Friday, 15 August 2008

And now for something serious and relevant

Trans woman Kellie Telesford was found strangled to death in her apartment. The man accused of killing her went free. The defense's argument? That Telesford was into kinky sex, and therefore it must have been breath play gone wrong -- despite that a doctor found no evidence that suggested any kinky games were involved. Apparently, if you're trans, you're automatically a fetishist. And if you're kinky, apparently anyone who murders you can just say it was SM.

The story, from Questioning Transphobia:
A teenager has been cleared of killing a transsexual woman found strangled in her south London home.

Shanniel Hyatt, 18, denied that he killed Kellie Telesford in a rage after discovering she was a pre-operative transgender female who was born a man.

Her body was found after they engaged in sexual activity at her Thornton Heath flat, the Old Bailey heard.

Mr Hyatt, from Norbury, south London, was found not guilty of murder and an alternative count of manslaughter.

Evening date

The teenager, a father-of-one whose girlfriend was away at the time of the incident, admitted meeting Ms Telesford for a date and going back to her flat.

He was filmed on CCTV leaving Ms Telesford’s home in the early hours of 18 November last year, using her Oyster travel card to board a bus.

Ms Telesford, who worked as a florist and beautician, was found dead at the flat three days later. She had been strangled with a scarf.

Prosecutor Sally O’Neill told the court that Mr Hyatt stole Ms Telesford’s mobile phone and electronic equipment as well as her Oyster card.
Lisa's comments:

So, this guy is seen leaving Kellie’s flat, steals her Oystercard, steals other items belonging to her. He is the last person to see her alive, but he goes free because his defense successfully introduced the victim-blaming “she probably died during a sex game gone wrong,” and insisted that Kellie was into kinky sex games. She also suggested that since Kellie was born male, she “had a man’s strength,” even though years on estrogen does affect muscle mass.

So, I realize this is another variation on the “It was her fault” victim-blaming lie. “If she hadn’t worn those clothes, she wouldn’t have been raped,” or “if she hadn’t lied about her genitalia, he wouldn’t have killed her.” Or, “if she hadn’t been playing those immoral kinky sex games, they wouldn’t have killed her.”

I can’t help but think that this has something to do with the idea that trans women are sexually obsessed fetishists, that just being who we are is enough to claim we’re interested in dangerous sex games.

My comment to Lisa's post there, which about sums up my opinion on this steaming bullshit masquerading as justice:

[F]or all that some feminists think that being anti-kink saves women, prevailing anti-kink sentiment is a part of why people bought that defense, I think. It’s all part and parcel of a whole basket of othering. Well, she’s trans, so she’s creepy, and what are creepy people? Perverts. So see, she couldn’t have been murdered.


Lisa Harney said...

Yes, all this.

Marc B. said...

The case sounds a bit different at the BBC:

There were not the slightest signs of struggle or defense and no DNA traces of the defendant could be found on the scarf, she was strangled with.

So it was a "in dubio pro reo" decision, as it could not be proven that he killed her.

The "kinky sex", "breath play gone wrong" theories were not part of the findings, but mere alternatives offered as possible explanations of the crime scene.

Of course this is very shaky, but I (and you) would not want to live in a society where doubt is enough to convict a person of manslaughter or murder.

The death of Kellie Telesford is a tragedy and I feel with her family and friends. But the benefit of doubt is a valuable part of our criminal law, and a guilty man walking away is preferable over convicting an innocent.

Gaina said...

At least the BBC had the decency to refer to the murder victim in the gender she identified with, unlike the link I followed on one of Ren's blogs to the murder of a trans woman in America where they referred to her by her formally male identity. How utterly disrespectful.

I remember when I worked for the employment service we had a customer who was a male-to-female transsexual. The staff knew this and yet they thought it was funny to caller her for interview by her MALE identity - in a public waiting area!! That made my blood boil.

Trinity said...

"There were not the slightest signs of struggle or defense and no DNA traces of the defendant could be found on the scarf, she was strangled with.

So it was a "in dubio pro reo" decision, as it could not be proven that he killed her.

The "kinky sex", "breath play gone wrong" theories were not part of the findings, but mere alternatives offered as possible explanations of the crime scene."

Okay -- but why the emphasis on that, then? If people really are grasping at straws to explain what happened, since they can't prove that he killed her, why so much explanation and reporting about erotic asphyxiation as a kink game?

Why not, "well, we know he stole her bus pass and used it, which makes him certainly look like a huge jerk, but we can't prove anything about the murder. Somebody suggested kinky sex, but that's wild speculation, like just about everything at this point?"

Why the emphasis on "trans woman as pervert?"

Anonymous said...

Why the emphasis on "trans woman as pervert?"

That's my sentiment as well (I found a magazine aimed at trans folk in the "hardcore porn" section of my local newsagent once - I complained about this to the manager, but he said that they just put them where they're told by the distributors).

I think the explanation is just that salacious !!!ZOMG!!! what-are-those-perverts-doing-to-each-other-now stories sell well. Plus, if it was suggested as a part of the defence, then I guess that gave the media what they wanted.

Lisa Harney said...

marc b.,

I don't think it's possible to innocently offer an explanation like "Maybe the victim was into kinky sex games" without intent to discredit the victim, much as what happens to rape survivors. It may be that it was presented as a "mere alternative," but that is not the way the quotes read. The defense barrister also suggested that Kellie had "a mans's strength" and that there were no signs that she had fought back. She told the jury that they had to decide between whether this was a consensual sex game gone wrong or whether Kellie had strangled herself as a form of autoerotic asphyxiation.

TO write all this off, all this victim discrediting and blaming off as simply an "alternate theory" ignores the way that these tactics have been used against women in the courtroom for decades.

I'll also

Marc B. said...

It is the job of a criminal defense lawyer to raise doubt, to offer alternatives, and yes, to question the role of the victim. It is not the job of a defense attorney to paint the victim in the nicest colors (oups, its a UK case, so colours) and shades. This can become very ugly.

But it is fair within the courtroom setting, because on the other side of the isle the District Attorney or as here in the UK the Crown Prosecution Service is the best qualified lawyer the state could find to present the damming facts.

In the end the jury must not convict the defendant as long as there remains some reasonable doubt.

A criminal case is not about the victim, it is about the defendant. This will often hurt victims or their family and friends again, but it can hardly be avoided, only lessened and only so far.

Lisa Harney said...

Ah, so it's the defense barrister's job to lie about the state the body was found in (somehow Kellie might have strangled herself and thrown a blanket over her body?), to imply that an accidental killing due to kinky sex is not worth conviction? Does the concept of manslaughter not exist in the UK?

And would this trial have had the same outcome if a man had left a white cis woman's home under the same circumstances?

And do you honestly see nothing wrong with trying to paint the victim as a bad person possibly deserving of her fate as a way to get a man who killed or rape her out of a conviction?

Trinity said...


Does your opinion change at all when you have a look at this?:

He told the jury: "There was nothing which suggests this was a sex act.

"There are usually sex toys, mirrors and pornography.

"This is just an ordinary rather cluttered room with a body.

"If I exclude from my mind that this person was a transsexual, the issue does not appear.

"To put it simply, there was no evidence of kinky sex. If you take that out of the equation, you just have a strangled body.'

This doesn't follow any pattern that deaths usually linked to autoerotic asphyxiation do. And if Hyatt had done it topping her in SM play -- why cover her in the sheet? Why not, oh, CALL A FUCKING PARAMEDIC?

It just doesn't add up.

Marc B. said...

By no means I claim, that the case was solved in a satisfactory way.

But from the limited information in the press reports I get the idea, that the trial as such went as it should. If the prosecution can't prove without reasonable doubt that the crime was committed by the defendant then the jury must acquit him.

And I wished to point out, that the defendants attorney did nothing wrong in presenting alternative explanations of the scene as it was found.

Thirdly I thought it necessary to stress that a trial can become ugly for those who wish to remember the victim in favorable ways, because a trial can (and often will) be not nice to the victim.

The trial was not specific (again judged by the press reports), because Kellie Telesford was a transsexual, it could have happened almost the same in any other killing with some sexual aspects.

And now I'd like to introduce a new aspect to this discussion: I see some problem with the reporting about the trial. The press wrote more sensational than necessary and (even the BBC) put Kellie Telesfords transsexuality in the foreground, while there was no reason to do that. I see the real scandal there, not in the trail.

Anonymous said...

Given that this is the UK, it's interesting to consider the other extreme version of events: that if two people consent to kinky sex where someone is harmed, they are both guilty of assault or worse even if it's known that they consented (as in R v. Brown - Operation Spanner). So as an aside, it's curious to see that whilst consent was no defence for sadomasochism (even when it was known for certain they consented), it is seemingly a defence for being strangled (when we have no way of knowing if the person consented).

I'd rather a world between the two extremes - consent should be allowed for S&M just like it is for many other circumstances, but shouldn't be an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card when there is doubt about whether there was consent. In such cases as this, putting forward a defence of consent should be allowed just as it is in rape cases, but that doesn't mean the jury has to believe it (especially if the circumstances are such that it doesn't fit in with typically consensual breath-play acts).

Note that the argument that it was consensual doesn't always work - it didn't for Graham Coutts for example (and even if it did, he still might have been found guilty for manslaughter).

Anonymous said...

I have to wonder if, knowing that you regularly participate in edgeplay, if that's enough to introduce reasonable doubt in a murder case. OTOH, I'm concerned with the chilling effect, since basically anyone could get away with strangling someone into breath play.

And whether or not it's murder, it's certainly criminal negligence leading to a death- that falls under manslaughter, right? I'm trying to remember what drunk drivers are charged with when they kill someone...

Anonymous said...

Lets forget the claptrap and put the record straight. Shanniel Hyatt did Kill Kellie Telesford. I am not going to reproduce the Absolute account of the Last Moments of Kellie Telesford here but they are available for all to see on tagged Kellie Telesford and displaying comment 10 and prior. Yours YELHSA (Medium Direct Kellie Telesford) NOTTINGHAM NG3-6FT,(Nr31),GB.

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