A woman is suing a rape support charity in Brighton because she felt she could not speak at a group meeting because of the presence of a transgender woman. The woman, Sarah (surname withheld), said that she felt uncomfortable sharing details of her history of grooming, sexual abuse and rape, and that a separate group for trans people should have been provided.
Speaking to the BBC, Sarah said that she was not transphobic but the presence in the group of someone who identified as a woman but who presented as “typically male” made her feel uncomfortable. She continued, “I think my case is about women’s rights.”
Sarah first started attending the group when she became aware that she was likely to come into contact with her rapist: “I was finding it really hard to cope and I was having increased anxiety attacks,” she told the BBC. “So I decided to approach Survivors’ Network for help. [Everyone] had either been abused as children or had experiences as women. It was a very safe space to speak about the feelings we had been through.”
After a trans woman joined the group, Sarah said “I was a bit taken aback. I decided I wasn’t going to speak that week because I wasn’t comfortable. I don’t trust men because I have been raped by a man. I’ve been sexually abused by men. And I just don’t necessarily trust that men are always who they say they are,” adding “I felt manipulated and coerced into talking. When I left the session I had a panic attack, I was absolutely distraught. I think it’s fantastic that trans survivors feel that there is a safe space for them that they can go and seek help. But for me personally, a mixed sex space doesn’t work.”
She continued: “I think having just one additional group for women who are born female would be the answer.”
The charity, Survivors’ Network, said that they would defend Sarah’s claim, commenting, “In both the assessment and in the handbook [which all new attendees are given] it is explained that all women, including trans women, are welcome in the women’s only group. The claimant was made aware of Survivors’ Network trans-inclusive position prior to attending the group.”
Earlier this year, the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission attempted to clarify the 2010 Equality Act by explaining when certain groups of people can be barred from accessing particular services, saying that places including hospital wards, changing rooms and “providers of single-sex services” can “prevent, limit or modify” trans people from attending if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.