Three quarters of all murders of trans people take place in South and Central America. In Colombia, fear and prejudice force many into sex work. Will the end of the country’s civil war finally bring acceptance?
Daniela Maldonado Salamanca was standing on the street in the Santa Fe district of Bogotá, Colombia in 2010 when five men set upon her. They beat and stabbed her so brutally that she almost died. It took three months for the bruises to heal. Police took Salamanca to a hospital, but never investigated the crime, even though it happened on a busy street. Not that Salamanca thinks the witnesses would have helped. “There were taxis lined up near where the attack happened, urging the attackers on,” she says. “What happened to me can’t keep happening. It’s outrageous that they attack us just for being who we are.”
South America’s macho culture, combined with the strong influence of the Catholic church, means it is a particularly difficult place to be a transgender woman like Salamanca. In the past eight years, 74% of all reported murders of trans people were in Central and South America, according to a 2016 report from Transgender Europe (TGEU). Due to violence, poverty and the risk of HIV, the life expectancy for trans women in Latin America is estimated at between 35 and 41 years.