Background: Transgender women are at significant risk of HIV, and they face intersecting barriers to health, social, and legal services. However, data regarding the unique needs and experiences of transgender women are globally scant. This study examined the relationship between gender-based violence and depressive symptoms among transgender women in Cambodia.
Methods: This cross-sectional study included 1375 sexually active transgender women recruited by using the respondent-driven sampling method in the capital city of Phnom Penh and 12 provinces between December 2015 and February 2016. Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale (CES-D). Multivariate regression analysis was conducted to explore factors independently associated with depressive symptoms.
Results: Of total, 45.0% of the participants had depressive symptoms, and 21.8% had severe depressive symptoms. After controlling for potential confounders, transgender women with depressive symptoms remained significantly more likely to report several negative experiences of gender-based violence such as a feeling that co-workers or classmates were not supportive regarding their transgender identity (AOR = 2.00, 95% CI = 1.22-3.28), having difficulties in getting a job (AOR = 1.67, 95% CI = 1.29-2.16), having been denied or thrown out of housing (AOR = 1.53, 95% CI = 1.02-2.26), having difficulties in getting health services (AOR = 2.40, 95% CI = 1.50-3.82), having been physically abused (AOR = 1.54, 95% CI = 1.15-2.08), and having been fearful of being arrested by police or authorities (AOR = 2.18, 95% CI = 1.64-2.91) because of their transgender identity. Regarding their childhood experiences, transgender women with depressive symptoms remained significantly more likely to report that someone had tried to touch them or make them touch in a sexual way when they were growing up (AOR = 2.08, 95% CI = 1.61-2.68).
Conclusions: Transgender women in Cambodia experience high levels of gender-based violence and depressive symptoms. To address these concerns, a combination of service and policy interventions are required. These may include training and sensitization of trained and lay health providers in screening for depressive symptoms and integration of mental health services into facility- and community-based HIV services with enforcement of policies and laws that protect the rights of transgender women against gender-based violence.
Keywords: Cambodia; Depression; Gender-based violence; Mental health; National survey; Transgender women.