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Blame the victim, blame the school, killer was provoked

Commentary: Trans Progressive

Gwen Araujo

Sylvia Guerrero, murdered trans teen Gwen Araujo’s mother, has been quoted as stating “If I’ve learned anything since Gwen’s murder, it is that hope alone is not enough. Each of us who hopes to live in a state where our families are protected needs to work toward making California that place …

“None of us can change the way the world was on Oct. 4, 2002 (the day Gwen Araujo was beaten to death.) But each of us now has an important role to play in creating a state where we can celebrate more birthdays and commemorate fewer murders.”

When people who don’t conform to societal sex and gender norms are victims of violence – specifically because of how they express gender – the perpetrators frequently blame the victim. We saw this “blame the victim” defense used at the Gwen Araujo murder trial where two killers received second-degree murder convictions and two of the participants in the killing pleaded to lesser charges. None of the four were found guilty of, or pleaded to, committing a hate crime.

We saw this too in the 2005 killing of Joel Robles in Fresno. After finding out the victim was a trans woman, Estanislao Martinez stabbed Joel Robles 20 times. No hate crime charges were filed. Martinez pleaded to voluntary manslaughter and the district attorney’s agreed to have Martinez sentenced to four years for the killing. The Fresno Bee stated that legal experts believed Martinez received a light sentence because his defense was going to be “gay panic.”

Due to these two cases, California enacted the Gwen Araujo Justice For Victims Act. Per the Equality California fact sheet for the act:

“In order to dissuade the use of appeals to prejudice and bias in an attempt to gain acquittal, a favorable plea or a reduction of sentence, this bill would allow a party to a criminal trial or proceeding to request that the court instruct jurors not to allow bias based on sexual orientation, gender identity or other protected bases to influence their decision. It would also direct the Office of Emergency Services to develop materials for city and county prosecutors explaining how to prevent bias from affecting the outcome of a trial. In conjunction with hate crimes legislation, this bill makes an important stand that bias and hate will not be tolerated in California.”

We now can see the real reason this law came into being. This “blame the victim,” “gay panic” defense is being employed by the admitted killer of Larry King – the teen killed in Oxnard on Feb. 12, 2009 because of his gender expression.

According to the Los Angeles Times article Oxnard School’s Handling Of Gay Student’s Behavior Comes Under Scrutiny; (subtitled, Teachers Testify At Brandon McInerney’s Trial That Administrators Ignored Warnings That Fellow Student Larry King’s Feminized Attire And Taunting Behavior Were Causing Problems):

“It wasn’t just that King, 15, had begun wearing makeup and women’s spiked-heeled boots (to E. O. Green Middle School), witnesses testified. It was that he seemed to relish making the boys squirm at his newly feminized appearance and was taunting them with comments like, ‘I know you want me.’

“‘They wanted to beat Larry up for what he was doing to them and they came to me because I wanted to keep them out of trouble,’ E.O. Green teacher Jill Ekman testified. ‘I told them that I would work on getting assistance from the office and we would work this out.’

“How school officials handled King has emerged as a major theme of McInerney’s defense attorneys, who acknowledge that the boy pulled the trigger but say that he was pushed to the breaking point by King’s taunts.”

Kristina Wertz, the legal director of the Transgender Law Center, stated the following about the recent developments in the case:

“The implication that Larry was somehow responsible for his own death because of his perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is outrageous. The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act allows the court to instruct the jury to not let societal bias weigh in on their decision. We hope that the jury in this case will be able to see through the attempts to prey on their worst instincts and assess the case based on the fact.”

According to a separate Los Angeles Times article Prosecutor Seeks To Quash ‘Gay Panic’ Defense In Oxnard Slaying, the prosecutor in the case fully intends to ask the judge to invoke the Gwen Araujo Justice For Victims Act for his jury instructions. I hope, along with Kristina Wertz, that the jury pays close attention to that particular instruction; this is exactly the kind of “blame the victim” defense that the Gwen Araujo Justice For Victims Act was meant to address.



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Posted by LGBT Weekly on Aug 18, 2011. Filed under Trans Progressive. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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