Building Safe Spaces: Understanding the barriers in accessing gender-based violence support for trans individuals

Building Safe Spaces: Understanding the barriers in accessing gender-based violence support for trans individuals

People experiencing gender-based violence (GBV) face many barriers in leaving an abusive relationship. From fear of retaliation to financial and societal pressures, a variety of factors can complicate this already difficult situation. Although anti-GBV organizations are on the frontline of providing support to those experiencing abuse and alleviating these concerns, there is still significant work to do in making these organizations more accessible to trans folks.

In 1989, Professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’. Crenshaw, a legal scholar, observed that at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities (such as race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), individuals can experience compounded discrimination. For example, a black, queer woman might be affected by homophobia, misogyny and racism concurrently, expanding her need for community resources, while simultaneously limiting her access to many of those same resources.

Trans women experience GBV at a higher rate than cisgender women. According to a Trans PULSE Canada survey from 2019, “3 in 5 Trans women [have] experienced Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) since the age of 16”. Despite the needs of the wider trans community, including trans men, women and non-binary individuals, trans people are often left out of shelters and anti-GBV programs.

According to a US-based study from 2015, “Within domestic violence programs, transgender people of color, those with disabilities, and those more frequently perceived to be transgender by others are more likely to experience unequal treatment.” As further noted by the Trans PULSE Canada survey, “Cisnormativity can be present in funding structures, organizational policies and programming, and amongst staff and residents”. To ensure trans persons feel safe in these spaces, significant changes need to happen.

The best way to start this process is for service providers to listen to individuals from within the trans community about their needs. The Trans PULSE Canada survey provides several suggestions on how organizations can be more intentionally inclusive, while Western University’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women & Children continues to publish webinars and resources. From both an individual and institutional perspective, the fundamental lesson continues to be the importance of education and acceptance. Organizations and those who work within them to serve survivors of gender-based violence should prioritize learning from these types of resources while always being open to the lived experience of trans and non-binary people.

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