Videos of transgender women beaten and forced to strip in Benin go viral

A series of videos that show three transgender women being beaten and harassed in Benin’s economic capital Cotonou on 1 May 2021 have gone viral on social media. Our team spoke to the victims, who are now safe in a shelter that specifically caters to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. Their story highlights the widespread discrimination against transgender people in Benin, which has escalated during the pandemic.

Screenshots of videos showing three transgender women forced to strip in Benin.
Screenshots of videos showing three transgender women forced to strip in Benin. © Observers

The videos filmed outside the city's ‘Sunset bar’ show the transgender women being subjected to brutal humiliation in front of a rowdy crowd of men, who force them to strip naked and expose their genitals. The victims, who like their harassers were in the bar before the incident, are also slapped and screamed at as the harassers make them stand in a line and take videos of their naked bodies.

[CORRECTION, 07/05/2021] : The original version of this article published May 5 stated incorrectly that the assault took place inside the Sunset bar. The victims and their aggressors were in the bar shortly before the incident but the violence took place outside the bar. 

Screenshots of the videos showing the transgender women being subjected to brutal humiliation

One of the victims told us that it had been a setup. “My man knew I was transgender and asked me to invite my transgender friends. When we arrived, he asked me to go outside”, she said, before breaking into tears and letting her friend, one of the other victims, take over. 

They blocked two of us in the bar while our friend was outside and before we knew it, everyone started hitting her. They even threw a bottle on the back of her neck. Once we managed to get outside to help our friend, they began attacking the three of us. There were about 200 men there, and they forced us to strip naked while they laughed and filmed us. It was humiliating.

Bruises on the back of a victim’s neck after the attack
Bruises on the back of a victim’s neck after the attack © Observers

The videos have gone viral on social media across Benin. The African network AOS (Afrique Occident Solidaire), which brings together 159 organisations in support of LGBTQ people, has been working with Facebook to get as many of the videos removed as possible. 

After the attack, the trans women managed to escape and find safety in a shelter set up by the NGO Hirondelle Club Benin, which defends LGBTQ rights. 

We ran away and found safety here, in this shelter. But when we woke up the next day, we knew that our lives were over. Within 24 hours, the whole nation had seen the videos, including our families and bosses. We’ll never be able to find a job again. Everyone here is against us. Even young children in the street have been point fingers at us.

The pandemic has created ‘a true crisis’ for Benin’s transgender community 

Violence and abuse against trans people has increased during the pandemic, with many being blamed for having caused Covid-19. To be able to host the growing number of LGBTQ people rejected from their families, Hirondelle Club Benin opened a new shelter last year. 

Luc Expedit set up the organisation with a group of friends in March 2013 after a homosexual man was killed by his father in Cotonou. The NGO aims to educate people and to demystify prejudices about LGBTQ people in order to prevent homophobic violence. The group also provides dozens of LGBTQ victims with shelter and food, as well as psychological and legal support. 

We have referred this case to the prosecutor of the Cotonou court. We demand justice for these horrible and inhumane acts, and we will not give up until justice is served. 

"We are grateful to our association (...) Our doors are wide open to the victims. They are now in our hands and are safe."

Every time there is an illness in Africa, people blame LGBTQ people. I heard a woman outside the shelter say that to get rid of Covid-19, we needed to eliminate all homosexuals. People weren't very tolerant before, but now we are facing a true crisis. It is a very dangerous situation for LGBTQ people, but it is also dangerous for those supporting them. I am not afraid of death, it would be impossible for me to defend this cause if I were.

Many people in Africa think that trans-identity is a ‘western’ concept and that such practices did not exist in the continent until white men imported it. This is a myth, transgender people have always existed. It is something that is natural. The continent is very behind in terms of educating people about what it means to be an LGBTQ person. This needs to change.

In Benin, homosexuality is not criminalised, unlike in neighbouring countries such as Togo, Ghana, Cameroon or Nigeria. However, Beninese sexual minorities have repeatedly reported widespread persecution and are rarely open about their sexuality. The country’s current penal code, which dates back to 1947, sets the age of sexual consent to 13 for heterosexuals and 21 for homosexuals. Therefore, those who perform same-sex sexual acts under the age of 21 could face between six months and three years in prison.