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Sexual violence and trans people - what you need to know.

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

While anti-trans activists are busy painting trans people, specifically trans women, as sexual predators by cherry picking the examples of criminals who decide to transition to get an easy ride, the message that does not get across is that trans people are more likely, twice as likely as cis women to be victims of sexual violence. This has significant safeguarding concerns, especially for young or vulnerable trans people. Although there is no particular profile of offenders, predators often pick their victims for their vulnerability, their ease of access, chance that their victim would be speak out, and lack of parental or lack of other support around the victim. As such, trans people, lacking systemic support from police, friends, family and victim support services are particularly at risk.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. Recently we released a series of tweets aimed at consciousness raising for trans people, for two reasons. Firstly, its important for trans people to know that they are not alone. Sexual violence is something that isn’t often talked about, especially on social media, but it can be just as healing to know that you are not alone, and just as empowering for young trans people, and people of any age who have suffered sexual abuse at any time in their life. I’m going to sew the tweets together as an archive for you to read. They were made over a day, with some advice at the end for anyone needing to work through serious traumas. Today’s numbered tweets will be about sexual violence, as it affects roughly 1/2 of trans people.

Definition: “Sexual violence is the general term we use to describe any kind of unwanted sexual act or activity, including rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and many others.” Often trans people and women are socialised not to talk about acts of sexual violence. They are silenced for many reasons including:

  • The belief that it wasn’t bad enough

  • No penetration was involved.

  • The perpetrator was female

  • It could affect their transition

  • It wasn’t violent.

  • They are socialised to think they don’t matter

  • If they try to talk, they are mocked or not taken seriously

  • They believe it was their fault

  • They are afraid of the repercussions

  • They were manipulated

  • They are afraid of approaching women’s services because of transphobia

  • There is only one trans survivors helpline in the UK, open for 2 hours a day

  • It was a long time ago

  • The perp was a family friend / relative

  • They don’t understand the definition of sexual violence

  • They believe sexual violence only affects cis women

  • They are ashamed of what happened and the way they dealt with it

  • They fear authorities and would rather just cope.

  • They were often bullied at school & view this as “worse”

  • The intersecting shame of being trans and a survivor

  • Coping with transness, and MH problems is too much

  • Finding a therapist they can trust is difficult.

  • They were often bullied at school & view this as “worse”

  • The intersecting shame of being trans and a survivor

  • Coping with transness, and MH problems is too much

  • Finding a therapist they can trust is difficult.

Like trans women, non-binary people & trans men are survivors too. Often, they are silenced because of similar reasons. Trans survivors need to be understood in a way that both affirms their identity, and how their abuse affected them as a non-binary/trans p

erson. Finding support services which cater to this need is very difficult for trans survivors. Often they cannot explain how the sexual violence affected them because the services are more set up for cis / binary people. To get help, often you need to present as cis.

But by presenting as cis, part of your experience as a trans survivor is lost and, worse, you cannot open up to the actual trauma. You heal parts of the trauma which is identical to cis people, where other parts are largely untouched. Furthermore, LGB trans people also have the same intersections and barriers to healing as their cis counterparts. Quite often, services are set up to understand cis-sexual heterosexuals, so for me, being lesbian and trans are intersections which prevent healing.

The irony is that healing from sv can be complex and actually involves a lot of talking. You can never talk “too much” about things which affected you. No-one heals in a day or after a few sessions, unless it’s quite minor. Often people are so afraid to talk. The silencing is so entrenched that often survivors can spend many sessions just trying to get the words out. But when they do, they need to be heard, and understood and have the time to concentrate on healing rather than shutting it out to correct their listener.

Trans people sometimes need to have time to explore in safety how they felt, how it related to their transness, and how and why it happened:

What were the power dynamics?

How did it affect them?

How did affect their relationships with others and with themselves?

Sexual violence can change lots of things about our relationships with others and with ourselves. But surviving abuse does not make you trans, it does not make you a lesbian, or gay. It’s ok to question, and not to be sure about things. But it is NEVER the role of a listener to deny someone’s sexual or gender identity when talking with survivors. It is your role to walk with them, to help see things from all sides, and to empower – never to project your own values and beliefs.

Another very sensitive area with trans survivors is that by its very nature, sexual violence affects our sexual anatomy. We are sensitive not only because of the abuse, but because we are trans, and as such, any significant SV should be treated as complex trauma.

One of the travesties of surviving sexual violence is that victims are often haunted by their experiences, some are very sensitive and worry that they will become the abuser. Anti-trans dialogue about trans women being rapists and abusers is, therefore, massively damaging. Furthermore, others talking about transitioning for nefarious reasons – to be a predator, is associated with self harm and suicide in victims because of such worries that they have become what they abhor. For others, who are victims of non-violence sexual abuse through coercion and grooming, there may be issues around reconstructive surgery. These are not addressed through the GIC through fear of withdrawal of care and permission for surgery.

Something which is common among all genders about sexual violence, especially historical SV, or CSA, is a disrupted relationship with our sexual self. Some people struggle so much with sexual feelings that they prefer to harm, rather than give way to them. It is this issue which causes confusion for therapists – so the complex issues around identity & abuse, takes dedication and time; therapists need to be on point for both affirmative therapy and working with survivors. Often things can be unclear for people, and that’s ok. Often the line between what is/was or wasn’t abuse is also a grey one. Not all who wander are lost – and it is totally OK to explore whatever issue – around transness or sexuality and to have those difficult conversations. Sometimes there are no easy answers. This is why supporting gender *variety* and differing expressions of gender, and agency of people to express themselves, or to experiment with gender is important for survivors of historic SV.

Help and advice when dealing with traumatic events.

In these final tweets for the day about sexual violence, I’ll talk briefly about healing from it, what to expect and look out for in therapy, and linking in the resources that trans peop

le already have in healing from situations where they feel trapped, and coerced – i.e. GD.

The first thing you need to do is be careful with yourself. Set boundaries that you expect from your therapist, and for yourself. Psychoeducation is both informative and helpful, and you may need to know how to stabilise, and manage flashbacks or traumatic memories when/if they happen. It’s not simply a case of going to a therapist and being fixed. Your relationship with your therapist is important, and so is your relationship with yourself. A good therapist will share their tools, knowledge and experience to help “re-program” faulty thinking. It’s ok to say no, and state any preferences for the gender of your therapist. This is really important, because you will need to trust your therapist completely.

Abuse happens when there is an imbalance of power and it is possible that you might become confused in therapy. A good therapist will notice when / if you become dissociated or react in ways which reflect survival instincts. These are: * Fight * Flight * Freeze * Faun. Recognising when you are triggered is part of the journey in surviving. Make crisis plans in advance to manage and resolve issues. Crisis planning or care planning instructs both you and those around you of the actions people need to take to make sure that you are safe. Working through trauma is hard work, and can easily become overwhelming. It’s common for things to become overwhelming very quickly. Just like transition, you need to be very patient. Your healing will hardly be noticeable at first, and it might feel like it’s impossible/too difficult/will go on forever. The more you learn / read the better. Books are invaluable, but again, be gentle with yourself. It’s ok just to buy a book and then hide it in the house (personal experience!). However, develop an enquiring attitude with yourself, and be mindful about what you need and at what time.

People often ask – can I /will I get better? Yes and no. For single trauma and experiences, EMDR can be very effective. However, just as being trans is a lifelong thing, abuse can have devastating consequences resulting in long term disability. Don’t be put off though. Even with experiences that had effects throughout a prolonged period in your life, you can’t just make that go away, but you can learn to manage yourself and those effects to recover more quickly and more effectively. Recovery is not linear!

Become inquisitive about your experiences. Sometimes it helps to think about hiccups as learning experiences, or your mind telling you that you are ready to process something. What happened? How did that happen? What can I do in future? How does this affect my crisis plan?

Take breaks from working on yourself. Do something different if you get trapped in thought, make a daily maintenance plan of things you must do to feel good about yourself. This can be as simple or complex as you need. Everyone has different comforts. If you’re housebound, make a safe space in your home. Make it special, keep it lovely! It’s ok to put yourself first when you are working through trauma. Experiment with different things and work out what feels right and comforting for you (just like transition!).

Sometimes simple repetitive tasks can be great – gaming, knitting, craft, DIY – there are many different things that you can use as tools for wellbeing. Working through trauma does not mean diving into doom and getting lost! Instead think of it as touch and go, practicing grounding, comforting, distraction, as you go. It is this routine which will help you cope with those random triggers which can be really confusing and disorientating. Maintain a good focus on the good things you have in life and practice gratitude for them. Appreciate the present, the good things and people who are in your here and now. Noticing the good things helps to train your mind to feel happy, safe and calm.

I’d like to thank my partner for her love and support, other survivors from whom I learned so much and who inspired me to write this, and my cute and adorable therapy dog, whose love keeps me sane. I’d also like to thank Survivors Network, Brighton, for helping me out when I needed a place to talk. Resources / help:

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