Stigma and Violence Against Transgender Sex Workers

Khartini Slamah and Sam Winter and Kemal Ordek

Doubly stigmatised, transgender sex workers experience violence from the public, customers, their ‘sisters,’ and the police.

This article is part of a series published by Rewire in partnership with the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) to commemorate the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, December 17th, 2010. It is excerpted from Research For Sex Work 12, published 17 December 2010 by the NSWP, an organization that upholds the voice of sex workers globally and connects regional networks advocating for the rights of female, male, and transgender sex workers. Download the full journal, with eight more articles about sex work and violence, for free at nswp.orgSee all articles in this series here.

Andrea is in her early twenties. She comes from a poor family in the provinces of a Southeast Asian country. Unlike most women, she has a male birth certificate. She is a transgender woman.

Andrea has felt female as long as she can remember, and began living a female life as soon as she could. For this she was insulted by neighbours, teased by teachers and classmates at school, beaten up and raped by a bunch of young boys one night, and eventually beaten and disowned by her father. She dropped out of school, left home and migrated to the city, to stay with an older transwoman from her home town who, it turned out, was a transgender sex worker working the streets. Andrea didn’t much like the idea of sex work, but without education or connections was unable to get a job. Being ‘trans’ worked against her. No one wanted to employ her, even as a waitress or shop assistant. She turned to the ‘entertainment’ sector. Unable to get a job as a bar dancer or hostess, and barred from nightclubs and discos (all because she is trans), she too began to work on the streets. She has done it for five years, earning money for food and lodging, and a little extra for hormones and new silicon injections for her hips and breasts.

Andrea’s story is one of many thousands of transwomen worldwide (especially those like Andrea who are rural, less educated and socially isolated) who turn to sex work, not as the most attractive of a range of job options, but as the sole viable option for survival. Doubly stigmatised as transsexuals and as sex workers, pushed into street work, they become victims of abuse and violence perpetrated by bystanders, customers, their own ‘sisters,’ and (sadly) even by those who should be protecting them – the police.

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As Andrea soon found out, competition on the streets is tough. There are too many trans sex workers and too few customers. Increasingly, her competitors are younger and more attractive. There have been fights over customers. Bystanders often abuse her verbally. Customers sometimes refuse to pay, angrily claiming they did not know she is trans. She has been beaten a few times. She knows others have been murdered. Nowadays, in order to avoid violence, she makes clear to every man who approaches her that she is transgender, even if that loses her customers. 

Discrimination, Abuse and Violence

Latin America perhaps presents the most shocking examples of violence against transwomen, especially sex workers. Possibly hundreds of travesties have been murdered in recent years. But the situation in Asia, with which we are more familiar, is pretty bad too. Continent-wide conservative attitudes and religious beliefs fuel intolerance and stimulate discrimination, abuse and violence against transgender people; particularly against transwomen. All three thrive because concepts of individual rights and equal opportunity are often undervalued or unenforced.

A few recent cases from the first half of 2010 illustrate the situation well. An ultra-nationalist group in Mongolia has beaten, abducted and raped transwomen, and has issued death threats, all because they consider these persons un-Mongolian. A Vietnamese woman was gang-raped, her case making news because her legal status (male) invalidated any rape charges against the perpetrators. In Bali, transwomen have been pursued, assaulted and humiliated by young men who have shaved the hair from their victims’ heads. In Turkey there has been a long series of incidents involving thugs beating transwomen on the streets, and police arbitrarily arresting, beating and humiliating transgender activists. In a most recent incident, just a few days before completion of this article, a Turkish transwoman was found murdered; stabbed twelve times and with wounds from her throat to her stomach. Finally, across Indonesia, thugs have broken into meetings of transwomen and driven away the participants, chasing them into the streets, all on the grounds that they are un-Islamic.

Partner violence against transwomen seldom makes it into the newspapers or web blogs. And yet it is a major problem. Many transwomen drift into abusive and violent relationships through low self-esteem. Once there, many feel unable to leave their partners. Beliefs about gender roles foster an even higher tolerance for violence. One South Asian transwoman admitted, “I don’t mind if my girya (man) beats me up. It only shows how manly and powerful he is.” Another claimed, “When my parik (“husband”) beats me, I feel as helpless as a woman. Since I want to be a woman, it actually makes me feel good.1

As is already apparent from the Turkish example above, abuse and violence are often perpetrated by state organs supposedly there to protect the weak. In Kuwait, Nepal and India there have been clear cases of organised police violence against trans communities; so organised as to take on the appearance of ‘sexual cleansing’ programmes (apparently aimed at instilling fear into transwomen intending to come out of their homes). In some countries anti-homosexuality laws have been used to oppress transwomen, and anti-sex work laws have been used to oppress transgender sex workers (along with others). In Cambodia, programmes of forced occupational rehabilitation for sex workers have resulted in transwomen (and other women) being placed into training programmes aimed at providing workers for the garment industry. Not for nothing does APNSW (the Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers) feature a ‘no sewing machines’ image as its logo.

Andrea has had her share of police encounters. The police often harass her and have arbitrarily arrested her. Police extortion is a problem too (either after arrest or as a condition for not arresting her). A few times they charged her with being a nuisance to tourists (though in each case it was the tourist who approached her). At other times they found her in possession of a condom and charged her with prostitution, which is illegal in her country. She now does not carry condoms anymore, and often has unprotected sex. She had twice been sexually assaulted in a police station, once by two police officers, and another time by a male inmate with whom she had been locked up. In each case there was no condom used. She recently found out that she is HIV positive.

High-risk Sex

Worldwide, HIV prevalence rates for transwomen are commonly found to reach double figures. One suspects that the precise figure often depends in part on the proportion of the sample involved in sex work. High HIV infection rates, often coupled with lack of access to HIV/ AIDS care, arguably represent the most glaring example of violence perpetrated against transwomen. This is not just about commercial sex or receptive anal intercourse; transwomen’s HIV rates are sometimes higher than those for female sex workers or men who have sex with men. Rather they are the inevitable consequence of widespread prejudice that frames transgenderism as unnatural, immoral or mentally disordered; of legal frameworks that view transwomen as men, denying them respect, equality and dignity as women; and of laws that criminalise sex between transwomen and men as same-sex activities.

In these circumstances many trans sex workers drift or get pushed into high-risk sex. Water-based lubricants may be too expensive. Some substitute them with oil-based lubricants (including engine oil), which are known to corrode condoms. Sex work on the street may be hurried (leaving less time for a condom anyway). In any case, trans sex workers like Andrea often avoid carrying condoms and lubricants as a way of depriving police of evidence of sex work. Rural migrants, often cut off from family, and less educated and informed than their urban counterparts, are particularly at risk for unsafe sex. Drug and alcohol use, which are quite common among those involved in transgender sex work, exacerbate the problem. Viagra and its analogues, making for longer and repeated sexual intercourse and raising the risk of anal wounds, also increase risk.

Many trans sex workers, despite being poor, need money for hormones, silicone injections or surgery. The associated costs increase their poverty, making it harder to refuse a customer who does not want to use a condom. And then there is the pervasive problem faced by many (trans)women worldwide: low in self-esteem and desperate for a life partner, glimpsing an opportunity for a long-term relationship, wanting to put trust in someone, they cease to use condoms all too quickly.

Human Rights

The organisers of a recent Barcelona conference on transgender rights (the first truly global conference organised by and for transpeople) were keenly aware of violence in the lives of transpeople, especially of trans sex workers.2 Several sessions touched on sex work and violence issues. A document on violence and criminalisation, widely endorsed in a plenary final session, declared a set of basic rights relevant to all transpeople, but often denied to them – especially to those in sex work.3 With regards to violence, the document calls upon Governments:

  • to recognise and condemn as human rights violations all cases of transrelated violence;
  • to investigate such cases of violence (including when perpetrated by organs of the state);
  • to provide fully funded trauma counselling and care for survivors of trans-related violence;
  • to enact laws providing protection against such violence;
  • to provide free and equal access to the justice system for transpeople; and
  • to provide administrative, security and legal personnel with sensitivity training on trans issues, as well as on human rights standards on transrelated issues.

In Asia we are a long way from implementation of the list of principles and recommendations produced in Barcelona. Hopefully, some day in the future, properly observed and implemented, they will contribute towards a much needed improvement in the quality of life of Andrea, other trans sex workers, and of transgender people in general.

About the Authors

Khartini Slamah is coordinator of the Asia- Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) and a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network. Sam Winter is associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, director of the Transgender ASIA Research Centre and a board member of WPATH (the World Professional Association for Transgender Health). Kemal Ordek is the general secretary of Pink Life LGBTT Solidarity Association ( Pembe Hayat, the only trans rights association in Turkey); and sexual orientation and gender identity taskforce member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Notes

1 Cited by Shivananda Khan in a paper presented at the 2nd International Expert Meeting on HIV Prevention on MSM, WSW and Transgenders, Amsterdam, November 2009.

2 The International Congress on Gender Identity and Human Rights, Barcelona, June 2010. A key feature of this conference, drawing participants from six continents, was that almost all attending were transpeople, and many were sex workers.

3 Violence, Criminalization, and Gender Identity (2010), available from: http://web.hku.hk/ ~sjwinter/TransgenderASIA

Andrea is in her early twenties. She comes from a poor family in the provinces of a Southeast Asian country. Unlike most women, she has a male birth certificate. She is a transgender woman. Andrea has felt female as long as she can remember, and began living a female life as soon as she could. For this she was insulted by neighbours, teased by teachers and classmates at school, beaten up and raped by a bunch of young boys one night, and eventually beaten and disowned by her father. She dropped out of school, left home and migrated to the city, to stay with an older transwoman from her home town who, it turned out, was a transgender sex worker working the streets. Andrea didn’t much like the idea of sex work, but without education or connections was unable to get a job. Being ‘trans’ worked against her. No one wanted to employ her, even as a waitress or shop assistant. She turned to the ‘entertainment’ sector. Unable to get a job as a bar dancer or hostess, and barred from nightclubs and discos (all because she is trans), she too began to work on the streets. She has done it for five years, earning money for food and lodging, and a little extra for hormones and new silicon injections for her hips and breasts.

 

Andrea’s story is one of many thousands of transwomen worldwide (especially those like Andrea who are rural, less educated and socially isolated) who turn to sex work, not as the most attractive of a range of job options, but as the sole viable option for survival. Doubly stigmatised as transsexuals and as sex workers, pushed into street work, they become victims of abuse and violence perpetrated by bystanders, customers, their own ‘sisters’, and (sadly) even by those who should be protecting them – the police.

 

As Andrea soon found out, competition on the streets is tough. There are too many trans sex workers and too few customers. Increasingly, her competitors are younger and more attractive. There have been fights over customers. Bystanders often abuse her verbally. Customers sometimes refuse to pay, angrily claiming they did not know she is trans. She has been beaten a few times. She knows others have been murdered. Nowadays, in order to avoid violence, she makes clear to every man who approaches her that she is transgender, even if that loses her customers.

 

Discrimination, Abuse and Violence

 

Latin America perhaps presents the most shocking examples of violence against transwomen, especially sex workers. Possibly hundreds of travesties have been murdered in recent years. But the situation in Asia, with which we are more familiar, is pretty bad too. Continent-wide conservative attitudes and religious beliefs fuel intolerance and stimulate discrimination, abuse and violence against transgender people; particularly against transwomen. All three thrive because concepts of individual rights and equal opportunity are often undervalued or unenforced.

 

A few recent cases from the first half of 2010 illustrate the situation well. An ultra-nationalist group in Mongolia has beaten, abducted and raped transwomen, and has issued death threats, all because they consider these persons un-Mongolian. A Vietnamese woman was gang-raped, her case making news because her legal status (male) invalidated any rape charges against the perpetrators. In Bali, transwomen have been pursued, assaulted and humiliated by young men who have shaved the hair from their victims’ heads. In Turkey there has been a long series of incidents involving thugs beating transwomen on the streets, and police arbitrarily arresting, beating and humiliating transgender activists. In a most recent incident, just a few days before completion of this article, a Turkish transwoman was found murdered; stabbed twelve times and with wounds from her throat to her stomach. Finally, across Indonesia, thugs have broken into meetings of transwomen and driven away the participants, chasing them into the streets, all on the grounds that they are un-Islamic.

 

Partner violence against transwomen seldom makes it into the newspapers or web blogs. And yet it is a major problem. Many transwomen drift into abusive and violent relationships through low self-esteem. Once there, many feel unable to leave their partners. Beliefs about gender roles foster an even higher tolerance for violence. One South Asian transwoman admitted: ‘I don’t mind if my girya (man) beats me up. It only shows how manly and powerful he is.’ Another claimed: ‘When my parik (“husband”) beats me, I feel as helpless as a woman. Since I want to be a woman, it actually makes me feel good.’1

 

As is already apparent from the Turkish example above, abuse and violence are often perpetrated by state organs supposedly there to protect the weak. In Kuwait, Nepal and India there have been clear cases of organised police violence against trans communities; so organised as to take on the appearance of ‘sexual cleansing’ programmes (apparently aimed at instilling fear into transwomen intending to come out of their homes). In some countries anti-homosexuality laws have been used to oppress transwomen, and anti-sex work laws have been used to oppress transgender sex workers (along with others). In Cambodia, programmes of forced occupational rehabilitation for sex workers have resulted in transwomen (and other women) being placed into training programmes aimed at providing workers for the garment industry. Not for nothing does APNSW (the Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers) feature a ‘no sewing machines’ image as its logo.

 

Andrea has had her share of police encounters. The police often harass her and have arbitrarily arrested her. Police extortion is a problem too (either after arrest or as a condition for not arresting her). A few times they charged her with being a nuisance to tourists (though in each case it was the tourist who approached her). At other times they found her in possession of a condom and charged her with prostitution, which is illegal in her country. She now does not carry condoms anymore, and often has unprotected sex. She had twice been sexually assaulted in a police station, once by two police officers, and another time by a male inmate with whom she had been locked up. In each case there was no condom used. She recently found out that she is HIV positive.

 

High-risk Sex

 

Worldwide, HIV prevalence rates for transwomen are commonly found to reach double figures. One suspects that the precise figure often depends in part on the proportion of the sample involved in sex work. High HIV infection rates, often coupled with lack of access to HIV/ AIDS care, arguably represent the most glaring example of violence perpetrated against transwomen. This is not just about commercial sex or receptive anal intercourse; transwomen’s HIV rates are sometimes higher than those for female sex workers or men who have sex with men. Rather they are the inevitable consequence of widespread prejudice that frames transgenderism as unnatural, immoral or mentally disordered; of legal frameworks that view transwomen as men, denying them respect, equality and dignity as women; and of laws that criminalise sex between transwomen and men as same-sex activities.

 

In these circumstances many trans sex workers drift or get pushed into high-risk sex. Water-based lubricants may be too expensive. Some substitute them with oil-based lubricants (including engine oil), which are known to corrode condoms. Sex work on the street may be hurried (leaving less time for a condom anyway). In any case, trans sex workers like Andrea often avoid carrying condoms and lubricants as a way of depriving police of evidence of sex work. Rural migrants, often cut off from family, and less educated and informed than their urban counterparts, are particularly at risk for unsafe sex. Drug and alcohol use, which are quite common among those involved in transgender sex work, exacerbate the problem. Viagra and its analogues, making for longer and repeated sexual intercourse and raising the risk of anal wounds, also increase risk.

 

Many trans sex workers, despite being poor, need money for hormones, silicone injections or surgery. The associated costs increase their poverty, making it harder to refuse a customer who does not want to use a condom. And then there is the pervasive problem faced by many (trans)women worldwide: low in self-esteem and desperate for a life partner, glimpsing an opportunity for a long-term relationship, wanting to put trust in someone, they cease to use condoms all too quickly.

 

Human Rights

 

The organisers of a recent Barcelona conference on transgender rights (the first truly global conference organised by and for transpeople) were keenly aware of violence in the lives of transpeople, especially of trans sex workers.2 Several sessions touched on sex work and violence issues. A document on violence and criminalisation, widely endorsed in a plenary final session, declared a set of basic rights relevant to all transpeople, but often denied to them – especially to those in sex work.3 With regards to violence, the document calls upon Governments:

          to recognise and condemn as human rights violations all cases of transrelated violence;

          to investigate such cases of violence (including when perpetrated by organs of the state);

          to provide fully funded trauma counselling and care for survivors of trans-related violence;

          to enact laws providing protection against such violence;

          to provide free and equal access to the justice system for transpeople; and

          to provide administrative, security and legal personnel with sensitivity training on trans issues, as well as on human rights standards on transrelated issues.

 

In Asia we are a long way from implementation of the list of principles and recommendations produced in

Barcelona. Hopefully, some day in the future, properly observed and implemented, they will contribute towards a much needed improvement in the quality of life of Andrea, other trans sex workers, and of transgender people in general.

 

About the Authors

Khartini Slamah is coordinator of the Asia- Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) and a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network. Sam Winter is associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, director of the Transgender ASIA Research Centre and a board member of WPATH (the World Professional Association for Transgender Health). Kemal Ordek is the general secretary of Pink Life LGBTT Solidarity Association ( Pembe Hayat, the only trans rights association in Turkey); and sexual orientation and gender identity taskforce member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

 

Contact person: Sam Winter, sjwinter@hkusua.hku.hk

 

Notes

1 Cited by Shivananda Khan in a paper presented at the 2nd International Expert Meeting on HIV Prevention on MSM, WSW and Transgenders, Amsterdam, November 2009.

2 The International Congress on Gender Identity and Human Rights, Barcelona, June 2010. A key feature of this conference, drawing participants from six continents, was that almost all attending were transpeople, and many were sex workers.

3 Violence, Criminalization, and Gender Identity (2010), available from: http://web.hku.hk/ ~sjwinter/TransgenderASIA

Commentary Violence

This is Not The Story I Wanted—But It’s My Story of Rape

Dani Kelley

Writer Dani Kelley thought she had shed the patriarchal and self-denying lessons of her conservative religious childhood. But those teachings blocked her from initially admitting that an encounter with a man she met online was not a "date" that proved her sexual liberation, but an extended sexual assault.

Content note: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.

The night I first truly realized something was wrong was supposed to be a good night.

A visiting friend and I were in pajamas, eating breakfast food at 10 p.m., wrapped in blankets while swapping stories of recent struggles and laughs.

There I was, animatedly telling her about my recently acquired (and discarded) “fuck buddy,” when suddenly the story caught in my throat.

When I finally managed to choke out the words, they weren’t what I expected to say. “He—he held me down—until, until I couldn’t—breathe.”

Hearing myself say it out loud was a gut-punch. I was sobbing, gasping for breath, arms wrapped as if to hold myself together, spiraling into a terrifying realization.

This isn’t the story I wanted.

Unlearning My Training

I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren movement, a small fundamentalist Christian denomination that justifies strict gender roles through a literal approach to the Bible. So, according to 1 Corinthians 11:7, men are considered “the image and glory of God,” while women are merely “the glory of man.” As a result, women are expected to wear head coverings during any church service, among other restrictions that can be best summed up by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: Women are never allowed to have authority over men.

If you’ve spent any number of years in conservative Christianity like I did, you’re likely familiar with the fundamentalist tendency to demonize that which is morally neutral or positive (like premarital sex or civil rights) while sugar-coating negative experiences. The sugar-coating can be twofold: Biblical principles are often used to shame or gaslight abuse victims (like those being shunned or controlled or beaten by their husbands) while platitudes are often employed to help members cope with “the sufferings of this present time,” assuring them that these tragedies are “not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

In many ways, it’s easy to unlearn the demonization of humanity as you gain actual real-world experience refuting such flimsy claims. But the shame? That can be more difficult to shake.

The heart of those teachings isn’t only present in this admittedly small sect of Christianity. Rather, right-wing Western Christianity as a whole has a consent problem. It explicitly teaches its adherents they don’t belong to themselves at all. They belong to God (and if they’re not men, they belong to their fathers or husbands as well). This instilled lack of agency effectively erases bodily autonomy while preventing the development of healthy emotional and physical boundaries.

On top of that, the biblical literalism frequently required by conservative Christianity in the United States promotes a terrifying interpretation of Scripture, such as Jeremiah 17:9. The King James Version gives the verse a stern voice, telling us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” If we believe this, we must accept that we’re untrustworthy witnesses to our own lives. Yet somehow, we’re expected to rely on the authority of those the Bible deems worthy. People like all Christians, older people, and men.

Though I’ve abandoned Christianity and embraced feminist secular humanism, the culture in which I grew up and my short time at conservative Bob Jones University still affect how I view myself and act in social situations. The lessons of my formative years created a perfect storm of terrible indoctrination: gender roles that promoted repressed individuality for women while encouraging toxic masculinity, explicit teaching that led to constant second-guessing my ability to accurately understand my own life, and a biblical impetus to “rejoice in my suffering.”

Decades of training taught me I’m not allowed to set boundaries.

But Some Habits Die Hard

Here’s the thing. At almost 30, I’d never dated anyone other than my ex-husband. So I thought it was about time to change that.

When I found this man’s online profile, I was pleasantly surprised. It was full of the kind of geekery I’m into, even down to the specific affinity for eclectic music. I wrote to him, making sure my message and tone were casual. He responded instantly, full of charisma and charm. Within hours, we’d made plans to meet.

He was just as friendly and attentive in person. After wandering around town, window-shopping, and getting to know one another, he suggested we go to his favorite bar. As he drank (while I sipped water), he kept paying me compliments, slowly breaking the touch barrier. And honestly, I was enthralled—no one had paid attention to me like this in years.

When he suggested moving out to the car where we could be a little more intimate, I agreed. The rush of feeling desired was intoxicating. He seemed so focused on consent—asking permission before doing anything. Plus, he was quite straightforward about what he wanted, which I found exciting.

So…I brought him home.

This new and exciting “arrangement” lasted one week, during which we had very satisfying, attachment-free sex several times and after which we parted ways as friends.

That’s the story I told people. That’s the story I thought I believed. I’d been freed from the rigid expectations and restraints of my youth’s purity culture.

Now. You’re about to hear me say many things I know to be wrong. Many feminists or victim advocates almost certainly know the rationalizations and reactions I’m about to describe are both normal responses to abuse and a result of ingrained lies about sex in our culture. Not to mention evidence of the influence that right-wing conservatism can have on shaping self-actualization.

As I was telling people the story above, I left out important details. Were my omissions deliberate? An instinctive self-preservation mechanism? A carryover from draconian ideals about promiscuity?

When I broke down crying with my friend, I finally realized I’d kept quiet because I couldn’t bear to hear myself say what happened.

I’m a feminist, damn it. I left all the puritanical understandings of gender roles behind when I exited Christianity! I even write about social justice and victim advocacy. I ought to recognize rape culture!

Right?

If only being a socially aware feminist was enough to erase decades of socialization as a woman within rape culture—or provide inoculation against sexual violence.

That first night, once we got to my car, he stopped checking in with me. I dismissed the red flag as soon as I noticed it, telling myself he’d stop if I showed discomfort. Then he smacked my ass—hard. I pulled away, staring at him in shocked revulsion. “Sorry,” he replied, smirking.

He suggested that we go back to my house, saying we’d have more privacy than at his place. I was uneasy, unconvinced. But he began passionately kissing, groping, petting, and pleading. Against my better judgment, I relented.

Yet, in the seclusion of my home, there was no more asking. There was only telling.

Before I knew it, I’d been thrown on my back as he pulled off my clothes. I froze. The only coherent thought I could manage was a weak stammer, asking if he had a condom. He seemed agitated. “Are you on birth control?” That’s not the point! I thought, mechanically answering “yes.”

With a triumphant grin and no further discussion, he forced himself into me. Pleasure fought with growing panic as something within me screamed for things to slow down, to just stop. The sensation was familiar: identical to how I felt when raped as a child.

I frantically pushed him off and rolled away, hyperventilating. I muttered repeatedly, “I need a minute. Just give me a minute. I need a minute.”

“We’re not finished yet!” he snapped angrily. As he reached for me again, I screeched hysterically, “I’M NOT OK! I NEED A MINUTE!”

Suddenly, he was kind and caring. Instead of being alarmed, I was strangely grateful. So once I calmed down, I fucked him. More than once.

It was—I told myself—consensual. After all, he comforted me during a flashback. Didn’t I owe him that much?

Yet, if I didn’t do what he wanted, he’d forcefully smack my ass. If I didn’t seem happy enough, he’d insistently tell me to smile as he hit me again, harder. He seemed to relish the strained smile I would force on command.

I kept telling myself I was okay. Happy, even. Look at how liberated I was!

All week, I was either at his beck and call or fighting suicidal urges. Never having liked alcohol before, I started drinking heavily. I did all I could to minimize or ignore the abuse. Even with his last visit—as I fought to breathe while he forcefully held my head down during oral sex, effectively choking me—I initially told myself desperately that surely he wouldn’t do any of this on purpose.

The Stories We Tell and The Stories That Just Are

Reflecting on that week, I’m engulfed in shame. I’m a proud feminist. I know what coercion looks like. I know what rape looks like. I know it’s rarely a scary man wearing a ski mask in a back alley. I’ve heard all the victim-blaming rape apologia you have: that women make up rape when they regret consenting to sex, or going on a date means sex is in the cards, or bringing someone home means you’re game for anything.

Reality is, all of us have been socialized within a patriarchal system that clouds our experiences and ability to classify them. We’re told to tend and befriend the men who threaten us. De-escalation at any cost is the go-to response of almost any woman I’ve ever talked to about unwanted male attention. Whatever will satiate the beast and keep us safe.

On top of that, my conservative background whispered accusations of being a Jezebel, failing to safeguard my purity, and getting exactly what I deserve for forsaking the faith.

It’s all lies, of course. Our culture lies when it says that there are blurred lines when it comes to consent. It violates our personhood when it requires us to change the narrative of the violence enacted against us for their own comfort. Right-wing Christianity lies when it says we don’t belong to ourselves and must submit to the authority of a religion or a gender.

Nobody’s assaulted because they weren’t nice enough or because they “failed” to de-escalate. There’s nothing we can do to provoke such violence. Rape is never deserved. The responsibility for sexual assault lies entirely with those who attack us.

So why was the story I told during and after that ordeal so radically and fundamentally different from what actually happened? And why the hell did I think any of what happened was OK?

Rape myths are so ingrained in our cultural understanding of relationships that it was easier for me to believe nothing bad had happened than to accept the truth. I thought if I could only tell the story I wanted it to be, then maybe that’s what really happened. I thought if I was willing—if I kept having him over, if I did what he ordered, if I told my friends how wonderful it was—it would mean everything was fine. It would mean I wasn’t suffering from post-traumatic stress or anxiety about defying the conservative tenets of my former political and religious system.

Sometimes, we tell ourselves the stories we want to hear until we’re able to bear the stories of what actually happened.

We all have a right to say who has what kind of access to our bodies. A man’s masculinity gives him no authority over anyone’s sexual agency. A lack of a “no” doesn’t mean a “yes.” Coercion isn’t consent. Sexual acts performed without consent are assault. We have a right to tell our stories—our real stories.

So, while this isn’t the story I wanted, it’s the story that is.

I was raped.

News Law and Policy

Louisiana Cops Get Hate Crime Protections as Violence Against Police Plummets

Teddy Wilson

A New Orleans activist said that the "Blue Lives Matter" bill allows law enforcement to hide “behind uniforms and badges” despite having a “long and egregious history” of committing acts of violence against communities of color.

Louisiana legislators this week passed a bill making assault of police officers a hate crime.

Supporters of the measure claim it’s needed because of a growing threat of targeted violence against law enforcement. Data shows that violence against law enforcement has declined to historically low levels, while the killing of civilians by police officers has dramatically risen. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) is expected to sign the so-called Blue Lives Matter bill into law. The bill’s name is a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, a collection of grassroots activists around the country who have demanded justice for victims of police violence.

HB 953, sponsored by Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), would amend the state’s hate crime law to include acts of violence against “law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel.”

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Under the state’s hate crime law, someone can be charged with a hate crime for an act of violence against a person who was targeted because of their “race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry.”

The “Blue Lives Matter” measure would create the first protected class based on a profession, not an immutable identity. A person convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime could face a prison sentence of up to six months and a $500 fine, and anyone convicted of a felony hate crime could face an additional five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.

Harris that the bill is necessary to protect law enforcement, reported USA Today.

HB 953 was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled state legislature. The bill was passed by the house with a 92-0 vote. It cleared the state senate with a 33-3 vote.

State Sens. Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans), Troy Carter (D-New Orleans), and Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) were the only lawmakers to vote against the bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana is not taking a position on the bill. Executive Director Marjorie Esman told Rewire that “at the end of the day,” the bill does not change the scope of current law as it applies to protected classes of people. 

Allison Goodman, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League’s office in Metairie, Louisiana, told the Advocate that the proposal is “not something we could recommend,” and a departure from the traditional intent of hate crime laws.”

“It’s really focused on immutable characteristics,” Goodman said. “Proving the bias intent for a hate crime for law enforcement or first responders is very different than proving it for someone who is Jewish or gay or black.”

Terrel Kent, a former East Baton Rouge parish attorney, told NBC News that the proposal is unnecessary and redundant.  

“As a former prosecutor I know for a fact that battery of a police officer is already covered by other laws here in Louisiana,” Kent said. “To include essential peace officers, sheriffs, law enforcement officials or first responders is a slap in the face to protected classes.”

Harris said during an interview with CNN that the law was needed to protect law enforcement.

“In the news, you see a lot of people terrorizing and threatening police officers on social media just due to the fact that they are policemen. Now, this (new law) protects police and first responders under the hate-crime law,” Harris said.

Harris cited the death of Texas sheriff’s deputy Darren Goforth as one of the reasons he sponsored HB 953. Goforth, a ten-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, was ambushed, shot and killed while in uniform in August 2015.

“It looked like it was strictly done because someone didn’t like police officers, like a hate crime,” Harris said.

Shannon Miles was indicted for capital murder in November 2015, and prosecutors alleged he murdered Goforth for the sole reason that he was a police officer. Miles had reportedly been arrested multiple times and had a long history of mental illness.

As the legal proceedings unfolded, allegations of misconduct by law enforcement officials emerged. It was alleged that officials connected with the investigation had an improper sexual relationship with a witness to the shooting. This led to local activists to call for an apology from law enforcement for connecting the shooting to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Miles was found to be incompetent to stand trial, and will be reevaluated for trial after spending 120 days in a mental health facility.

Harris did not respond to Rewire’s request to comment on this story.

There were 42 police officers killed by firearms nationwide in 2015. The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has steadily decreased over the past three decades. Police deaths by gunfire decreased by 14 percent from 2014-2015 and police officer deaths were at a 50-year low in 2013. 

“The 42 firearms-related deaths of police officers in 2015 are 26 percent lower than the average of 57 per year for the decade spanning 2000-2009,” according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).

Eighty-three officers have been killed in the line of duty in Louisiana since 2000, according the NLEOMF. There were eight policers killed in the state in 2015. No Louisiana police officers have been killed in 2016, according to NLEOMF data.

Statistics Raise Questions About “Blue Lives Matter” Law

The number of civilians killed by law enforcement in Louisiana far outnumber the number of police who have been killed in the line of duty.  

At least 1,146 people were killed in the United States by police officers in 2015, according to the Guardian database of police shootings. Police officers have shot and killed 28 people in Louisiana since the start of 2015. Of those 28 people, 14 were Black men, two of whom were unarmed.

Police in Louisiana have shot and killed eight people so far in 2016. 

Fatal Encounters, a project to create a comprehensive national database of people who are killed through interactions with police, has collected data on fatal police shootings in Louisiana.

There have been 438 civilians killed by police since 2000, according to data from Fatal Encounters. Of those killed by police, 143 were Black and 96 were white. There were 188 incidents in which a civilian whose race was unspecified was killed by police.

Harris represents House District 25, a rural district in central Louisiana that includes part of the town of Alexandria. There have been five people killed by law enforcement in Alexandria since 2000, with three of those five people killed since 2014. 

Bobby AndersonChristopher LeBlanc, and John Ashley were all killed by police officers in Alexandria.

Anthony Molette was also killed in February 2003 by police officers in Alexandria after allegedly shooting and killing police officers Jeremy Carruth and David Ezernack.

Aaron Rutledge, a combat medic and a recruiter for the Louisiana National Guard, was shot and killed in April 2015 by a Rapides Parish sheriff’s deputy after local law enforcement responded to a call that Rutledge had threatened someone with a firearm and then threatened himself, reported the Town Talk.

Lawmakers in the state legislature introduced a resolution in April to offer “condolences of the Senate of the Legislature of Louisiana to the family of Louisiana Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Aaron Rutledge upon his death in the service of his country.”

Harris was not among the lawmakers who sponsored the resolution.

“Hiding Behind Uniforms and Badges”

Louisiana has the worst racial disparities in the country, based on indicators related to household income, public school segregation, and health insurance, among others, according to a study by the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans.

These same racial disparities are manifested in the state’s the criminal justice system, according to local activists who have spoken out against HB 953.

Angela Kinlaw, an activists in New Orleans, said in a statement that the state of Louisiana has ensured that the law is used to “manipulate and control citizens” while being exploited by a systemically unjust system.

“In the face of ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, this “Blue Lives Matter” bill is an intentional slap in the face, designed to control, create fear, and through police discretion penalize citizens for situations that often police create or escalate,” Kinlaw said. “We have seen it time and time again.”

Significant racial disparities have been documented in death penalty sentences in Louisiana. Defendants accused of killing white victims are nearly twice as likely to be sentenced to death and nearly four times as likely to be executed than defendants accused of killing Black victims, according to a study published in the Loyola University of New Orleans Journal of Public Interest Law.

Nia Weeks, policy director of the New Orleans-based Women With a Vision, said in a statement that hate crime laws should protect “vulnerable members of our community” when they are the victims of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

“Structurally there is a power differentiation between police officers and those they encounter. When Black women are immersed in the criminal justice system, they enter a place that imparts racist, sexist, and homophobic ideology on them from the beginning,” Weeks said.

The New Orleans Chapter of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) released a statement opposing the bill. Savannah Shange of BYP100 New Orleans said that the bill allows law enforcement to hide “behind uniforms and badges” despite having a “long and egregious history” of committing acts of violence against communities of color.

“We have to stop this malicious trend before it starts—we cannot allow the gains of the civil rights movement to be squandered away by police officers scrambling to avoid criticism from their constituents,” Shange said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated data about police officer deaths over the past 50 years.