What Affects the Quality of Treatment Received by Transgender Survivors of Violence?

A counselor comforts a young person.

Unequal Treatment of Transgender Individuals in Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Programs" (abstract). Kristie L. Seelman. Journal of Social Service Research, Vol. 41, No. 3 (2015).

What it’s about: Seelman wanted to research the experiences of adults who do not express their gender in traditional ways—including those who identify as transgender—when accessing domestic violence and rape crisis centers. Specifically, Seelman wanted to see if people who said they received unequal treatment or services because they are transgender had shared characteristics such as their race/ethnicity, annual income levels, and history of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. To explore this question, Seelman analyzed data collected via the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, the largest national survey of its kind.

Why read it: Transgender individuals who experience domestic violence or rape face many challenges accessing culturally competent services, particularly in programs that separate offerings for men and women. Although many domestic violence programs are working to make their services more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) clients, these changes do not always acknowledge the unique needs of survivors who do not identify with their biological sex or who otherwise see themselves as gender non-conforming. Additionally, few studies have assessed what characteristics may place transgender survivors more at risk for experiencing unequal treatment or services. Seelman’s study seeks to address the gap in the literature by using a national data set that includes participants’ self-reports of unequal treatment due to being transgender when visiting a domestic violence provider or rape crisis center.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Of the nearly 5,000 survey participants who tried to access domestic violence programs or rape crisis centers, between 5 and 6 percent said they experienced unequal treatment or services due to being transgender of gender non-conforming.

Survey respondents accessing domestic violence programs were significantly more likely to report unequal treatment if they also reported:

  • History of sex work.
  • Past experiences thinking about or attempting suicide.
  • Loss of a family member.
  • Being frequently perceived as transgender by others.

The above risk factors also applied to participants who had visited a rape crisis center, although the potential impact of being perceived as transgender appeared less significant in those cases.

Seelman also found significant relationships between self-reports of unequal services and a number of demographic characteristics. For participants visiting domestic violence programs, these include low annual income and having a disability. For those going to rape crisis centers, low annual income, not being a U.S. citizen, and identifying as female-to-male were linked to reports of unequal services.

These findings likely reflect the personal biases of program staff beyond gender identity, Seelman writes, including thoughts about social class, race, and U.S. citizenship. Findings related to annual income may also reflect staff members’ belief that low-income individuals are less likely to file a complaint against the program than wealthier individuals whith more connections and influence, Seelman adds. Indeed, the study found that for every $10,000 increase in annual household income, there was a 14-percent decrease in participants' reports of unequal treatment or services at domestic violence providers and a 15-percent decrease at rape crisis centers.

Additional references: Visit our library to learn more about family violence. We’ve also written about resources for transgender youth, including this guide on helping transgender young people be themselves.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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