Finding Healing For Transgender Survivors Of Intimate Partner Violence

November is Transgender Awareness Month, a time to reflect on the incredible resilience of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the face of discrimination and violence, and to examine how we all can be better allies to the community. Media coverage of transphobic hate attacks has shone some light on the daily violence experienced by transgender people, particularly transgender women of color. Unfortunately, another category of trauma experienced by many transgender people is less discussed, due to persistent stigma and fear: intimate partner violence (IPV).

According to a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), one-in-five transgender people experienced violence in their homes. As high as that reported number is, the reality is likely to be much higher. IVP within the LGBT community often goes unreported for a number of reasons. Abusers may threaten to “out” their transgender partners in retaliation, or to use their transgender status against them in child custody battles. There is also sometimes a sense that reporting violence perpetuated by another LGBT person is a “betrayal” of the community as a whole.

When survivors do seek assistance, their trauma is often compounded by discriminatory treatment. Among transgender and gender non‐conforming people nationally who tried to access rape crisis centers or domestic violence services, roughly 6%  reported unequal treatment and 4% experienced verbal harassment or disrespectful language. Experiences with law enforcement  show even more disturbing numbers. Nationally, 29%  of transgender and gender non‐conforming people reported harassment or disrespectful treatment by police officers. These negative interactions with people and systems that are supposed to help them discourage many transgender survivors of IPV from getting help.

The above statistics highlight the critical importance of safe and affirming spaces for transgender survivors of IPV. At Fenway Health, our Violence Recovery Program (VRP) is committed to providing such a space where healing can truly begin.

“Fenway’s Violence Recovery Program offers free counseling and advocacy to transgender people, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer people, who have experienced violence, abuse and discrimination,” said Cara Presley, Violence Recovery Program Manager. “Survivors may engage in trans-affirming individual counseling, work with advocates to navigate the criminal justice and legal systems as needed, and attend educational and support groups to learn about the impact of violence and connect with other survivors.”

The mission of the VRP is:

  • To provide services to LGBT victims who have experienced interpersonal violence as well as information and support to friends, family, and partners of survivors
  • To raise awareness of how LGBT hate crime and domestic violence affects our communities through compiling statistics about these crimes
  • To ensure that LGBT victims of violence are treated with sensitivity and respect by providing trainings and consultations with service providers and community agencies across the state

“For many of us who are transgender and have experienced violence, we spend so much energy just trying to survive day to day,” explained Xavier Quinn, Bilingual Counselor and Advocate at the VRP. “Healing from trauma can give us a new sense of freedom and comfort in the world and help us fully embrace and enjoy who we are.”

Attending counseling through programs like the VRP is one way that transgender survivors of violence can find healing, but it’s not the only way, he said. “Activism is another way to take one’s power back. FORGE’s 30 Days of Action campaign, for example, lists some of the many ways transgender people and allies can take action for transgender rights.”

When care providers are sensitive to and informed about the needs of transgender people, it removes a huge burden from clients’ shoulders. “It’s vital that transgender specific services and resources exist,” added Hales Burton, Counselor and Advocate for the VRP. “People have a right to be in a supportive environment that is competent about their needs. No one should have to explain their identity, especially during a vulnerable time.”

If you or someone you know is interested in accessing the services of the Violence Recovery Program, please call 617.927.6250 to schedule an intake.

On Sunday, November 22 at 4 PM, the Boston transgender community and allies will gather at St. Paul’s Cathedral for the Transgender Day of Remembrance – a memorial service and vigil to honor those lost to transphobic violence. For more information on this event and other Transgender Awareness Month events, please visit the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition calendar.

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