‘Long-Term Follow-Up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery: Cohort Study in Sweden’: A review of Dhejne et al’s findings on criminal convictions

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In 2011 Dhejne et al. published a peer-reviewed academic paper setting out findings from a cohort study aimed at estimating the ‘mortality, morbidity, and criminal rate after surgical sex reassignment of transsexual persons’ (2011: 1). Using a range of administrative data, including hospital records, census data and criminal convictions data the study ‘captured almost the entire population of sex-reassigned transsexual individuals in Sweden from 1973–2003’ (2011:7). These findings are, to the best of our knowledge, unique, nor are we aware of any comparable quantitative research that rebuts the findings.

Drawing on criminal convictions data, the study showed, among other findings, that male-to-female transitioners were likely to retain the same risk of male-pattern criminality both in relation to crime generally, and to violent crime. Dhejne et al. summarize this finding in the following terms: 

In this study, male-to-female individuals had a higher risk for criminal convictions compared to female controls but not compared to male controls. This suggests that the sex reassignment procedure neither increased nor decreased the risk for criminal offending in male-to-females.’ (2011: 6)

Although expressed clearly, this finding has been subsequently disputed, principally as a result of comments made by the lead author in an article published in 2015 by The Transadvocate,[1] where Dhejne suggested that some people had misinterpreted the results.

This disagreement surfaced in December 2020, in relation to evidence submitted to the Women and Equalities inquiry on reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Giving oral evidence, Professors Rosa Freedman and Kathleen Stock referred to the original interpretation, as noted above, and followed this up with further written evidence. Their interpretation was then disputed in a written submission by Professor Alex Sharpe, which cited Dhjene’s later interview comments, and a written submission by Professor Ruth Pearce which stated, ‘This study is widely but inaccurately cited by anti-trans groups on social media as evidence that trans women retain “male patterns” of criminality, an error repeated by Profs Freedman and Stock.’ In Scotland, correspondence accessed by Freedom of Information also shows that Scottish Government officials dismissed the relevance of the results to gender recognition reform, on the basis of the Transadvocate comments, and an article published by in Medium,[2] which also referred to the interview.

Against this background, this briefing overviews the key findings as presented in the original paper. We then examine the later comments made by the lead author, and argue that these are not consistent with the original findings. The original paper is open-access and can be accessed here.

NOTE: Dhejne’s 2017 comments
In a further exchange on reddit in 2017, with the same interviewer, Dhejne made the following comments in relation to the findings on criminality, which supports our reading of the study:

Regarding criminality there are only results from either both trans women and trans men and displayed for the whole period 1973-2003 and for the periods of 1973-1988 and the 1989-2003. If one is only interested in transwomen data is only available for the whole period.”

[1] The Transadvocate (2015) Fact Check: Study shows transition makes trans people suicidal

[2] Gemma Stone (9 January 2018) Do trans women ‘retain male pattern violence’? Medium