Since the Government announced their commitment to reforming the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004, trans people have faced an onslaught of damaging attacks in the national media and online.
Much of this coverage has focused on particularly emotive issues – whether based on evidence or not. One of these issues is single-sex spaces for women, including women-only domestic and sexual violence services. Some commentators have focused on the view that supporting trans women in these services might compromise the integrity of these safe spaces, or that reforming the GRA would mean violent men could access these spaces more easily.
One thing that has felt stark watching this unfold is that the voices of the professionals delivering these services have largely been missing from these reports, despite the fact that their services have been made a focus of coverage about GRA reform and used by some to substantiate their opposition to change.
It’s important that these conversations include people with direct experience of delivering these services. That’s why we’ve commissioned nfpSynergy to interview representatives of 15 organisations who provide and oversee those services. We wanted policy makers and the wider public to understand the everyday reality of how they operate. We needed to hear their voices and find out if and how they support trans women who have experienced domestic and sexual violence. We are extremely grateful to them for sharing their expertise, and wide range of views and experiences.
What we’ve found is that, contrary to the panicked headlines, organisations across the sector have already been supporting trans women for some time. This support is vital because in the past 12 months alone, one in six trans women have experienced domestic violence. Many providers are taking proactive steps to ensure their services are trans-inclusive, and services are developing a growing body of best practice in this area. Some participants in this research recalled instances where challenges arose, and described how they managed these with sensitivity and common sense to ensure that every woman in their service felt welcome and safe.
Many organisations told us that reforming the GRA to simplify the process of getting a Gender Recognition Certificate would have no relevance to how they run their service. Participants overwhelmingly told us that services’ thorough risk assessment processes would continue to safeguard against an incident of a violent man attempting to access services, while ensuring that all women receive the support they need.
The report isn’t showcasing one view, or one narrative about trans inclusion – we wanted to accurately reflect where these service providers are now. Several participants expressed concern that there are trans survivors who are being let down when seeking support, with some likening their experiences to the struggles faced by many black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women, lesbians and bi women, and disabled women seeking support. Those participants pointed to the huge progress services have made in including all survivors, whatever their background or identity, and made clear their determination that the current debate about trans survivors won’t stop them providing the most effective support they can to them.
It’s clear that these organisations are working in an incredibly challenging environment: not least that they are operating under significant financial constraints. Despite this, they want to do everything they can to ensure that all survivors can access the support they need. This includes trans survivors. Services want to work with trans communities and LGBT organisations to make sure they get this right, and this partnership work will be key in ensuring that domestic and sexual violence services are equipped to meet the specific needs of trans women, trans men and non-binary people. It is vital that the UK Government makes a concerted effort to facilitate this closer partnership working in the years ahead, as has been the case in Scotland for some time now, alongside providing sufficient funding for the sector as a whole.
We hope this new piece of research provides a useful contribution in supporting this work. By moving away from speculation and towards an understanding of how services are supporting trans women today, we can restore focus to our shared goal: ensuring that every woman fleeing violence can access the support she needs, now and in the future.