Thursday, August 13, 2015

No, There Doesn't Really Appear to Be A Trans Homicide Crisis

Protesters in Atlanta, August 2015 / Photo:, CC BY 2.0

I’m going to say something at the risk of people I care about getting mad at me.  I don’t want folks thinking I’m trying to minimize oppression or violence against marginalized communities.  People who know me well know that is among the last things I’d ever want to do.  But they also know that I’m a stickler for ensuring that declarations of social crisis be founded in sound data, not gut feelings or fear. 

Why am I compelled to be such a pain about bad stats?  See this page for a thorough explanation.

That said – this Al Jazeera story is wrong.  No, there does not appear to be an actual transgender homicide crisis occurring.

This story appears to be the phenomenon of confirmation bias at work.  People, based on the information that they have, assume that trans people are murdered more frequently than non-trans folks. They then notice every report of a new trans homicide and add it to their collection of proof that there is, in fact, a trans homicide crisis.  In the process, they don’t really notice all of the dozens and dozens of other reports of non-trans people being murdered.

This practice is common to us all.  But we still need to recognize it when it’s happening.

Claims that there is a homicide crisis within the transgender community doesn't really seem to square with actual statistics.  In fact, if this count is accurate (13 or 14 to date for 2015), it indicates that trans people are being killed at a disproportionately LOWER rate than the U.S. population at large. 

Here's why:

1. The CDC indicates that 16,121 people were victims of homicide in the US in 2013, the most recent year for which there is a confirmed, final figure. 

2. The best estimate indicates that roughly 0.3% of the US population is transgender and actually outwardly expresses their gender identity.

3. So a proportionate homicide rate for trans folks in the US would be roughly 48.4 trans homicide victims per year (if the rate were similar this year and last.)  If the proportion of trans people in the U.S. population is actually *higher* than 0.3%, then the number of anticipated homocides would be correspondingly higher.

So as of the end of July, a proportionate result would be approximately 28.2 trans homicide victims so far this year.  Not the 13 victims that have been tallied so far.

Now there's no reason to assume that murder rates are consistent from month to month.  And I'm sure there are good, peer-reviewed studies that tell us in which months more or fewer homicides generally, historically occur.  However, I doubt that any peer-reviewed data anywhere would support the notion that the 13 homicides figure indicates the existence of a crisis. 

Besides, it’s not necessary to get into that depth of scholarship when simple, reliable, readily available data disprove the notion of a 2015 trans homicide crisis.

The lack of a unique “crisis” isn’t to say that murders of trans people should be taken lightly or ignored by law enforcement.  Nor does it suggest that local communities shouldn’t take steps to combat homicide, including efforts to specifically combat homicides committed against our most vulnerable populations.  But it is to say that the concern does not rise to the level of a crisis that our federal government needs to promptly, specifically address.

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