By Naomi Fontanos
I think many people, including transgender people, misunderstand the idea of “trans panic” because it is an American import. I believe (and I maybe mistaken about this) that this is the first time it is being used as a line of defense in a criminal case being tried in the Philippines.
Basically, trans panic is supposedly a temporary psychological state that a perpetrator goes into after realizing the victim’s transgender status. This state induces the accused to turn violent.
The problem with this kind of defense is that it has no scientific basis. That is why it has been banned in California along with its cousin, the “gay panic” defense. The American Bar Association has rejected these concepts as well.
Furthermore, it is actually victim-blaming. It places the blame on the victim for the violence they are subjected to. Those who use trans panic as a defense are saying their violence is justified and it is the fault of their victim for causing them to behave in a brutal way.
I don’t think this is acceptable from a human rights point of view. Violence is violence and can never be justified.
What is more disturbing in Joseph Scott Pemberton’s testimony is that he is claiming that his violent behavior was just waiting to explode. It was triggered when Jennifer Laude allegedly slapped him when he shoved her after feeling up her genitals. It is quite out of character for a transgender Filipina to act this way after being physically hurt. If I were Jennifer and Pemberton shoved me with his military strength, I would be afraid to retaliate. My first instinct would be to flee the scene to avoid the escalation of violence. This aspect of Pemberton’s testimony just doesn’t add up for me.
Even still, if Pemberton was telling the truth that Jennifer indeed slapped him, would you respond by putting Jennifer Laude in a choke hold? That is an unjustified use of brute force.
I also do not buy Pemberton’s claim that he left Jennifer alive. That’s impossible because based on pictures of her lifeless body, her neck was a bit elongated. As a military man, Pemberton would know that Jennifer was definitely dead. That is why when he returned to his ship, he reported to his superior that he might have killed a “he-she.”
Essentially, Pemberton actually contradicted early testimony about what happened the night Jennifer died. A certain Jairn Michael Rose already told the court that Pemberton reported his murder of Jennifer Laude immediately after he boarded his ship. To claim that Jennifer Laude was still alive when he left does not make sense given that he fled in haste. His defense team is trying to establish the fact that he had no intent to kill when he already killed Jennifer and actually knew it.
Naomi Fontanos is the executive director of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas.