a high prevalence of sexual assault and rape starting at a young age.”
“We have to engage as a community and instill in our kids that it is not okay to bully and harass someone because you don’t agree with how they live,” Toya told the AFRO. “The fact that so much of the violence also includes sexual assaults and are perpetrated by men who hate those in the LGBTQ communities, has to be addressed. There is definitely something to that.”