When they are targets of violence, both sex workers and trans women are often dismissed as victims of their of circumstances. Not having a fixed address, being potentially exposed to drugs, and subverting assigned expectations of gender and sexuality contribute to a public perception of carelessness and deviance that tells people and institutions how much they have to care about those they see as putting themselves at risk.
Talking about the lives of trans women is frequently a conversation about risk, and the kinds of risks that cisgender communities and institutions take for granted. Stories about Cassandra’s murder in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail focused on the details of her transition, her sex work, and her past in nursing school. According to the site Accozzaglia, a transgender history project run by long-time trans community members in Toronto, the message was clear: “Journalists fabricated a narrative on morality which could try to rationalize how Ms. Do probably brought this death on herself, because she was a woman of colour, trans, and had earned her living from sex work—throwing away a more ‘acceptable’ nursing career.”
The way that the police and the press treated Cassandra’s case was typical of their treatment of trans women at the time. That same year, a trans woman of colour named Shelby Tracy Tom was murdered in Vancouver by a man named Jatin Patel. Reports at the time referred to Shelby only as “an Asian transsexual prostitute.” Police took several days to inform other community members of what happened to Shelby, prompting harsh criticism from other sex workers who felt that withholding information unduly put them at risk.
We still don’t know the identity of the man who killed Cassandra. In February 2016, the police unveiled their new cold-case site, which aimed to publicize information about unsolved cases to engage the public in looking for new information. The next day, the police posted a two-minute video to YouTube describing her case, taking care to disclose the status of her medical transition. Interest in Cassandra’s case briefly renewed, 13 years after she was murdered by a man who had a history of violence against sex-working women of Asian descent. But it soon fizzled out. There was nothing new to be learned.