Rise of crimes and violence against trans women needs urgent attention

On January 1, 2019, a body of a trans woman was found along Jalan Batu Nilai in Klang. Preliminary reports show that she had sustained a number of injuries on her knees, ankle and other parts of the body. The death of the woman raises serious concerns and suspicion. A suspect has been arrested and remanded in connection to the case. He claims that the victim had jumped out of a moving vehicle upon being confronted about stealing the suspect’s handphone.

We are extremely concerned over the rise in cases of violence and crimes against trans women in Malaysia. Including this case, at least 3 cases of murder have been reported between November 2018 and January 2019. 2 of which took place in Klang. This brings the cases of reported murders of trans women to a total of 18 cases since 2007, averaging at 1.5 cases a year.

In many of the reported cases of murder of trans women, the victims often suffer excessive and extreme violence or torture. Based on the 18 reported murders of trans women in Malaysia, the victims were subjected to torture, including being beaten to death with a hammer, strangled, gagged, stabbed multiple times, physically assaulted, pushed from a building, drowned in a water retention pond, shot, mutilated, etc.

The brutal and excessive violence or torture has to be looked at closely. The elements of torture in these crimes suggest a number of things, including increased rage or hate by perpetrators against trans women, impunity enjoyed by people who commit violence against trans women, amongst others.

We welcome the swift actions by the police, and we look forward to a thorough, unbiased and objective investigation. It is imperative that the police corroborates the evidence and thoroughly investigate the case to ensure justice for victims and their loved ones.

Reported cases of murder of trans women in Malaysia between 2007 and January 2019

Year

Number of reported cases murder of trans women

2007

1

2008

1

2009

2

2010

1

2011

1

2012

1

2013

2

2014

0

2015

0

2016

1

2017

4

2018

2

2019

1

Address stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions against trans women to increase access to justice

Stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions against trans women increase and justify violence against trans people. Stereotypes and misconceptions such as trans people being unnatural, immoral or against religions and laws give the impression to others that they have the right to violate and abuse trans people.

People commit crimes against LGBTIQ persons because social stigma and discriminatory laws protect the abusers. Our society not only denies the rights of trans women but also target them through laws. When the laws target trans women, this forces them to live in the margins and become resigned to a life of discrimination, violence, abuse and neglect. Therefore, those who abuse trans women often do so because they know they can get away with it. All of which reinforces the culture of impunity.

In addition, these stereotypes and stigma often disadvantage trans women, effectively hindering a thorough and unbiased investigation, ultimately denying access to justice. In many cases of violence and crimes against trans women, trans women are not only blamed but are seen as the guilty party. The stigma and stereotypes in relation to trans women also often allow for absurd defence by the perpetrators. Some common narratives include narratives that position perpetrators as acting or reacting out of self-defence, to protect themselves from theft/crime, repulsion, or rejection of sexual advancements. This plays into the stereotypes of trans women being criminals and immoral, often resulting in lack of adequate penalties against perpetrators for the violence and crimes committed.

Perpetrators must be held accountable. However, punishment alone will not resolve this systemic issue. Perpetrators, and society in general,  should be provided with adequate support and information on gender and sexuality to ensure meaningful change in attitudes, behaviour and understanding of diversity. Education and efforts to dismantle legal and non-legal barriers experienced and create an inclusive and affirming environment are extremely critical in reducing crimes, violence and discrimination against trans people and marginalized communities.

Need for proactive preventive measures

With the rising cases of violence and murder against trans women specifically, and LGBT people in general, the police have a critical role to play in reversing this trend.

Firstly, we call for the police to introduce a guideline on handling, documenting and analyzing cases of murder and crimes in relation to trans people and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer people (LGBTIQ+). Documentation and analysis of the cases of crimes and violence against trans women and LGBTIQ+ people are important to develop an understanding of the trend of the violence and to design specific interventions.

Our documentation and reported cases of murders show that gangsters, vigilante groups, intimate partner, clients of sex workers, strangers (often young persons) are the perpetrators of violence and crimes. Based on the cases, the perpetrators are all cisgender men across a wide age spectrum. This shows us that there is a critical need to address toxic masculinity and increase gender education in our society. Our documentation also shows communities and areas that are more vulnerable to crimes and violence. For example, trans women sex workers have increased vulnerabilities due to their increased exposure to diverse types of people. The emergence of vigilante groups, which often operate under the guise of residential patrol groups, for example, Kedah has also increased cases of violence against trans women.

It is important to note that cases of violence and crimes experienced by trans women are not reported or under-reported. This correlates with the trust deficit in the police, the perpetrator prey/victim dynamics between police and trans women, and lack of protection for trans people. The general lack of confidence in the police to swiftly and thoroughly investigate cases often prevents trans women from seeking justice, report cases, and in some cases, come forward as witnesses. Thus, it is extremely important for the local police departments to engage with the affected communities and bridge this trust deficit in order to efficiently ensure safety and security for all. We also call for the police to engage trans women communities in Klang, Kedah and other hotspots that have recorded a high number of cases of violence and crimes against trans women.

Crimes and violence towards trans women and LGBTQ people are rising at an alarming rate. The murder of the trans woman on New Year’s Day is a reminder of the realities that trans people live in and the urgency to amplify efforts in addressing violence and crimes against trans and LGBTQ people. These crimes and violence have an overarching impact on the safety, security and well-being of all persons, more so trans people. These continuous traumatic events of violence and crimes, if not addressed with an evidence and rights-based approach, will further isolate trans and LGBTQ people and increase the trust deficit in police and the government.

Endorsed by:

  1. Justice for Sisters
  2. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  3. Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
  4. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
  5. Malaysian Design Archive (MDA)
  6. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
  7. People Like Us, Hangout (PLUHO)
  8. Pelangi Campaign
  9. Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
  10. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  11. Tenaganita
  12. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
  13. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
  14. Perak Women for Women (PWW)
  15. Seksualiti Merdeka
  16. Queer Lapis
  17. PT Foundation

Annex 1

Documented cases of violence and crimes based on gender identity, gender expression and actual or perceived sexual orientation

No Year Details State
1 2012 and 2013 A group of gangsters in Pahang, physically assaulted over 13 trans women with steel chains, helmets and steel bars in a spate of attacks, resulting in serious injuries. Based on media reports and I am Scared to be a Woman, a report by Human Rights Watch, one woman being ‘beaten into a coma’ and some received between 18 and 78 stitches as a result of the assault. Pahang
2 2015 A trans woman human rights defender was attacked in the vicinity of her home Kuala Lumpur
3 June 2017 A young person in Penang died as result of physical assault and torture by a group of former schoolmates. The perpetrators had previously bullied the victim in school due to his ‘effeminate’ gender expression Penang
4 2017 A Thai trans woman was stabbed multiple times by a client in Penang Penang
5 January 2017 – January 2018 At least 12 cases of break ins and property destruction by persons in residential areas, strangers or unknown perpetrators; physical attacks, humiliation and torture by vigilante groups disguised as community policing or residential groups

Skuad Badar Sungai Petani emerged on social media platforms, urging religious authorities to take action on trans women. We have also received information that this group has harassed, detained and attacked the trans women in the community, including shaving the heads of trans women in their custody

Multiple states in Malaysia
6 March 2018 Attacks and harassment of a few Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) volunteers by a few individuals for allegedly being LGBT supporters after the Women’s March on 10th March 2018 Kuala Lumpur
7 August 2018 A trans woman in Seremban was severely assaulted by a group of men resulting in serious injuries to spleen, spinal cord, rib bones, amongst others. Negeri Sembilan
8 December 2018 A video of two gay men assaulted by a group of men for allegedly being intimate in a car went viral on social media platforms Selangor

 

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Justice for all regardless of gender identity

Justice for Sisters is appalled by the news of a trans woman who was fined RM 700 on June 21 for failing to produce her identification card. She apparently stated that she had just been released from jail and suffered from tuberculosis. The Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Nur Farah Adilah Noordin urged the court to impose a heavy sentence to serve as a lesson. The woman was not represented in court.

Access to justice, and the right to redress and remedy are our fundamental human rights guaranteed in several clauses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Federal Constitution. In 2011, after hearing that ‘an estimated 80% of those tried in court for criminal offences did not have legal representation,’ the Malaysian government launched the National Legal Aid Foundation. Despite this effort, many people continue to be tried in court without representation, and as a result are imposed harsh and sometimes excessive penalties.

Because of their gender identity and the resulting systemic and social discrimination and prejudice, trans people are even more vulnerable and disproportionately face barriers when attempting to access justice. They are arrested more frequently, and hence encounter a higher incidence of trial without representation. Based on media reports and our documentation, at least 63 trans women were arrested between January and May 2016 in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Kedah and Pahang by police and the state religious departments for simply being themselves.

It is extremely distressing that the DPP urged the court to impose a heavy sentence simply to serve as a lesson to the trans woman for failing to produce her IC, while ignoring her reasons. The DPP’s heavy handed recommendations are problematic, and underscore the multiple forms of stigma, discrimination and prejudice that the trans woman was subjected to because of her gender identity, history of being jailed and having a criminal record, history of drug use, and so on.

In Malaysia, the system causes and reinforces the targeting and discrimination trans people. Trans people are not allowed to change their name, gender, and the last digit in their identification card number or in any other legal documents. The government’s refusal to allow trans people to change details in their identification documents to reflect trans people’s authentic identities makes trans persons vulnerable to stigma, discrimination and violence, including denial of employment opportunities, humiliating experiences when forced to use their identification card, and arbitrary arrests, among others.

The imposition of punitive measures increases the challenges and barriers for people, especially transgender persons with criminal records, to reintegrate themselves into society, as they are continuously penalised over non-issues. This has a lasting and negative impact on a person’s wellbeing. In addition, the state must understand and address the barriers that people with criminal records face in securing jobs, finding housing, reconciling relationships with friends and family among others. It is absurd and inhumane to continue penalising and profiting from people who have been failed by the system.

Media

We are further appalled by the continuous misgendering and the use of inaccurate terms by the media, such as Bernama, to address transgender persons. Trans women are not cross dressers. Overwhelming evidence shows that trans people have existed throughout humanity, and gender identity refers to a personal sense of belonging and identification to being a girl/woman, boy/man, neither, both, a combination of gender categories and more. All identities are normal.

The news focused on her clothing and accessories, which was unnecessary and sensationalist. All people, including transgender persons have the right to self-determination to their identity, and freedom of expression. We call on the media to adopt a positive role in the promotion of human rights, and not reinforce prejudices that bar marginalised people from living their lives with dignity.

 

Violence against trans women increase following the decision by the Federal Court

For immediate release

26 October 2015

Justice for Sisters strongly criticizes and deplores the arrests that have taken place following the decision by the Federal Court on Section 66 on 8 October 2015. Since the decision by the Federal Court that set aside two court orders, and reinstated Section 66, raids and arrests have taken place in Kuala Lumpur, Terengganu and Penang, triggering a wave of fear among the transgender community to freely move.

Kuala Lumpur

On 12 October 2015, three trans women from Seremban were arrested while shopping in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. The three were approached by a man requesting sexual services, a common assumption that all trans women are willing to provide sexual services in exchange for money or otherwise. They refused, and the man later accused them of stealing his wallet, which actually fell on the ground and was immediately found. The police arrested the trans women anyway, and detained them at the Dang Wangi police station. The three were remanded for three days under Section 380 of the penal code – Theft in dwelling house, etc.[1] The three spent an extra day in detention due to a public holiday. The women were allegedly asked to remove their clothes and were subjected to further humiliation in detention. There were also reports of physical assault. The three women are Indian.

On 15 October 2015, 15 trans women of various nationalities were arrested in a raid in Bukit Bintang, Pudu and Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur. Four of them were charged in court under Section 28, which penalizes male persons who pose as women or wear women’s attire for immoral purposes. The four, two of Indonesian nationality, were fined RM 990. According to Sinar Harian’s article “Berpakaian wanita; Mak Nyah kena denda” the four appeared in court in JAWI’s gray lockup garbs with shaved heads following the arrest six days ago. The accompanying photo in the article further proves that their hair was shaved in detention. We strongly condemn degrading treatment of detainees, and all forms of corrective measures of transgender and gender non-conforming persons by the state. We emphasize that changing someone’s appearance against their will, including shaving someone’s head, is a form of torture. The state’s role is to promote and protect the rights of all people, regardless of gender identity.

The arrests and detention of the trans women pose serious questions regarding JAWI’s jurisdiction in relation to arrest and detention. We demand answers to the following questions:

  1. Why were the trans women detained for six days? And where were they detained?
  2. Do the religious authorities have jurisdiction to carry out arrests and detain people?
  3. Why were their heads shaven if they were only being detained, and had not been convicted in the court of law?

The remaining 11 were released on bail at the JAWI office – seven on 15 October, four on 16 October 2015. However, JAWI made it particularly challenging for the trans women to be released. They imposed the condition that only cisgender men (men whose lived experience matches the sex and gender they were assigned at birth) could post bail for the trans women. As a result, some women were released on 16 October, as they were not able to find a cisgender man to bail them. It is important to note that the women were not informed of their rights and underwent many human rights violations in relation to access to justice, rights to redress and remedies.

Terengganu

On 21 October 2015, three trans women of Filipino nationality were arrested in Terengganu in a raid by the immigration department. In Sinar Harian’s article, ‘Taktik pondan tawar seks melaui WeChat terbongkar’, the Immigration Department had solicited sexual services from the women as undercover clients. The three are currently detained at the Ajil immigration depot, and will be investigated under Regulation 39 (b) Immigration Regulations 1963, which carries a fine not exceeding RM 1,000 or prison for not exceeding six months or both, if found guilty.

Penang

Raids have been carried out in Penang. However, no arrests have taken place.

Negeri Sembilan

In Negeri Sembilan, harassment and intimidation began on the day that the decision was delivered. The religious authorities warned some trans women that they would be arrested if they saw them again in the area. We deplore the intimidation and harassment by the authorities towards the women, as these actions are making people feel unsafe in their own homes and to move around freely.

Section 66 and similar laws that criminalize one’s gender identity and gender expression make transgender or trans women, or mak nyah, regardless of religious background, vulnerable to arbitrary arrests and violence. However, it is important to note that transgender sex workers are most vulnerable to arrests and violence because of their visibility. Stigmatization and criminalization of sex work under Malaysian law further make trans women vulnerable to violence and hate crime, and further create barriers to access justice and due processes.

However, it is important to understand that sex work is also a form of work, and the criminalization of sex work further contributes to violence against sex workers, creates barriers for sex workers to exercise their rights to due process and remedies, and disallow work with dignity.

We further condemn the shaming of sex workers in the media for making a living. While it is a known fact that arrests increase at the end of the year, we completely deplore the use of sex work to shame and stereotype transgender women.

The reality is that transgender persons face adverse challenges and barriers to access education and employment opportunities. Often, transgender persons face extreme hostility in schools and educational institutions, from gender binary policies that disallow children who are transgender or gender non-conforming to express their authentic gender identity and true self, to bullying and violence from peers and administrators. This often results in transgender students performing poorly in schools or dropping out altogether, as the environment is not conducive for learning.

Further, employers often prioritize gender identity over qualification, competency and expertise. Often, trans women are rejected from seeking employment and employers also impose policies that disallow trans people to express their authentic gender identity and gender expression. Given this hostile environment, sex work represents one of few opportunities for trans women to support themselves.

We further criticize some Malay-language mainstream media for using language that blatantly dehumanizes and degrades trans women. Since the decision at the Federal Court, some Malay-language media especially have been using language that is insensitive, ignorant, and plain rude to describe trans women. We are outraged and appalled by the use of language such as ‘wanita jadian’ and ‘pondan’, and the sensationalist reporting. We are also extremely surprised by the ignorance and insensitivity displayed by Malay-language media, especially in an age where transgender people and issues are visible and heavily discussed in the media everywhere. The Malay-language media must adopt ethical reporting and treat transgender persons with respect.

We call on all people to stand up and speak up against violence against transgender persons.

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For further details please contact justiceforsisters@gmail.com

[1] Theft in dwelling house, etc.
Section 380: Whoever commits theft in any building, tent, or vessel, which building, tent, or vessel is used as a human dwelling, or for the custody of property, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine, and for a second or subsequent offence, shall be punished with imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine or to whipping.

statement: appeal at the federal court

Justice for Sisters (8 Oct 2015)

The Federal Court in the appeal of Section 66 Court of Appeal’s progressive ruling dismissed the case on technical grounds, and set aside the two orders by the Negeri Sembilan High Court and Court of Appeal to hear the application. The Federal Court was of the view that the trans women should have sought permission (leave) of the Federal Court before instituting their constitutional review for breach of their fundamental rights.

Justice for Sisters is disappointed with the outcome at the Federal Court today. However, we applaud the trans community for all their efforts and courage in challenging the constitutionality of Section 66, which began in 2011. We are extremely proud of the trans community in increasing public awareness and visibility regarding the fundamental human rights violations faced by trans people in Malaysia. This is an achievement that can never be erased.