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On Serving Transgender Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence

Author: Carmen Golay, HSCADV Trainer

Published on: February 13, 2018


On Friday February 9, I had the opportunity, along with many other Oahu based advocates, to attend a very important workshop. Facilitated by Michael Munson from Forge, it was a dynamic, interesting and timely training. Here, I offer a short summary of the many things we learned, and we hope that you will reach out for additional training on this topic.

FORGE is a national transgender anti-violence organization, founded in 1994. Since 2009, they have been federally funded to provide direct services to transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary survivors of sexual assault. Since 2011, FORGE has served as the only transgender-focused organization federally funded to provide training and technical assistance to providers around the country who work with transgender survivors of sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking. As a technical assistance provider, they are able to see many of the challenges emerging to serve victims of intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

At our training on Friday, we spent some time in the morning covering basics to do with gender identity,  sexual orientation, and facts for understanding transgender and non-binary population needs. Forge’s philosophy is trauma-informed and empowerment based, so when we discussed safety planning and sheltering transgender clients, it was important to unpack some statistics. For instance, 66% of trans people have been sexually assaulted and trans survivors of domestic violence are 7 times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than the general population. Transgender students are often harassed at school, leave school due to violence and 1 in 10 report being assaulted by a healthcare provider. These are important layers of trauma for us to understand. If you have a transgender client call you for services related to intimate partner violence, keep in mind that this person may also have many other layers of trauma.


Safety Planning with Transgender Clients

In general, advocates working in domestic violence know a lot of the basic questions to walk through around safety planning: thinking about the home/residence; code words with children; keeping extra keys/documents/money in a safe place, etc. What I learned in this workshop is that safety planning with transgender clients needs to be more expansive; it might include family interaction, school/work bullying, and street violence, in addition to their violent partner. The reality is that many transpeople are very good at safety planning- they do it every day.  Advocates can be supportive and helpful by understanding some additional tactics that might be used against a transgender client such as: abuser discards hormones, clothes or prosthetics; being told they are not a “real” man/woman; losing their job if abuser “outs” them; denial of services due to incongruent documents; having to prove they are the parent of their child, and the smallness of the trans community that contributes to isolation.

Sheltering Transgender Clients

First, it is important for us to understand that it’s not only the right thing to do to shelter transgender victims of domestic violence, it is the law. The Violence Against Women Act specifically prohibits discrimination or unfair treatment. And there are some very basic (cheap!) things we can do to make our shelters more comfortable for transgender clients. We can make sure our intake processes are uniform for all clients and that we aren’t asking intrusive  or unnecessary questions. We can ask them how they’d like to be addressed, which pronoun they use and what their needs to be comfortable are. If at all possible, have regular house-style bathrooms and provide screens or privacy curtains in shared bedrooms. We can have some simple things on hand or partner with a community donations group to have available: makeup, scarves, ball caps, clothing in a wide range of sizes and styles and quality razors. For a cis-gender female client make-up might be a luxury, but for a transwoman makeup might be part of her safety plan. It’s important to ask what she might need.

We at the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence are committed to training and advocacy for all survivors of intimate partner violence, including our trans community statewide. There are many resources available (list below). If you would like to bring additional training or technical assistance to your organization, please let us know and we will work with you to meet your needs. You can contact Carmen: cgolay AT hscadv.org.

FORGE has an enormous amount of training available for free online. Over 70 hours of webinars are posted. Also dozens of fact sheets and information. http://forge-forward.org/

Additional Resources

Based in Honolulu, the Kua’ana Project provides quality services for the transgender community including advocacy and education. https://www.lifefoundationhawaii.org/kuaana

The Lavender Clinic specializes in LGBTI healthcare. They also offer counseling, community group training, youth programs and education. http://www.lavenderclinichawaii.com/health-training.html

Domestic Violence Action Center offers training and education for community groups on LGBTQ issues and advocacy. www.domesticviolenceactioncenter.org

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