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Harry Potter author J K Rowling responded in strong terms today to comments by Police Scotland about their approach to gender identity. Police Scotland said that the police would respect the gender self-identification of people accused of sexual assault, and a number of media outlets published details. Rowling tweeted in response to the news story: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman.”
Rowling has an established history of tweeting “gender-critical” views which many view as transphobic. In particular, she has embraced longstanding stereotypes which frame trans women as perpetrators of violence and especially of sexual violence. Her latest novel features a serial killer who dresses in women’s clothing, continuing the transphobic tradition of such films as Psycho, Dressed to Kill, and Silence of the Lambs. She’s also argued that trans women should not be allowed in women’s bathrooms because they are not really women and are therefore a danger to cis women.
There are no recorded cases of trans women actually assaulting anyone in bathrooms in the US. Other claims about supposedly large numbers of trans women predators are similarly flimsy. However, there is solid evidence that trans women are disproportionately victims of sexual violence. A 2015 survey of trans respondents found that 47 percent reported they had been sexually assaulted. And queer youth, including trans youth, are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness as their cisgender heterosexual peers. Girls who experience homelessness are twice as likely to have experienced sexual assault.
Since trans people have high rates of assault, you’d hope they’d be able to turn to the police. However, 57 percent of trans and nonbinary people say they are uncomfortable going to the police for help — and no wonder, since 58 percent of trans and nonbinary people who dealt with law enforcement reported that they were mistreated. That mistreatment included everything from misgendering to verbal insults and even sexual assault.
Rowling — through her tweets, her advocacy and her fiction — seems to imagine a world in which trans women are privileged predators working with a compliant police force to assault innocent cis women. In fact, trans women are a small, marginalized, vulnerable minority, who face terrifying rates of sexual violence from, among others, the police who are supposed to help them.
It’s easy to generate outrage by claiming the police are too sympathetic towards trans women accused of assault. But it makes no sense to encourage police to embrace bigotry against marginalized people accused of crimes. If a police captain said that their officers were not allowed to use racial slurs against Jewish or Black people accused of violence, would Rowling object? I doubt it. Should police be encouraged to use misogynist slurs against women, cis or trans, who are accused of crimes? Of course not.
People accused of crimes are presumed innocent, and encouraging police to dehumanize and abuse suspects is likely to result in brutality and injustice. More, demanding that police refuse to recognize trans women as women is going to affect how police interact with trans women victims. And trans women victims are a group that police already often treat with contempt and cruelty, according to trans women who have interacted with them.
It’s my belief that if Rowling really wanted to advocate for victims of violence, she would advocate for trans women, who are disproportionately victims; and if she wanted to advocate for victims of violence, she would want a police force that respects marginalized people, not one that embraces bigotry. “Please stop causing pain,” one Twitter user begged her after her tweet today. But it seems clear at this point that that is not her main priority.