September 24, 2019 / 1:26 AM / 3 months ago

New Zealand finds nearly third of transgender people raped but few seek help

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Almost one third of transgender New Zealanders have been raped, according to the nation’s first study of the community’s health care, but many avoid seeing a doctor for fear of being mistreated.

The ‘Counting Ourselves’ survey of 1,178 people, published on Tuesday in New Zealand, found trans and non-binary people - who do not identify as male or female - that reported rape were twice as likely to have attempted suicide in the past year.

The data, described as the first of its kind in the Pacific nation but backs up studies from other countries, showed trans people were almost three times more likely to experience sexual violence than female New Zealanders in general.

“Sexual violence is about power and control,” Jack Byrne, one of the ‘Counting Ourselves’ researchers and a trans man, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“If the world tells you that nobody loves and cares for you that puts huge levels of pressure on you and (increases your) vulnerability to be preyed upon.”

There are no accurate estimates of New Zealand’s trans and non-binary populations. But in the United States, about 0.6% of adults identify as trans, according to the Williams Institute, a think-tank within the UCLA School of Law.

Almost two-fifths of trans and non-binary New Zealanders had attempted suicide at some point, the survey found, while more than half had thought about trying to kill themselves in the previous year.

Only 4% sought help from the police after being raped, the survey found.

More than a third of the survey’s respondents said they had avoided seeing a doctor at some point in their lives because they thought they would be mistreated or not respected.

An anxiety and depression questionnaire found 71% of respondents, almost half of whom were non-binary, suffered from psychological distress, compared to 8% of all New Zealanders.

“Compared to the general population it’s really, really not acceptable,” said Ahi Wi-Hongi, the national coordinator of Gender Minorities Aotearoa, a trans advocacy group.

So-called “gay conversion therapy” remains legal in New Zealand, with 17% saying a psychiatrist or counsellor had tried to stop them being trans or non-binary.

The report’s authors criticised the availability of medical treatment like cross-sex hormones and sex reassignment surgery.

“The public health system provides very few forms of gender affirming care,” said Byrne, adding that a 50-year wait for state-funded genital, sex reassignment surgeries had recently been reduced to around 25 years.

A spokeswoman for the New Zealand health ministry said that almost NZ$3 million ($1.89 million) had been allocated to gender-affirming surgeries as part of this year’s state budget.

“Increasing this surgery is one important step in ensuring the health system meets the needs of transgender New Zealanders,” she said in emailed comments.

Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org

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