June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) community. It is also an opportunity to explore the issues that face LGBTQ+ people in the United States, such as domestic violence and increased rates of hate crimes against transgender people. Today, we are exploring how sexual violence affects the LGBTQ+ community — and what we can do to help.
The term sexual violence is used because it includes any type of unwanted sexual contact. This can range from harassing words to physical actions, such as rape and murder. A defining feature of sexual violence is that it isn’t about sex — it is about exerting power and control over another person. This is particularly important to remember when it comes to thinking about sexual violence in the LGBTQ+ community, where this type of abuse may be used to enforce traditional gender norms or ideas of masculinity and femininity.
While sexual violence is far too common in our society as a whole, LGBTQ+ people are even more likely to be victims. According to a 2011 study that analyzed data from more than 75 research reports:
Lesbian and bisexual women may be up to 3 times as likely as heterosexual women to report having been sexually assaulted during their lifetimes.
Gay men may be up to 15 times as likely as heterosexual men to report having been sexually assaulted during their lifetimes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey further found that:
44 percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35 percent of heterosexual women
26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29 percent of heterosexual men
46 percent of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 17 percent of heterosexual women and 13 percent of lesbians
22 percent of bisexual women have been raped by an intimate partner, compared to 9 percent of heterosexual women
40 percent of gay men and 47 percent of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, compared to 21 percent of heterosexual men.
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted within their lifetimes.
As with sexual violence against heterosexual people, there are many reasons why LGBTQ+ people may be victims of sexual violence. However, there are certain types of sexual violence that are specific to LGBTQ+ people. One study found that approximately 10% of hate crimes against gay men and lesbians include sexual assaults. Homophobia may also put LGBTQ+ people at a higher risk of sexual assault, as perpetrators may use sexual violence to punish or humiliate a person for being LGBTQ+. In addition, LGBTQ+ people may be subjected to bullying or harassment on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In addition, there are unique issues that may make it more difficult for LGBTQ+ people to seek help after experiencing sexual violence. Victims may fear reporting an attack to the police, or seeking help from organizations that may not be supportive because they are LGBTQ+. They may also worry that reporting will lead to them being outed, or that they will be blamed for their own assault. Each of these factors — along with others — can make it more challenging to seek help after sexual violence.
So what can we do? The first step is to work towards equality for LGBTQ+ people. It is only when LGBTQ+ people are treated equally — when they are not subjected to discrimination, when they are fully protected by our laws, when they are not viewed as “other” — that sexual violence associated with hate and discrimination will be eliminated. Second, we have to get rid of the root causes of gender-based violence, which include rape culture, harmful gender norms, inequality and the objectification and degradation of women in our media. Taking these two BIG steps are ways that we can change our society.
On a personal level, we can do small, but equally important, things. Speak up if you hear someone making a homophobic or transphobic joke. Let your LGBTQ+ friends know that you support them, and will be there for them. Refuse to consume media that is homophobic or transphobic. Talk to your friends, family, and others about these issues. If each of us commit to these relatively small actions, we can make a big difference.
At Blackburn Center, we offer trauma-informed services to ALL victims of violence, including LGBTQ+ people. Contact us anytime at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122 to speak to someone.