When is a Rape not a Rape? Or Hate not Hate?

This comes up way too frequently – for instance, we all heard about “legitimate rape” (Todd Akin, a US politician, implied that women who were “legitimately” raped would, somehow, only rarely get pregnant due to some sort of ovarian rape-detector or something) in the last election cycle.

Up until 1993, spousal rape (a person raping their spouse) was not illegal everywhere in the USA.  North Carolina was the last state to change their law which, prior to the change, included this in the rape statute: “a person may not be prosecuted under this article if the victim is the person’s legal spouse at the time of the commission of the alleged rape or sexual offense, unless the parties are living separate and apart.”  Before the 1970s, spousal rape was not a crime anywhere in the USA.

In a particularly horrifying example, in 2007, a Philadelphia judge, Teresa Carr Deni, decided that it wasn’t possible to rape a prostitute, even if you held a gun to her head to force her to have sex, if she had previously agreed to have sex.  In this case, the rape victim previously agreed to have sex with the rapist for an agreed sum of money.  Now you might have moral disagreements with that, but that wasn’t what was supposed to be on trial here.  What was on trial was whether or not she was raped.  When she met the rapist to receive money and perform the sex act (protected sex), the rapist decided he wasn’t going to pay her (no sex had occurred yet) and that he would use a gun to force her to perform unprotected sex with at least 3 other people.  Clearly, this was not consensual.

The judge, Teresa Carr Deni, a Philadelphia municipal judge, decided that it wasn’t possible to rape a prostitute, essentially, since she was offering services for a fee, and that this was just a case of robbery and theft of services.  Not rape.

Despite the Pennsylvania Bar publicly condemning her, she won re-election in Philadelphia shortly after the case for another 6 years in 2007.  Fortunately she’s on her last year as a judge and will not be back in 2014.

On July 14, 2013, Diamond Williams was brutally murdered with her body dismembered and dumped in a vacant lot.  The primary suspect – with significant evidence against him – is Charles Sargent.

Diamond, sadly, even after death, has three things going against her: she was trans, may have been a sex worker, and the judge who will be presiding over Charles Sargent’s murder case.  The judge is Teresa Carr Deni.

That Diamond was reported to be a sex worker should have nothing to do with this case.  She’s not supposed to be tried as a victim in her own murder case.  It’s not less wrong to kill a sex worker, and hopefully Judge Deni has learned that.  But we’ll have to wait and see.  Diamond’s human value and worth was the same as any of ours, and the law should reflect that all of us are created equal, that we all are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.  Such as the right not to be murdered.

That she was trans may be relevant, as a hate crime.  Some media have reported that Charles Sargent killed Diamond when he found out she was trans.  If this is the case, it would seem to be clearly a crime motivated by bias against gender, which is against the law (I’ve written about hate crimes elsewhere and why treating people in this way is not an injustice but actual justice).  But of course it’s not going to be prosecuted that way.  No, it’s going to be prosecuted as random violence that could have happened to any of us.  Except, it seems, it wouldn’t have happened to any of us.

I pray and hope that justice will be served and that Diamond’s murderer will never see freedom again.  He took a person’s life, so it is reasonable that he should spend the rest of his behind bars.  I also want to say that while I never knew Diamond, I do share the grief of her family and friends and their loss.  I don’t have to have known her to know that she was special to many people and that someone was unjustly taken from all of the world.

A bad month. Again.

Trans people – particularly transwomen who are disabled and non-white – are at high risk of attack and death – despite being a fraction of the LGBT population, they are by far the most likely to be attacked or killed.

In fact, most murders of LGBT people are murders of T people.  In Hate Violence in 2012, the NCAVP found that, in the USA:

  • 73% of murder victims were people of color.  Of these, most were black.
  • 50% of murder victims were transwomen
  • 60% of victims (not of homocide but other violence) reported having a disability
  • Trans people experienced police violence at 3.3 times the rate of non-trans people

Other findings are equally sobering.  We are not a country that treats trans people decently.  Or people of color.  Or disabled people.  And we’re really awful to people that are in more than one category.  If you add HIV status to the mix, those with HIV are even more likely to be victims.  So we’re not even through treating people with HIV like shit in this country.

Then, survivors of violence face violence from those we pay to protect us.  They face violence at a substantially higher rate from police.

That is the context of every month.

(note that for the below, I attempted to get names and genders correct – unfortunately much reporting relies on birth names and incorrect genders, so please let me know if you have information about someone’s gender or name that is incorrect below – I do not intend to insult violence survivors or the deceased)

This month, like other months, saw reports of violence against trans people.  I’m sure I’m missing tons of reports.  What I know about:

  • On July 9, Dora Özer, a transwoman who lived in Turkey, was murdered.  She was stabbed to death.
  • On July 14, Diamond Williams, a black transwoman living in Philadelphia, PA, USA was murdered.  She was stabbed, dismembered with an axe, and dumped in a vacant lot.
  • On July 21, a disabled transman living in Knoxville, TN, USA, was physically assaulted while his house was vandalized.  His front door was spray painted with the words “Tranny Fucker.”   While being attacked, he was threatened with death if he did not move away.  He reported being laughed at by police when they arrived on scene.  This was the second time he was attacked.
  • On July 21, in St. James, Jamaica, a transgender 17 year old was stabbed, chopped up, and dumped in bushes along the side of a road.
  • On July 21, Amanda Blanchard in Spokane, WA, USA was murdered by her fiance, who set fire to her home and then killed himself.
  • On July 25, in Thailand, Jatupon Ratworabood was murdered by being shot in the head.  Her body was dumped on the side of a road.
  • On July 25, in Limoges, France, Myléne, a transwoman, was beaten to death with a hammer.
  • Sometime this week, Gaye, a transwoman from Istanbul, Turkey, was murdered.
  • On July 30, in Philadelphia, PA, USA, a transwoman was shot in the head in her apartment by an unknown man.  The last reports I’ve seen indicate that she is expected to survive.

This is just a sampling, based on what I’ve seen this month, of violence and murder of trans people.

I wish for and pray for justice for the families (whether biological or chosen) and survivors of these acts.

Another Murder & Gay Panic

On Sunday, July 14, news reports indicate that a transwoman was killed in Philadelphia.  She was killed with a hatchet and screwdriver, then dumped in a vacant lot.  The woman has not yet been identified.  I’ll warn you that this post may be triggering.

This is not the first murder of a trans person in Philadelphia, nor, sadly, do I expect it to be the last.

In this murder, the accused (who has confessed) claims to have been intimate with the victim.  Charles Sargent is accused of committing the murder upon discovery that the victim was trans.

I expect over the next few weeks to hear opinions about whether or not the woman was a prostitute.  Trans murder victims commonly experience this – and the reporting rarely does much more than scratch the surface beyond placing blame on the victim.  For instance, it’s rare indeed that the reason too many trans people turn to prostitution is discussed.  It’s rare that the conversation is framed in the larger context of continual and persistant discrimination in employment, housing and health care that trans people face.  It’s rare that the reality of too many trans people – that their families disown them – is discussed.  Nor is it discussed that in a struggle to just survive, many trans people have no choice but to live a life – one often without legal employment, good housing, and family support – as who they are.

But we need to step back – we don’t know this woman, and don’t know the circumstances of her death.  And that’s the point.  Too often the conversation jumps ahead to assumptions based on bias.  She’s trans, so she’s …

I also expect to hear about gay panic.  There is a couple of common reasons given for murders of trans people.  The first is just plain hatred of trans people – a guy (it’s almost always a guy or guys) or a group of guys sees or knows of a trans person.  The person might be a transman or a transwoman, but regardless the murder(s) feels they need to “do something” about the person.  That translates into brutal attacks.

The other common reason given is gay panic.  Essentially it comes down to “I can’t be gay.”  Somehow, that translates into killing the person you were intimate with to somehow prove you aren’t gay.  Being gay is worse than being a murderer in the eyes of some.  Often, the murder doesn’t occur unless the person is either surprised, or, more commonly, they are in danger of being found, or just found out by others, to have had intimate relations with someone (or knowledge of that person’s trans status becomes known or is in danger of becoming known to others).  It’s not so much the fear of being gay in many cases as the fear of being found out to be gay.

Of course intimacy with a woman doesn’t make a man gay, whether she is a trans or non-trans woman.  But too often trans and gay get confused.  Even so, bigotry is bigotry, whether it is sexual orientation or gender identity.  And it all comes down to how strongly people feel they need to comply to expectations for their gender and sex – who that gender or sex should sleep with or what identity people with a given sex are supposed to have (see this blog’s terminology page for how I am using the words sex and gender).

Gay panic becomes a legal defense to some.  The so-called “gay panic” defense in law is an attempt to say that the person was nearly out of their minds with rage, and didn’t plan the violent attack.  Fortunately, the American Bar Association may be recognizing the danger of blaming the victim’s orientation for an attack.  It’s a reprehensible defense that attempts to blame the victim.

So all members of the LGBT community and it’s allies need to keep the media accountable.  Murder is not justified by fear of being gay.  Even the most homophobic person is responsible for their violent actions.  The name and pronouns the victim used of herself (I’m assuming she identified as a woman, but if not, then once we know we need to use proper pronouns) should be used in reporting – anything else is an attack on a dead victim.

That said, this is not entirely the main story.  The main story is simple:

Someone has lost a daughter.  Someone has lost a friend.  Someone’s life was taken, and she’s no longer with us.  We need to remember that.  We need to remember her.