Importance of Including LGBT Survivors in our Anti-violence Work
J. Herman (1997) has written eloquently regarding the stigma that trauma workers can experience due to society’s discomfort with facing the issue of trauma and victimization. This may be even more true for those organizations and individuals that develop outreach, intervention and prevention programs aimed at meeting the needs of LGBT survivors (Girshick, 2002). This then begs the question why we, as clinicians, activists, educators, and researchers, should focus our efforts on serving LGBT survivors of sexual violence. First, we have an ethical mandate to serve all survivors and end all oppressions ( NASW 2001). The National Sexual Violence Resource Center as well as the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence – two premiere organizations leading the violence intervention and prevention efforts nationally – have also both committed themselves to addressing all forms of domestic and sexual violence.
The rape and domestic violence intervention movements began with the understanding that the cultural underpinnings of and reliance on power and control lead to sexual and domestic violence. Sexual violence has been conceptualized as one mechanism used to maintain unequal and discriminatory sex role rights and expectations and support a status quo that empowers males and disempowers females (Robinson, 2003; Women’s International Network News, 2002). Similarly, sexual violence aimed at lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender individuals has been perceived as a violent attempt to keep those who are deemed socially inferior in terms of sexual and gender expression “in line” (Gentlewarrior, Martin-Jearld, Sweetser, Skok & Langevin, 2007/2008; HaleyNelson, 2005; Kidd & Witten, 2007/2008).
People perceived to be deviating from sexual and gender norms are often sexually targeted. Willis (2004) summarizes this point: “society’s constructions of sexuality, socioerotic identity, and gender identity have consequences” (p. 125). For example, boys who display behaviors typically viewed as feminine in nature are at an increased risk for all kinds of victimization – including sexual trauma (Brady, 2008); this can place gay and bisexual boys at greater risk for child sexual abuse. Lesbians and bisexual females experience sexual abuse based in both gender bias and homophobia/biphobia. When speaking about sexual violence across the lifespan, HaleyNelson (2005) states:
the penalty for women who do not conform to gender and sexuality standards is sexual violence such as rape, forced sodomy, and sexual slavery. Lesbians [and bisexual women], as more obvious gender and sexuality nonconformers, are targeted more frequently and severely for sexualized, physical violations” (167).
Transgender individuals are often targeted by sexual perpetrators because of their gender non-conformity (Kidd & Witten, 2007; Mizock & Lewis, 2008). This point was illustrated by a transgender female respondent in a qualitative research study when she discussed her “‘punishment for deviating from gender norms. She shared how prior to her gender transition she was raped as an 11-year-old boy by two older boys who said, ‘You wanna be a girl? Well this is how girls get treated'” (Gentlewarrior, et al., 2007/2008, p. 15).
In addition, when gay men are raped by strangers they – like heterosexual women – are likely to be blamed for their trauma experience and perceived as unconsciously desiring victimization (Wakelin & Long, 2003). Finally, Aoesved & Long (2006) suggest “that there are interrelationships between sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, classism, and religious intolerance and rape myth acceptance at both the individual level and across individuals at the cultural level” (p. 489). Our work must include LGBT survivors not only because it is right, but as suggested by this information, because it is necessary in order to create a comprehensive response to sexual violence.
The special needs of transgender individuals during medical rape exams is a vitally important topic that needs attention by our field. The impact of sexual violence on LGBT families is also an area that deserves study. These are but a few of the substantively important issues that sexual violence workers must be versed in to provide effective and culturally competent services to LGBT survivors of sexual violence. In order to effectively serve LGBT survivors of sexual trauma, recommendations to those in the sexual violence field include:
1) Engage in ongoing identification and rectification of any attitudes or behaviors predicated in homophobia, biphobia, and/or transphobia.
2) Prioritize the production and dissemination of information focused on LGBT survivors of sexual violence in community-based and peer-reviewed venues.
3) Ensure that our agencies have workers and administrators that reflect the social identities of all of those we serve.
4) Commit to developing a knowledge base about LGBT individuals that includes: a) Information about their historical and current experiences of oppression and b) Knowledge regarding the coming out and identity development processes.
5) Develop and utilize LGBT-affirmative practice models. Initial steps toward this goal include: a) Use of inclusive language verbally and in all written forms and literature; b) Assessment of all survivors for bias as well as non-bias oriented victimizations; and c) Ability to honor clients’ multiple and interconnected social identities and effectively serve clients’ in view of these identities.
6) Identify – or if needed – create LGBT community resources dedicated to offering safe, affirming support on a range of issues relevant to members of these communities.
7) Provide professional development opportunities for area agencies focused on the self awareness, knowledge and skills needed to offer culturally competent services to LGBT survivors of sexual violence.
Participate in policy and social change work dedicated to providing equity of treatment and acceptance to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Sexual violence clinicians, educators, activists and researchers have a proud history of joining survivors in naming and addressing the causes and impacts of trauma. Working to ensure equal attention and efficacy in serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survivors of sexual violence in our clinical, research, education, prevention, advocacy, legislative and policy efforts is an appropriate next step in our work (Bauer & Wayne, 2005; Carroll, Gilroy & Ryan, 2002; Gentlewarrior, et al., 2007/2008; NASW, 2001; Van Den Bergh & Crisp, 2004; Walder-Haugrud, 1999).
The previous article was adapted from Culturally Competent Service Provision to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Survivors of Sexual Violence written by
Sabrina Gentlewarrior, Ph.D., LICSW, ACSW