In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness month, I would like to bring some light to an issue that often has a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding around it, which is sexual assault within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning community.
Sexual assault within the LGBTQ community is a subject that is slowly receiving more attention, thanks to the work of many great organizations such as the NCAVP, FORGE, The Northwest Network, and more. However, many people may still not be aware of how sexual violence specifically affects LGBTQ individuals.
First I would like to share a few statistics about sexual assault specific to LGBTQ people:
- In a study of 162 gay men and 111 lesbians, 52% reported at least one incident of sexual coercion by same sex partners.
- Gay men experienced 1.6 incidents per person; while lesbians experienced 1.2 incidents per person. (1)
- A 1991 study of university students reported that of their sample of gay/bi-sexual students (including both gay men and lesbians) approximately 18% had been victims of rape, approximately 12% had been victims of attempted rape, and approximately 37% had been victims of sexual coercion. (1)
- There were 2,552 reported anti-gay incidents in 1998, of these 88 were sexual assaults/rapes. (1)
- According to a study conducted in Massachusetts, young lesbians and bisexual girls experienced more sexual harassment than heterosexual girls. 72% of lesbian and bisexual girls reported that they were called sexually offensive names by their peers, compared with 63% of heterosexual girls. Lesbians and bisexual girls were significantly more likely than heterosexual girls to be touched, brushed up against, or cornered in a sexual way (63% as compared to 52% of heterosexual girls) and to be grabbed or have their clothing pulled in a sexual way (50% compared to 44%). 23% of young lesbian and bisexual girls reported that their peers had attempted to hurt them in a sexual way (attempted rape or rape), while 6% of the heterosexual girls surveyed had experienced sexual violence of this nature. (2)
- According to the First National Survey of Transgender Violence, 13.7% of 402 persons reported being a victim of rape or attempted rape. (2)
These are just a few statistics to give you a general idea about the nature of sexual assault in relation to LGBTQ people. It is important to note that LGBTQ people who are sexually harassed/assaulted can be targeted because of their sexual orientation, and as pointed out in the statistic about the harassment of lesbian and bisexual girls, are more likely to receive harassment of that nature than their heterosexual peers are.
Unfortunately though, there are many complications for those in the LGBTQ population when potentially seeking help. While all populations affected by sexual assault face barriers, there are unique barriers and problems for LGBTQ people when it comes to reporting and understanding violence. Some of these issues include:
- Fear of being outed to family, law enforcement, employers, etc.
- Fear of harassment from law enforcemen.
- Fear that they will not be believed or taken seriously, due to stereotypes of who can be victims/perpetrators of assault (I.E. women cannot be the perpetrators, men cannot be victims, a woman cannot be raped by another woman, etc.)
- Belief that reporting will support the homophobic stereotype that LGBTQ people are predatory and promiscuous, or belief that by reporting they are betraying the LGBTQ community
- LGBTQ communities are often small and close-knit, therefore a survivor will be unwilling to seek services if they believe their only option is to go to an LGBTQ center
- May believe that sexual assault is simply something that happens and is part of coming out and being part of the community
(this list adapted from information taken from CALCASAs publication Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Survivors of Sexual Assault, http://calcasa.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/LGBT-Survivors.pdf)
While we as service providers cannot necessarily control the actions of the police or other parties involved, we should serve as role models as to how LGBTQ survivors should be treated and take a stand against any mistreatment that we see in these cases. For those who are not service providers, hopefully you have gained some insight into how to better support a friend or family member who has been affected by this issue. It is only by continuing to educate ourselves and better understanding how sexual violence affects LGBTQ people that we can build safer spaces for survivors and spread more awareness about the barriers they face.
1. Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault: Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgendered (LGBT) Populations and Sexual Assault, http://www.wcasa.org/file_open.php?id=151
2. CALCASAs 2008 report on Rape and Violence, http://www.calcasa.org/stat/CALCASA_Stat_2008.pdf