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Adopt and Evidence and Rights-Based Approach in Addressing the Increasing Violence Against Trans and Gender Diverse Persons

By Justice for Sisters | Nov 20, 2020

In conjunction with Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on 20 November 2019, we commemorate the lives of trans and gender diverse persons lost to hate crimes and anti-transgender violence.

According to the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM), globally, 350 trans and gender diverse people were reportedly murdered between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2020, a 6% increase in reported murders from last year. The report shows:

  • 98% of those murdered globally were trans women or trans feminine people;
  • 62% of murdered trans people whose occupation is known were sex workers;
  • 38% of the murders took place on the street and 22% in their own residence;
  • The average age of those murdered is 31 years old; the youngest being 15 years old.

In Malaysia, at least 2 cases of murder of trans women were reported between November 2019 and October 2020:

May/June 2020 – a trans woman from Indonesia was found dead in her room after she went missing for a few days. Her neighbours noticed the odour of her decomposing body and notified the police. She was allegedly murdered by her boyfriend, who is also a foreigner.

June 2020 – a young trans woman in Johor Bahru was found dead in her home after her friends contacted her house owner as she was ‘missing ‘ for a few days. The case was investigated by the police. The outcome of the case is unknown.

These are some key cases and trends of violence against trans women that we have documented in 2020:

  1. Violence by family members. In January 2020, a young trans woman’s plea for help circulated in WhatsApp groups and social media. She was physically assaulted and imprisoned in her house by her family members. The police, who had initially made a home visit reportedly threatened to arrest and beat up the victim if she continues to be herself. They advised her to listen to the family members. Following some interventions by human rights groups, the police rescued the young trans woman.
  1. Violence from members of the public. In February 2020, three cases of physical assaults by groups of men were reported – two cases occurred in Kedah and one case in Perak. The cases involve stabbing and physical assaults. In one of the cases in Kedah, the trans woman was assaulted by a group of men pretending to be police officers in a public place. In the case in Perak, a trans woman was assaulted with a metal rod. Of the 3 cases, only one of them lodged a police report. The outcomes of the case are unknown. The other two did not lodge a police report due to trauma and fear of self-incrimination.
  1. Trans women sex workers are especially vulnerable to violence. A number of cases of assault by clients or people pretending to be clients have been reported all over Malaysia. The criminalisation of sex work and transgender women under the law create multiple barriers for trans women sex workers to access redress and report cases of violence.
  1. The sexual objectification and stereotype of trans women as sex workers increases their vulnerability to sexual violence and harassment in public, private, online and other spaces. This includes among others, being stalked, harassed, molested, and flashed. In one case, a trans woman who owns a shop faced sexual harassment and violence by multiple men who visit her shop. In another case, a man broke into a trans woman’s house multiple times to coerce her into having sex with him. She eventually moved to a different state to escape the harassment. Both women did not report the cases due to personal previous negative experience with the police when lodging police reports, fear of victim-blaming, lack of confidence in the police, among others.
  1. Trans women are vulnerable to doxxing and having their photos being used for online scams. In several cases, trans women have been confronted by strangers who were affected by the scam with hostility, increasing concerns of violence.

Trans and gender diverse people are also hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Aside from being disproportionately affected economically, many trans and gender diverse living with unaccepting family members are vulnerable to violence and increased mental health issues. SEED Malaysia observes an increase in trans women seeking shelter due to violence and lack of acceptance by family members.

Our documentation shows while trans and gender diverse persons face multiple forms of violence, most cases are not reported. Many trans women, especially sex workers lack access to justice due to the multiple forms of criminalisation under the laws, state policies that promote ‘rehabilitation’, and the increasing social stigma, perception and attitudes towards transgender people.

In addition, previous negative and traumatic experiences with the police and state officials deter trans and gender diverse persons from seeking support and assistance. As a result, these violence that could have been prevented, are prolonged with impunity and remain invisible. Further, trans and gender diverse persons are burdened to resolve the violence and violations that they face on their own, deepening their marginalisation.

The sense of marginalisation, neglect, and lack of security and safety experienced by trans and gender diverse persons is further aggravated by exclusionary, non evidence and rights-based statements by state actors. In line with the government’s vision of shared prosperity and commitment to leave no one behind, we recommend:

  1. Human rights and gender sensitisation training for police officers and government staff to reduce stigma and mistreatment against trans and gender diverse persons.
  2. Cases of crimes against trans and gender diverse persons are currently recorded based on their gender identity, instead of according to the assigned identity on the national registration identity card (NRIC). As a result, there is a lack of documentation and analysis of cases of crimes against trans and gender diverse persons.
  3. Allow trans and gender persons to change their gender marker on their legal documents
  4. The government to implement the CEDAW Concluding Observation in relation to trans women, which include:
    • Adopt anti-bullying policies based on alternative strategies to address bullying, such as counselling services and positive discipline, and undertake awareness-raising measures to foster equal rights for LBTI students;
    • Amend all laws which discriminate against LBTI women, including the provisions of the Penal Code and Syariah laws that criminalise same-sex relations between women and ‘cross-dressing’;
    • Apply a policy of zero-tolerance with regard to discrimination and violence against LBTI women, including by prosecuting and adequately punishing perpetrators;
    • Expedite measures to discontinue all policies and activities which aim to “correct” or “rehabilitate” LBTI women.

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