Break The Silence: Sexual Assault Against Transgender Americans

By: Renee Hecht

Count to 98.

An average of 321,500 Americans over the age of 12 are sexually assaulted each year. That means every 98 seconds, someone 12 or older in this country becomes the victim of sexual violence. Some studies project this number as being even higher – one American every 73 seconds, one child every 8 minutes. Sexual assault can happen at any time, in any place, to anyone.

This year, the goal of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is ‘Engaging New Voices’. That means it’s time to get more people involved, to widen the discussion of sexual assault in ways that both draw awareness to it, and help prevent it. For my part, I have chosen to draw some attention to a very specific group of people who are frequently victims of sexual assault, but whose voices are frequently drowned out.

Let’s start with some more statistics.

64% of transgender individuals will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes.

15% of transgender individuals report being sexually assaulted while in police custody or jail.

32% of African-American transgender individuals report being sexually assaulted while in police custody or jail.

5 to 9% of transgender sexual-assault survivors were sexually assaulted by police officers.

10% of transgender sexual-assault victims were assaulted by health care professionals.

13% of African-American transgender people report being sexually harassed in the workplace.

22% of homeless transgender individuals report being assaulted while in homeless shelters.

After you’ve looked at those numbers, I’d like to remind you that in February, President Trump and his administration revoked federal guidelines which specified that transgender students could use the bathrooms matching their gender identities. I’d also like to remind you that there are people who argue that the purpose of the ‘assigned sex bathrooms’ are to reduce the likelihood of sexual assault.

It is estimated that roughly .3% of America’s population identifies as transgender. Which translates to roughly 876,000 people. This statistic is also likely skewed as many transgender people do not feel safe enough to identify themselves. This means that at least 876,000 people are at risk of losing the right to use the restrooms which align with their gender identity – a situation which greatly increases the risk of violence against trans people.

Meanwhile, the perpetrators of sexual assault are disproportionately likely to be white, cis-gender men.

Even if we narrowed the scope of our data to college students, cis-gender women are 150% more likely to experience sexual assault than their cis-gender male counterparts. Transgender students are 300% more likely to experience assault than cis-gender men. This percentage goes up even higher if we focus on African-American transgender students.

Unfortunately, many transgender people face this violence from those they rely on for help.

I was inappropriately used sexually by my gender therapist in [Midwest]. He began sexually advancing to show me how to be a ‘real man’, as a way of modeling masculine behavior. It became obvious that I needed to be sexual with him in order to receive the required letter to have chest surgery.1

“I’m afraid to go anywhere for help, because they will say my transgenderism is related to abuse, or that I somehow egged it on by being a freak. I do not want to have it affect my ability to rightfully claim my own identity. I was transgendered before I was ever abused, but I don’t think they will understand.1

All I wanted was STD screening – but they wouldn’t pay for it unless I filled out a police report. The cops mocked and humiliated me.1

All hope is not lost, however. As of March 2017, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws in place to protect the rights of transgender people. That leaves a great deal of territory unsafe for those whose assigned sex does not align with their gender identity, but it does mean that at least some lawmakers are willing to stand up for a stigmatized and underrepresented group. In addition, there are some groups who support transgender victims directly, such as FORGE – a national organization dedicated to serving transgender victims of sexual violence.

This April, I hope you will consider the stories of all survivors of abuse, and will add your voice to the conversation to help end sexual assault and violence in all its forms.

I recommend visiting the Official SAAM website

You might also consider donating to

The National Sexual Assault Hotline



TransLifeline – a charity whose aims are to help transgender people in times of crisis


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