Domestic and Sexual Violence services for trans women

In any year, one in six trans women experience domestic violence, double the rate for cis women. Fortunately, women’s domestic and sexual violence services are trans inclusive, working to meet our particular needs, and other service users are supportive. Transphobes tell of challenges trans women pose in such services, but never tell the way those challenges are resolved, with sensitivity and common sense, for the benefit of all involved. The full story needs to be told. Jess Philips, who ran a refuge before becoming an MP, says such organisations are experts at risk assessment, and seek the help of LGBT charities to ensure they meet trans women’s needs, despite the funding restrictions they face.

Services say, a woman who identifies as a woman should be respected as a woman. They train their members on specific trans policy. Service users can be uncomfortable with each other for a lot of reasons, including homophobia and racism, and staff respond to these matters to keep everyone safe.

The other women told me that another woman was basically physically abusing the transgender woman in the refuge… When I talked to the transgender woman I said I know this is happening, why haven’t you said anything to me. And she said to me because I want to be safe and I don’t want to leave the place and nobody is going to take me in any other place, and I said but you’re not going to leave, you need to talk to me. And it was a big issue and she said this is the only place I’ve been able to get because I’ve been rejected everywhere in the refuge accommodation and this is the only place I got and that’s why, if I have to accept this from the other women in the refuge that’s fine because at the end of the day I know the staff and you are helping me and supporting me and that’s fine. And I said no, that’s not fine, that is absolutely not fine.

Residents can be lesbophobic as well as transphobic: ‘Oh she’s weird and probably she wants to kiss me, I’m going to punch her.’ We don’t want to be bringing residents into a situation where they’re going to face discrimination because we went through that journey in the seventies and eighties with BAME women going into refuges that were largely full of white women and experiencing a lot of racism and hostility, or just lack of understanding. Gender Recognition Act reform would have no relevance to how they deliver their services.

People say ‘Yes, but what if some man decides to dress as a woman and goes to the refuge’, and I’m like ‘That’s why we’ve got risk
Indeed, some trans women do not pass well, but we tend to pass better than some straight man dressing up for the first time. It is ridiculous to think such a man could fool women’s services. No service said they had used the Equality Act 2010 to exclude a trans woman. If the risk assessment recommended not admitting to a communal shelter, they would offer dispersed accommodation. Some staff thought the Equality Act exemption should be abolished.

The fears raised by Women’s Place UK are divorced from reality. Services do not ask for a gender recognition certificate or birth certificate- they operate on self-ID already. Trans inclusion “has been a really positive experience”.

Trans women remain vulnerable. When they seek refuge, they are victims of domestic or sexual violence, and then some people seek to exclude them by calling them a threat. Services see that this makes us so much more vulnerable, and want to help, to make sure we feel welcome from the start. Including trans women emphasises the gendered nature of domestic violence, against commissioners who move towards a gender neutral perspective.

There is prejudice in shelters. One black woman said that “the category of woman [is] designed very much in a white, Eurocentric, middle class way and everybody else is falling outside of that”. It made her more determined to support trans rights. It is appalling that the right-wing press calls us a threat, where the main threat to services is austerity and loss of funding.

Research carried out by Stonewall (pdf).

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