A UK judge has seemingly accepted a ‘trans panic’ defence from a man who seriously assaulted a trans woman in a hotel room, admitting that hate crimes should result in a custodial sentence as she let him walk free.

A deeply distressing incident transpired on Oxford Road, Reading, in which a teenager violently assaulted a transgender woman, inflicting injuries that included a shoeprint mark on her face. This assault is not only an explicit exhibition of rising hostility towards transgender individuals encouraged by the UK press and government, but also raises pertinent questions regarding the judicial approach to such hate crimes when they involve trans people.

Connor Young, who was 17 at the time of the assault, was the teenager behind this horrendous act. Following a flirtatious interaction with the woman, Young was informed of her transgender identity, an admission that seemingly propelled him into a violent rage – 20 minutes later. The consequences were devastating, leaving the woman with multiple injuries, including a shoeprint mark on her face, that required treatment at hospital.

Such an attack should be – and was – unequivocally classified as a hate crime, fuelled by Young’s intolerance of the woman’s gender identity, something his fiancée, who was in court with him, might want to consider. His claim of feeling ‘humiliated’ reveals deep-seated transphobia, a social malaise that not only endangers the safety of transgender individuals but also undermines our collective efforts towards an inclusive society and walks hand-in-hand with misogyny. It is not a valid legal defence. Even if it was, it was admitted in court that Young had left the victim after being told she was trans and then returned with the apparent sole intention of assaulting her.

Connie Young, no relation, in charge of the prosecution told the court, “[The defendant] said, ‘What, a man?’ and left. [The victim] heard a kick at the door about 20 minutes later.

“The door was pushed towards her with force. The defendant punched her in the face causing her to fall to the floor. He went to punch and kick her in the face several times before leaving.”

Despite the severity of his crime, Young was able to avoid a custodial sentence. The case was heard by Judge Emma Nott at Reading Crown Court, who acknowledged Young’s luck in avoiding immediate incarceration. Judge Nott’s leniency extended to a sentence of 15 months detention, suspended for 18 months. It is not a leniency Nott tends to show when the victim is a cis woman.

However, it was Judge Nott’s comments that added to the controversy, her sentiments hinting at an acceptance on some level of the ‘trans panic’ defence, a fundamentally flawed justification that perpetuates discrimination. Judge Nott stated, “You are exceptionally lucky as I have just been persuaded to give you a chance. Stamping on someone’s head whether they are gay, transgender, a different race or religion means a custodial sentence.” Except in this case.

“Hate crimes,” she said, “ordinarily mean going straight to prison. It’s with very careful consideration I’ve been persuaded to give you a chance.”

This statement, while underlining the seriousness of hate crimes, downplays the gravity of Young’s actions, thereby undermining the pain and trauma suffered by the victim. The decision also sets a dangerous precedent and trivialises the severe discrimination and violence faced by transgender people.

The victim, post the attack, has been grappling with panic attacks and, understandably, lives in constant fear for her safety. The emotional aftermath of the incident underscores the profound psychological impact of hate crimes. More than the physical injuries, it’s the mental trauma that leaves a lasting scar, further emphasising the need for substantial legal repercussions for such crimes.

The stark reality is that transgender individuals continue to face numerous threats to their safety and well-being in all areas of society with the government, press and anti-trans organisations determined to make it worse. Instances like the Oxford Road incident stress the importance of inclusive societal norms and stringent legal measures. A profound transformation is needed, starting with the eradication of ‘trans panic’ and similar defences that allow perpetrators to escape just punishment.

While legal amendments are a must, societal acceptance of transgender identities and rights is equally crucial. The fight against transphobia and the struggle for justice are ongoing, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure everyone, irrespective of their gender identity, is treated with respect, dignity and fairness.