A transgender woman says she was sexually assaulted in a North Carolina bathroom last month, according to police records.
Jessica Fowler, 31, and Amber Harrell, 38, have both been charged with sexual battery and second-degree kidnapping in connection with the alleged incident on Dec. 9 at a bar in downtown Raleigh.
In a 911 call released by police Tuesday, the woman – who is not named, but identified herself to the dispatcher as transgender — described harassment and physical attacks that began in the bathroom of Milk Bar and continued out into the main part of the venue.
“I was going to the bathroom to check hair and makeup and there were two females in the bathroom,” she told the police dispatcher. “I thought they were two drunk people just being friendly.”
She said the women started commenting on her genitals. One of the two women also revealed her own breasts, according to the call to police.
The three of them moved out of the bathroom and toward the bar. The trans woman said the other two women “would not let go” of her body even as she told them again and again to stop. She said a bartender also told the pair of women to stop. NPR requested comment from the attorneys representing Fowler and Harrell — Harrell’s lawyer declined, Fowler’s didn’t immediately respond.
In her complaint to police, the trans woman said that she was raped last year and that the incident in December caused her to have a panic attack.
“It’s a shame that two women can do so much harm to a wonderful person,” said the bar’s owners in a statement emailed to NPR. “Once they came out of the restroom and it was made clear … what was happening, we immediately stepped in to stop the situation and make sure she was ok.”
In March 2017, North Carolina lawmakers repealed key parts of a so-called “bathroom bill” that drew widespread anger for requiring trans people to use restrooms that matched their birth certificates. The state reportedly lost billions of dollars while the law was on the books as businesses boycotted the state over what they saw as anti-trans discrimination.
Replacement legislation that blocks some new anti-discrimination statutes continues to be controversial. The ACLU is leading a legal challenge to that law; six states and a number of cities reportedly still ban government-funded travel to North Carolina.
A 2017 poll done conducted by NPR and other organizations found that the majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans say they have experienced violence, threats or harassment because of their sexuality or gender identity.
Kori Hennessey of the LGBT Center of Raleigh told NPR that incidents like this are uncommon in Raleigh but not unheard of. Hennessey said many cases go unreported because transgender people fear that they will not be taken seriously by police and that by coming forward, they will expose themselves to further harassment.
“Anytime a trans person steps out into the light, they’re making themselves a little more vulnerable,” Hennessey said.