We Decided To Show The Moments Before A Trans Women’s Murder. Were We Right?

Does depicting anti-trans violence contribute to the problem?

by NewNowNext Editors 3/9/2017

Yesterday we ran a story on the brutal murder of Dandara dos Santos, a 42-year-old Brazilian transgender woman who was filmed pleading for her life before being savagely assaulted and killed. Five of her attackers have been arrested, but police are still looking for more suspects.

What set this tragedy apart from the many homicides of trans women we’ve unfortunately covered is that Dandara’s assault was filmed by someone (likely her killers) and the video was eventually released by local LGBT groups and police.

We debated internally about including the video in the story—it may be one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to watch. Ultimately we decided to use the clip—not to sensationalize Dandara’s death, but to help stop the normalization of the murder of trans women. Especially in Brazil, where an LGBT person is killed nearly every 24 hours, 42% of whom are transgender. (Just last month, a trans woman was stoned to death in Guarujá.)

We ran warnings both in the deck of the story and above the video itself. We knew it would horrify those who watched it—as it should. But it was a difficult decision to make, and we know it’s not the choice everyone would have made.

Trans actress and activist Shakina Nayfack wrote a heartfelt post on Facebook about coverage of Dandara’s murder, the disturbing popularity of videos depicting anti-trans attacks as entertainment, and her own experience with traumatic violence.

With Shakina’s permission, we’re sharing her perspective below.



Trigger warning. Lots of them.

I have to talk about something I saw online yesterday that was so brutal, violent, and devastating I’m still struggling to process it.

This week in Brazil a trans woman Dandara dos Santos was beaten by a group of six men who videotaped her assault, cheering while she pleaded for her life before she was thrown into a wheel barrow, bloody and mangled, taken to a back alley and killed.

The footage was released by Brazilian authorities who were looking for the killers, and has since been spread widely by LGBT and other news media outlets. I couldn’t watch the video, the photos were enough to turn my stomach and trigger a PTSD response to my own memories of sexualized violence and assault. I couldn’t help but wonder how these photos and the video they’re pulled from contribute to the phenomena of anti-trans violence as a spectator sport.

Last year I posted an article about how videos on YouTube of trans women being assaulted on public transit have become a source of entertainment. And I’m going to make a leap here, but when I used to watch porn I remember vividly that the majority of porn featuring trans women is violently abusive. In those films women are choked, their faces stepped on or held in toilets, they are brutalized for an audience that fetishizes the dominance and degradation of trans women.

To be fair, there are increasingly more trans porn films made by and for trans people with a playful and/or loving approach to sex, and those movies actually helped me to claim a healthy sexual self esteem.

But the truth is, the images I saw in the article about this Brazilian murder reminded me of the porn I used to watch when I hated my body and believed that experiencing sexual violence was the closest I’d come to knowing intimacy.

I remember when I was a teenager, trapped in a choke hold by a guy who had the martial arts training to end my life. I laid there defenseless waiting for the cops to arrive, and thought two things: “please, just do it,” and “well, at least a man is touching me.”

I know I’m not alone when I confess that I first understood myself as a gay boy and a trans woman through a conflation of sex and violence.

And I debated whether or not I should share and repost this article, the one with the photos and video, because on one hand I think about Philando Castile and how the video of his death helped to galvanize a movement. But on the other, I don’t think men watched that video while jerking off, and unfortunately, I can’t guarantee the same for this one.

There is a terrifying eroticism to this video, watching this woman cry and beg for her life while she’s spat on, kicked, punched and worse. Only in a porn they’d throw the trans woman into the wheelbarrow and fuck her, not kill her. In some ways though, it’s kinda the same thing. One death is just slower than the other.

We need to be careful about the ways we sensationalize and eroticize violence. That’s all I can say I guess. People’s lives depend on the images we propagate.

I’ve read some scientific studies on porn’s affect on the brain, and the trend of needing increasingly violent and aggressive imagery to combat the desensitization caused by erotic overstimulation. Since giving up porn I’ve found my sensitivity to both sexual and violent imagery has increased. In some ways I get residual messages that my wires are still crossed, like how this article triggered me with a flight or flight response and a sickening sense of arousal and worthlessness. Mostly, however, I feel liberated from what once seemed an endless self-damning cycle of grasping at pleasure sandwiched between shame and pain.

Trans women are being murdered. Their murders are often accompanied by rape. Dudes around the world are watching porn with titles like Tranny Destroyer and Transsexual Assault.

Trans women are in those films, and many are probably watching them like I did, believing somewhere inside that their self worth is measured by how much sexual aggression they can attract and withstand.

Meanwhile, we’re out here talking about bathrooms.