Transgender People, Intimate Partner Abuse, and the Legal System

Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 48, 2012

60 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2012 Last revised: 28 Jan 2013

See all articles by Leigh Goodmark

Leigh Goodmark

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Date Written: March 5, 2012


The unique experiences of transgender persons subjected to abuse have not been the focus of legal scholarship; instead, the experiences of trans 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 trans people experience intimate partner abuse. This is the first law review article to specifically concentrate on the intimate partner abuse of trans people. The article begins by discussing the difficulties of engaging in scholarship around this topic, noting the lack of a shared language or knowledge base for discussing intimate partner abuse in the trans community. The article then documents the barriers confronting trans people seeking relief from intimate partner abuse, situating those barriers in the broader context of the structural and institutional violence and discrimination that are so prevalent in the lives of trans people and looking particularly at the inadequacy of the legal system to address the needs of trans people subjected to abuse. This part of the article is informed by the observations and insights of legal professionals working with trans people subjected to intimate partner abuse, as well as the narratives of trans people who have engaged the legal system.The article then examines the gendered nature of intimate partner abuse against trans people, arguing that such abuse can be understood both 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. Recognizing that the legal system is the most developed and best funded response to domestic violence in the United States, the article questions whether the legal system can ever form the cornerstone of an effective response to intimate partner abuse for trans 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 trans people.

Keywords: Transgender, domestic violence, gender identity

Suggested Citation

Goodmark, Leigh, Transgender People, Intimate Partner Abuse, and the Legal System (March 5, 2012). Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 48, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Leigh Goodmark (Contact Author)

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States

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