One TERF argument that keeps cropping up from time to time is the idea that trans people aren’t really killed all that often. That trans people must be safer than cis women because of the relative lack of homicides where the victim is trans. One claim I’ve seen on Twitter is that trans women are only one third as likely to be killed as cis women. This argument was today dragged out, yet again, at the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry into GRA reform.
One of the problems with telling how many trans women are killed is that we can only really have an absolute figure (and even that’s questionable, since we don’t know if trans victims are always recorded as trans). We can’t have a proportional figure because we don’t really know how many trans people there are overall. The idea that trans women are one third as likely to be killed as cis women is based on an assumption that trans people make up 1.5% of the population, which is a pretty high estimate. It’s a million people, which is twice the upper estimate the government has for how many trans people there are in the UK, although the government admits that that estimate is ‘tentative’.
This is something transphobes often do, by the way: if they want to prove that something is common among trans people (like committing a crime), they’ll use a low estimate, like 0.5%, for how many trans people there actually are. But if they want to prove that something is uncommon among trans people (like being a victim of crime), they’ll use a high estimate, like 1.5%.
They put the thumb on the scale in the hope that people will accept the mathematically illiterate assumption that both estimates are small numbers only one percentage point apart, so it doesn’t really matter. In fact, the opposite is true: the effect of them both being small numbers is that one of these estimates is literally three times the size of the other. That makes a massive difference when you’re talking proportions.
And since one of these estimates is three times the size of the other, the claim that trans women are killed one-third as often as cis women (based on an estimate of 1.5%) translates to trans women being killed at the same rate as cis women (based on an estimate of 0.5%).
But this isn’t even the main problem with the argument about trans people being killed less often: The main problem with the argument is that cis women are also killed less often than cis men.
In 2019-2020 in England and Wales, 188 women were killed. TERFs love to decontextualise this statistic and say, “well, no trans women were killed, therefore they’re safer, because they’re really men.”
Trouble is, when you put the statistic in context, it actually says “out of 695 homicides in the year ending March 2020, 188 had female victims”. Which is to say, women were the victims of 27% of homicides, i.e. women were about one third as likely to be killed as men. This fluctuates from year to year — in the previous year, about half as many women were killed as men — but in general, women are significantly less likely to be killed than men.
Now, unlike the hate movement, I’m not claiming that just because women are killed less often, they must be safer. There are all sorts of ways to reconcile the fact that women are killed less often than men with the fact that being a woman is more dangerous than being a man.
Most obviously, women are, out of lamentable necessity, more vigilant to danger than men are. Perhaps it’s effective, but to say that it’s acceptable is to fall into the misogynistic, victim-blaming argument that if a woman is harmed, it’s her own fault. Women are more likely to avoid situations where there is the potential for danger, and the actual feminist question is less “how do we make more women survive?”, and more “how do we make women’s survival non-dependent on restriction on their freedom and activity?”
But there are very few — if any — such reconciliations that could not equally apply to trans people. Nobody’s going to successfully make an argument that runs: “Women are killed less often than men despite being more in danger because their bodies are geared towards producing large immobile gametes.” It just isn’t happening.
The assumption that, if trans women are killed less often, it can’t possibly be for the same reason that cis women are killed less often is just that: an assumption. And it isn’t one I’ve ever seen justified.
When women talk openly about being vigilant to danger, all sorts of mouth-breathing MRA types come out of the woodwork to accuse them of overreacting. When trans people talk about the same, TERFs respond in the same way. Moreover, while I was researching this post, I came across all sorts of MRA-type blog posts whingeing about “actually men are killed more than women” which… is true, but MRAs and TERFs employ the same naïve readings of those statistics, and talk about the minority in the same way. Because TERFs have more in common with misogynists than they do with feminists.
If you’re going to, under any kind of feminist auspice, make a claim that having a lower homicide rate means trans people are safer, you need to justify that with an explanation for why that applies to trans people but doesn’t apply to cis women. I, for one, have strong doubts that any such explanation exists.
What is 100% certain, though, is that the argument “trans women are killed less often because they’re actually part of a group that is killed more often” is singularly incoherent. Because TERFs lie. Continually.