In the early morning hours of November 24th, the body of a possibly trans person was found in Edmonton, Alberta.
I say “possibly trans” because it’s unclear how this person identified, and to my knowledge, no one in the trans community has met them or would be able to shed light on who they were. And unfortunately, for this reason, I need to open with the following preamble:
The victim has been identified by the Edmonton Police Service as Jon Syah Ribut. However, she also used the names Rose, Rosa and Dido. In the Edmonton Journal, Paula Simons noted that “… it’s not clear whether Ribut saw himself as transgender — or as a gay man who sometimes liked to cross-dress — or as something else altogether….” Although Simons (a journalist who is is trans-aware and trans-positive) uses male names and pronouns, it’s clear that she’s conflicted about it and knows that more information is needed. I will be using a female name and pronouns instead, but want to stress that both Simons and I are making a guess, and either of us could just as easily be wrong.
Rosa Ribut died of blunt force trauma, and 20-year-old Marcel Cristian Niculae has been charged in her death. There is no further information being given yet as to what happened or what the motive might have been.
Ribut, 35, was an Indonesian citizen who came to Canada in 2012 under the Temporary Foreign Worker program. She had been working at a 7-Eleven in that capacity (presenting as male), but had also taken up working evenings as a female-presenting escort.
Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program allows employers to bring in foreign workers and employ them for below minimum wage, with fewer regulations governing employer obligations to staff. Temporary foreign workers are not eligible for public health care coverage or other social programs, and lose their residency if they quit their jobs, the net result of which is a more vulnerable and dependent workforce. While there is no indication that the TFW program was used to bring her to Canada for sex work, a temporary worker employed at a 7-Eleven convenience store wouldn’t have had it very easy making ends meet on that income alone.
Ribut was from Indonesia, where “warias” (often characterized as males born with female souls — it’s not known if Ribut identified in this way) had once been traditionally respected. However, trans people in Indonesia have been increasingly ostracized and have also faced challenges to their legal status over the years. More recently, trans women have been targeted by vice raids that conflate trans people with sex workers, regardless of whether they are or not. In some parts of the country, the Muslim group Islam Defenders Front (FPI) have waged a cultural campaign against trans people, intimidating advocates and forcing the closure of trans and LGBT functions, while the National Police have been reluctant to intervene.
While it’s possible that Rosa Ribut was targeted for violence because of her gender, certainly the marginalization that sex workers experience made her vulnerable to the attack, and her escorting work is thought to be a contributing factor to the events of her murder. December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, and the murder of Rosa Ribut is a tragic reminder of the brutality that sex workers sometimes face. Trans people have a similar memorial in November of every year, but it should also be recognized how people of intersecting minority characteristics (trans status, sex work, race and / or the poverty-classed) can experience a disproportionately high amount of hatred, violence and risk.
Little about Rosa is known, other than details culled from her Facebook page (now offline). According to the Edmonton Journal:
“His friends called him Rosa or Rose or Dido. For them, he posted pictures of himself enjoying the Edmonton winter — frolicking in the snow at the legislature grounds, shopping on trendy 104th Street. People tend to curate their Facebook pages to put the happiest gloss on our lives. But certainly, nothing in Ribut’s Facebook timeline suggests he was in Edmonton under duress. He joked online that he was a snow princess, who’d come here to find his snow prince…”
More details will likely follow in the coming months.