What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Photo caption: Ms. Popy is a hijra community leader in Bangladesh. In countries without strong trans-led organizations, the rates of violence against trans people are likely under-reported. Photo credit: Ian Taylor

Written by Molly Goggin-Kehm, Technical Officer, LINKAGES 

“I didn’t want to leave Honduras, Honduras is my home. I had to leave. If I had stayed in Honduras I would be dead.” Maritza, a 24-year-old transgender woman made the journey to the United States in 2012 fleeing violence at home. Gang members killed her best friend (a transgender woman) whose case goes unresolved and Maritza was once attacked and beaten by police officers for simply standing outside of a bar. “I couldn’t live there (Honduras) without being afraid. No one cares about transgender women. We have no rights. I could never go to the police because they were the ones I was most afraid of.” Stories like Maritza’s are much too common for transgender people. On October 13, Diana Sacayan, a prominent transgender activist in Argentina, was murdered. This is was the third violent death of a transgender women in Argentina last month (BBC, 2015).

Is transgender violence on the rise? Is it more dangerous to be transgender in Central and South America? The worrisome answer is we do not know. There have been 1,612 documented cases of transgender people murdered in 62 countries between 2008 and 2014; 78% of these were documented in Central and South America. The most alarming figures of trans violence come from countries with a strong trans movement and that also have organizations that do professional monitoring (Project, 2015). This suggests something even more worrisome: unreported cases. The numbers we have may be just the tip of the iceberg.

We have no clear understanding of how many transgender people (or people mistaken as trans) have faced horrific violence or been murdered because no one is there to track this.

Like Maritza, avoidance of police and authority figures is common as they are often the perpetrators of trans violence, so crimes are unreported and data are lost (UNHCR, 2015).

In May 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council released its report on discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The report discusses how government-sponsored discrimination and violence against transgender people continues to exist at alarming levels. Currently, “at least 76 States retain laws that are used to criminalize and harass people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression sometimes even with the death penalty… Violence motivated by homophobia and transphobia is often particularly brutal, and in some instances characterized by levels of cruelty exceeding that of other hate crimes.” In every region in the world, the United Nations continues to receive reports of physical and psychological violence against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, but how many reports do they not receive (UNHCR, 2015)?

On Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th, an annual observance that honors the memory of those lost in acts of transphobic violence, we have many names to remember. But we are unable to honor or act for those who we do not know have been lost.

There needs to be a collaborative global effort to collect more data on trans people and experiences with trans violence. Figuring out these numbers is pivotal to addressing transgender violence, which is severely underestimated. Knowing more is the first step to ending the assault on trans lives.

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