Community seek #JusticeForMhelody as 22-month sentence delivered

Warning: This article contains mentions of violence against trans women.

A collection of peak bodies, trans advocates, LGBTQIA+ advocacy organisations and allies have released a joint statement calling for an appeal in the case of the death of Filipina trans woman Mhelody Bruno.

This week, 33-year-old Rian Ross Toyer was brought back before the Wagga Wagga District Court this week as the judge was forced to admit a sentencing error after originally decreeing Toyer should serve his 22-month sentence with an intensive corrections order and 500 hours of community service.

As Toyer was not eligible to serve his punishment in the community, Judge Gordon Lerve amended the decision on Monday to send Toyer to prison for at least 12 months.

“Clearly in purporting to impose an intensive correction order I made an error,” Judge Lerve said of the decision.

“That error was fundamental and significant, and one of which I must take ownership.”

Trans leaders, advocates and allies have raised concerns over the decision, outlining a number of ways the sentence and the process could have far-reaching effects on justice for trans and gender diverse Australians.

“The death of Mhelody Bruno is a tragedy,” the statement reads.

“Ms Bruno worked in a call centre in the Philippines and financially supported her extended family. Her death, a result of being choked by Mr Rian Ross Toyer, has been framed as ‘rough sex’ gone wrong.

“We fear that stereotypes and structural bias against Ms Bruno, as a Filipina transgender woman, has led to outcomes that are not reflective of the seriousness of the crime.”

Calling for a review and appeal of the case by the Director of Public Prosecutions, advocates highlight the disproportionate rates at which trans women – particularly trans women of colour – experience violence and harassment.

“A 2019 Australian study found 1 in 2 transgender people have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, with most reporting multiple instances of abuse. A 2020 Australian study found trans women of colour were 20 per cent more likely to have experienced multiple instances of sexual harassment in their lifetime and two times more likely to experience multiple forms of sexual victimisation compared to cis-gender women.

“Poor experiences at the hands of the justice system are common for trans women, so much so that no trans women in the 2020 study nominated police as a source of support following victimisation. These findings are a dire indictment of the justice system’s treatment of violence against transgender women.”

The statement – which has been co-signed by The Gender Centre, ACON, Trans Pride Australia, Sistergirls & Brotherboys Australia, just.equal and others – also challenges the sentencing rationale and process, the transparency and public accountability of the decision and the precedent set by the sentence.

“We want to be clear that we are not advocating for any particular sentence in this case. We are calling for parity in sentencing, acknowledgment of the harm and seriousness of the offence, and transparency and accountability of the criminal justice process.

“We advocate against the dangerous precedent set by the sentencing remarks and decision, which treats violence against transgender women with impunity and further entrenches discriminatory attitudes towards transgender women.”

You can read the full statement online here.

OIP Staff

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