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The unique experiences of transgender persons subjected to abuse have not been the focus of legal scholarship; instead, the experiences of transgender people are often subsumed in the broader discourse around domestic violence in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. This dearth of legal scholarship is not surprising given how little research of any kind exists on how transgender people experience intimate partner abuse. This is the first law review article to concentrate specifically on intimate partner abuse and the transgender community. The Article begins by discussing the difficulties of engaging in scholarship around this topic, noting the lack of a shared language and knowledge base for discussing intimate partner abuse in the transgender community. The Article then documents the barriers confronting transgender people seeking relief from intimate partner abuse, situates those barriers in the broader context of the structural and institutional violence and discrimination that are so prevalent in the lives of transgender people, and examines closely the inadequacy of the legal system to address the needs of transgender people subjected to abuse. This part of the Article is informed by the observations and insights of legal professionals working with transgender people subjected to intimate partner abuse, as well as the narratives of transgender people who have engaged the legal system. The Article then examines the gendered nature of intimate partner abuse against transgender people, arguing that such abuse can be understood not only through the lens of the patriarchal narrative of the battered women’s movement, but also as a means of policing gender norms and affirming gender identity. The Article questions whether the legal system, which is the most developed and best funded response to domestic violence in the United States, can ever function as the cornerstone of an effective response to intimate partner abuse for transgender people. The Article concludes that we cannot create effective systemic responses to intimate partner abuse without understanding the particular needs of discrete groups of individuals subjected to abuse—like transgendered people.

Publication Citation

48 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 51 (2013).


Family Law | Sexuality and the Law