Human Rights Campaign blasts epidemic of anti-trans violence—but it doesn't exist

The narrative of disproportionate violence against people of color does not appear supported, nor does the argument the numbers are severely underreported as LGBT fear reporting to the police.


A new study from the Williams Institute has reported that transgender people are more than four times more likely than cisgender people to experience violence. The Human Rights Campaign tweeted out, "Trans people are four times more likely to experience violent crime compared to cisgender people. Our identities aren't a threat. We need action now to end this epidemic of violence against our community."

Linking to the Advocate, the story asserts, "A new study provides further evidence that transgender Americans face much higher rates of violent crime than their cisgender peers." The article continues, "Trans people age 16 and up experience 86.2 victimizations per 1,000 people, compared to just 21.7 per 1,000 for cis people, according to the study."

The study, titled Gender Identity Disparities in Criminal Victimization, is a collective research project into prior studies, specifically the National Crime Victimization Surveys from 2017 and 2018. The study states, "Anecdotal data and small studies suggest that transgender populations are at a heightened risk of criminal victimization." Concluding," researchers estimate the prevalence of personal and household victimizations among transgender people in the United States."

However, a deeper look into the sources of the study paints a dramatically different picture than the HRC and the study itself, suggests. One prominent limitation is the reliance on a long list of prior reports as the basis for their conclusion. For example, the report cites a March 2020 Williams Institute study, Violence and Law Enforcement Interactions with LGBT People in the US, which argues, "a 2014 report on a national survey of LGBT people and people living with HIV found that 73% of respondents had experienced in-person contact with police in the past five years, and of those, 21% experienced hostile attitudes from officers, 14% reported verbal assault by the police, 3% reported sexual harassment, and 2% reported physical assault."

They cite a 2014 Lambda Legal report titled, Protected and Served?, in which they combined a 2012 and 2013 study effort to understand government and policing misconduct in relationship to LGBT and HIV+ people. The organization interviewed leaders, staff and volunteers from 35 LGBT, HIV and victim advocacy groups to gather feedback on what issues they had encountered in their populations. Taking this information, they created a survey in which 2,376 participated in. A secondary 2013 survey was conducted in which volunteers were asked to share their personal stories of negative government and police interactions and many of these were included in the larger study.

Tracing through the surveys, each contains the same restriction of data, as it is entirely self-reporting. Self-reports can benefit a study as long as there is an objective cross reference that aligns with survey results. The second limitation is the sample size. The national survey spoke with 207,797 individuals of which 4,092 were LGBT and of that number, 192 were transgender.

It is difficult to base any conclusions using 0.5 percent of 2 percent of a population as the guideline. Therefore, the statistics of persons per 1,000 population may not reflect accurate proportions.

As for the data itself, the type and sources of violence reported, but not verified, do not indicate the narrative the HRC or the study itself is presenting. In understanding the victimization, LGBT people, which 71.1 per 1,000 persons is cited, reported largely individuals they knew well and intimate partners as their victimizers (43.7 per 1,000 and 16.2 per 1,000). The study concluded that LGBT were, "most at risk of violence from persons who are close to them." For straight people, known as "non-SGM," the rates of being assaulted by someone they know, and a stranger were virtually identical. SGM stands for Sexual and Gender Minority.

Contrary to most reporting, the study concludes, "Rates of violent victimization were higher for SGMs than non-SGMs among both males and females, whites, those with ages 18 to 34, and those having less than a college degree." Black and Hispanic populations either were the same for both groups or there was insufficient sample size to make a determination. Violence reported by LGBT was higher in urban centers than rural areas. LGBT were more likely to have at least some college education and make more money than straight respondents.

Importantly, "[When] SGMs were at risk for violence by someone they knew well may suggest that, when an offender is aware of an SGM person's sexual orientation or gender identity, the risk of victimization increases." In terms of Intimate Partner Violence (IVP), LGBT were at a higher risk than straight people and while marriage protected straight people from the likelihood of violence, the opposite was true for LGBT people.

Also countering common narrative reporting, both groups were equally as likely to report to the police. The study admitted, "The data show that SGMs experience greater violent victimization than non-SGMs, but our study does not explain why SGMS are at higher risk for violent victimization."

Despite this it speculates the causes are related to hate crimes, discrimination and other forms of disparities. Interestingly, despite the focus on transgender victims, the study states referring to sample size limitations, "For example, we did not provide estimates for the transgender population as separate from sexual minorities or subgroup analyses by race/ethnicity, sexual identity (bisexual versus gay or lesbian), and intersections of identities to more fully explore victimization among SGM persons." The direct quote from the study states, "We found that the odds of violent victimization among SGMs were almost four times that of non-SGMs."

Essentially the data demonstrates that LGBT people are more likely to be victimized by someone they know or by an intimate partner, including their married partner. They are more likely to have medium to higher incomes, live in urban areas and be college educated. The narrative of disproportionate violence against people of color does not appear supported, nor does the argument the numbers are severely underreported as LGBT fear reporting to the police.

As we know, upon researching murders of transgender women are significantly more likely to be due to domestic violence, which agrees with the self-reporting in this study. There is little that can be done at the federal or even state level to address this "epidemic," as the HRC demands.


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