A London, Ont.-based trans activist who’s popular on the online platform Twitch says she fears for her life after police officers arrested her at gunpoint and took seriously a threat sent by someone trying to put her life in danger.
Clara Sorrenti, 28, says she was the victim of swatting — a practice involving someone calling in a threat to police, resulting in armed officers being sent to another person’s home or work.
“The work I do is important and people thank me for doing it every day,” Sorrenti told CBC News. “I think I’m still in shock, to be honest. When I saw the police gun pointed at me, I actually thought I was going to die. I’ve never been that terrified in my life.”
Sorrenti goes by Keffals on Twitch, where people can broadcast themselves playing video games. She has more than 42,000 followers and now speaks about American anti-trans legislation and transgender rights. Sorrenti transitioned when she was a teen.
Sorrenti was a candidate for the Communist Party of Canada in the 2019 federal election.
“I get messages almost every day from trans people, especially young trans people, saying that I gave them courage, that they can be who they are,” she said. “But people hate me and want to shut me up.”
That online harassment has sometimes bled into the real world, including in the incident earlier this month, Sorrenti said.
On Aug. 5, she said, she was in her apartment and awoken by a number of London police officers banging on her door. They produced a search warrant looking for a handgun, ammunition, firearm cartridges and cleaning tools, a gun case, cellphone and computer.
Threats to city councilors
“The arresting officer pulled me into the hallway, pushed me against the wall, handcuffed me, told me what the charges were. They took me in and searched my apartment for eight hours,” Sorrenti said.
Police also used her birth name, Sorrenti said, which isn’t what she goes by now. Her former name is also on police documents, even though it is no longer her legal name.
London police said they were contacted on Aug. 5 by city hall officials about violent threats.
“Officers commenced an investigation, and through evidence obtained, were successful in obtaining judicial authority to search a residence” in the city, an officer told CBC News.
“Ms. Sorrenti was arrested as the investigation progressed, and later released without charges pending analysis of electronic devices seized. This investigation is ongoing and at this point in time we cannot provide a firm date as to when it will conclude.”
Police told Sorrenti that someone had used her name and address to send threats to London city councilors and confess to a murder, which led to the police raid, she said. The person who wrote the threats also used the name she was given at birth, something that should have sent off alarm bells if police were sensitive to trans issues, Sorrenti said.
“No one in my life refers to me by that name. It’s been a decade since anyone has done that. The only reason people might use it is to mock me, to try to take away my power and dignity.”
Her brother spoke to London police in March to warn them that Sorrenti might become a victim of swatting, she said. While influential in the trans community, she’s also faced a barrage of attacks on social media that were spelled out in a Washington Post article on her in June.
In a YouTube post, Sorrenti said that while visiting Toronto on July 31, someone impersonating her had threatened local politicians. She said Toronto police spoke to her and chalked the incident up to an attempted swatting. Toronto police told CBC News they have an open file and the incident is still under investigation.
Sorrenti wants police to get better training in how to treat transgender people. She has also set up an online fundraiser that has raised almost $32,000 in five hours. The money is to relocate, because someone with ill intentions has her address, Sorrenti said.