By Gabriella Bosticco
CW: transphobia, sexual violence
With transgender identities debated in the recent SNP leadership contest, the topic of allowing trans people into gender-appropriate spaces is once again being highly discussed. While many of the arguments against trans rights are flawed and prejudiced, one that I find particularly upsetting as a survivor is the idea that allowing trans women into designated women's spaces leads to increased rates of sexual assault.
In reality, trans people are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators. A US study found that 47% of trans people had experienced sexual assault in their lifetime. In the UK, 1 in 5 trans people surveyed told Galop that they had experienced transphobic sexual assault or the threat of transphobic sexual violence in the 12 months prior. Transphobic hate crimes of all kinds are rife. When trans people are assumed to be the perpetrators, it can be difficult to come forward in cases when they're victims themselves, especially when their testimony could be used to hurt and oppress innocent members of their own community.
In JK Rowling's 2020 essay explaining her views on transgender people, she cited being a survivor of domestic violence herself as a reason for her concerns about allowing trans women into spaces designated for women. Despite recognising that trans people are statistically vulnerable to domestic violence and assault, she conflates the abuse that she suffered at the hands of a cisgender man in her own home with what she believes could happen to other cisgender women if transgender women are allowed in these spaces.
Arguments like this are based purely in fear, especially as the trauma that Rowling suffered had nothing to do with trans women. While many survivors experience trauma-based symptoms, it's unfair to use this fear against vulnerable groups, particularly those who are likely to share this trauma.
This kind of accusation of potential violence is something that has historically been used to oppress many minorities. We're barely past the time when calls to exclude all queer people from single-sex spaces would be commonplace, and in many cultures they still are. A minority of actual abusers within this community do exist, but their gender identity has nothing to do with the violence which they inflict upon others. These kinds of cases exist within any community, and the idea that the inclusion of trans women compromises our safety is at best misinformed.
Apart from anything else, the argument that cisgender men would use this to target women has a major flaw: men are sexually violent towards women all the time with little to no consequences. 80% of women in the UK have been sexually harassed in public spaces, and 96% of women who have been sexually assaulted wouldn't report it due to the belief that it wouldn't change anything, according to a recent report. The sad truth is that if a cisgender man wants to violate a cisgender woman, he doesn't need the privacy of a bathroom to do so.
There are also cases of cisgender women being harassed in bathrooms by women who believe them to be trans. One cis woman described how repeated incidents of harassment in public toilets have led to her avoiding them whenever possible, all because she has short hair. This debate isn't just harmful to transgender people, it's fostering an environment of distrust that often punishes any woman that could be perceived as gender non-conforming.
While this is just a fraction of the debate surrounding transgender rights, it's one that preys on the trauma of survivors to perpetuate hate. Fear of sexual violence is valid, but taking this fear out on trans people is not.
Thank you to Kit Fortey and Robin Wroblewski for proofreading and consulting on this piece!