The murder of transwomen doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Transwomen are just among the most vulnerable of women in a growing climate of violence perpetrated by men who have come to realize they are not the masters of the universe the way they fantasize they are.
The killings of Vanessa Guillén, Oluwatoyin Salau, Nina Pop, and many more are part of a global problem.
August 28, 2020
The killing of 20-year-old Vanessa Guillén, a Mexican-American Army specialist who disappeared from Fort Hood, Texas on April 22, whose remains were found more than two months later on June 30, has spurred conversations about violence against women in the military. Hundreds of women, in what has been called the “military’s #MeToo moment,” have shared stories about sexual harassment and assault, illustrating a culture of violence within the ranks of the U.S. military.
Before her disappearance, Guillén told her family that she had been sexually harassed. News of her experience with sexual harassment spurred other women service members to share their own stories under the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen. After her remains were found, a criminal complaint released by the Department of Justice alleges that fellow soldier Aaron Robinson murdered Guillén at Fort Hood, dismembering and burying her body with the help of his girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar. On July 1, Robinson died by suicide. Aguilar has been charged with tampering with documents or proceedings and has pleaded not guilty.
As Vanessa Guillen’s murder, horrific in its own right, has helped uncover a pattern of violence within the military, it also reveals a larger global epidemic of violence against cis and transgender women. Femicide, generally understood to mean the murder of women for being women, a term often applied abroad, is a global issue that significantly impacts Black, Indigenous, poor, and migrant women. It’s oftentimes thought of as violence relegated to peripheries, border cities like Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, or endemic to regions like Latin America or Africa. The truth is that femicide is an ever-present and growing crisis in the United States.
There are various types of femicide, and it can be hard to collect data on these killings because some countries don’t collect information that could categorize them as so, according to the World Health Organization. Compounding that difficulty is that various places define the word differently — for some, femicide means the killing of women because they are a woman, while for others it’s any murder of a woman. Some countries, like Mexico, have passed laws against femicide, giving a legal meaning to the term: the murder of a woman can be classified as a femicide if her killing was motivated by gender. The U.S. hasn’t adopted a standardized definition for the term but the federal government tracks domestic violence killings. The Violence Against Women Act passed in 1994 recognizes domestic violence as a national crime.
While there’s no consensus on what qualifies as femicide, this kind of violence has been on the rise globally. In Latin America, El Salvador and Honduras are consistently among the countries with the highest femicide rates globally, while Mexico saw a 145% jump in femicide cases between 2015 and 2019. Last year, South Africa declared femicide a national crisis when nearly 3,000 women were murdered between 2018 and 2019.
These numbers are shocking, but often ignored are the rising rates of femicide in the United States.