While anyone could be trafficked, it has become increasingly evident that marginalized people groups are particularly susceptible to human trafficking. Research has discovered that there is a link between trafficking and race, which tells us that people of color are disproportionately affected by trafficking. It only takes one quick Google search to discover that 71% of those trafficked are women and girls. However, even with all of the research surrounding trafficking, there is little discussion about the fact that transgender individuals are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Today is the International Transgender Day of Visibility, and we want to shine a light on this injustice.
Why is research about the transgender community and human trafficking more difficult to come by?
The LGBTQ+ community faces discrimination on a daily basis in our societal structures and in our justice systems. Additionally, the community experiences violence and bullying. One place where the LGBTQ+ community regularly faces violence is within prisons. Dr. Anne E. Fehrenbacher of the UCLA Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Behavior conducted a study that is published in the Journal of Human Trafficking. In this study, Fehrenbacher found that there are discriminatory law enforcement practices that directly influence trans migrants and people of color.
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin expressed, “The level of violence targeting transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, is a national crisis that the LGBT movement has a responsibility to confront.” In 2014, 13 transgender women were murdered, and 12 of these 13 individuals were Black or Latina. It is evident that transgender women of color have been targets of violence within the U.S. and beyond.
Furthermore, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) stated that “[m]any cases of violence against LGBT persons are underreported; many persons are afraid of reprisals, reluctant to identify themselves as LGBT, or do not trust the police or the justice system.” With this lack of trust in the justice system, many cases of trafficking amongst transgender individuals go unreported. Just because these cases are heard of less frequently doesn’t mean they aren’t still happening.
Why are transgender individuals particularly vulnerable to trafficking?
Due to systemic discrimination, transgender individuals are vulnerable to violence. Anti-trafficking organization Polaris Project gathered data from January 2013 to March 2014 in 25 countries throughout the Americas. The reports showed that 70% of transgender and gender non-binary individuals who sought out medical treatment also experienced discrimination within medical services. This is often seen when healthcare professionals refuse to treat LGBTQ+ individuals. Some who have experienced this mistreatment explain that they have been told that treating them would damage the reputation of the medical practice. Medical discrimination also includes denying hormone replacement therapy to transgender individuals.
Also, many LGBTQ+ individuals have experienced bullying at some point in their lives. An article by Sarah McBride from Human Rights Campaign states, “Researchers believe that anti-LGBTQ stigma is a major cause of problems including depression, violence and substance abuse among LGBTQ young people.” LGBT youth in the U.S. described bullying as the second most important problem in their lives (This came after lack of acceptance from family members). When an individual is consistently placed in situations that leave them vulnerable to violence, they become vulnerable to more abuse.
Additionally, the current lack of healthcare, high unemployment rates and housing instability within LGBTQ+ communities leads individuals to turn to sex work. As we have seen time and time again, human trafficking impacts marginalized communities at disproportionately high rates. Since the transgender community is an extremely marginalized group of people, individuals are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Trans BIPOC are especially vulnerable, as they endure both racist and transphobic marginalization.
What can be done to protect transgender individuals?
There is much that needs to change in order to protect transgender individuals. Advocating for laws that protect against discrimination within health care is one way to work towards equity for the LGBTQ+ community. One way to do this is to call your Senators and Representatives and request that there is more attention on equal health care rights. Additionally, most cases of trafficking amongst LGBTQ+ individuals involve sex trafficking. This often takes place at bars and strip clubs. Continue to stay educated and prevent sexual exploitation by being aware of the signs of trafficking. Lastly, violence against LGBTQ+ individuals often occurs due to discrimination within our society. This violence causes transgender individuals to be more vulnerable to violence and ultimately makes them vulnerable to traffickers. We can protect transgender individuals by working together to eliminate bullying and violence against the LGBTQ+ community.