We absolutely must continue highlighting the gendered nature of sexual violence. But it’s vital to do so in a way that doesn’t leave people out. There are real world implications to only seeing victims who are cis women. Respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported harassment and denial of equal treatment in domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, as well as other health care facilities and at the hands of law enforcement. Trans and gender non-conforming people are often excluded from services all together. I want to be clear: letting the Violence Against Women Act expire is absolutely despicable. As Zerlina highlighted so personally, this legislation funds vital services that real people depend on. While VAWA’s name is very gendered, in principal the legislation is supposed to be gender neutral. In practice, it’s an ongoing process to make sure services VAWA covers reach as many people as possible. In an incredibly disturbing turn, the House GOP’s apparent reason for letting VAWA expire was that it would offer too many services to immigrants, Native Americans, and LGBT folks. Yes, they killed VAWA in an attempt to ensure vital services wouldn’t reach my community. We absolutely need VAWA, and we need to keep expanding its services to people who aren’t cis women. One piece of positive change that has occurred within government: last year, the Department of Justice released national standards to prevent prison rape that include protections for trans and gender non-conforming folks. We need more changes like that, and less changes like killing VAWA because it might help too many LGBT folks.
Given how overwhelmingly gendered sexual violence is, it’s easy and understandable to slip into essentialist language when talking about the issue, to paint all victims as women and all perpetrators as men. By missing parts of the reality, we’ve left space for folks like Men’s Rights Activists to fill. Obviously, the feminist take on rape has much more to do with reality than the MRA take. But when you’ve got one side going “what about the menz!” and another side responding “but victims are overwhelmingly women!” you’re having the wrong conversation. As feminists, we need to find ways to do this work that serve everyone who’s been targeted with sexual violence.