- April 14, 2015
Post submitted by Beth Sherouse, former ACLS Public Fellow, HRC Senior Content Manager
[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault]
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This month last year I was living in South Carolina and volunteering as a victim advocate with a local rape crisis center, taking hotline calls and accompanying sexual assault survivors to the hospital.
During the year that I volunteered in this capacity, I worked with a range of survivors – of all genders, races, classes, languages and ages. I learned that sexual assault does not discriminate; it can and does affect every type of person, including a disproportionate number of people who are LGBTQ.
As an advocate, I learned that every survivor is different and has different needs – some are in shock and unable to speak, and some seem calm and unfazed; some report to police, some have very good reasons for not reporting; some ask for counseling, some don’t; some don’t want to talk about their assault right away, and some want to discuss every detail.
LGBTQ survivors are just as diverse in their responses and needs, but face additional challenges as well. Within the LGBTQ community, discrimination and shame often lead to greater silence about problems like intimate partner violence and sexual assault. LGBTQ people live in a world that still pathologizes our sexuality, and tells many of us that our bodies and our desires are both sinful and shameful.
Moreover, members of marginalized communities often shy away from anything that would paint us as anything less than perfect, upstanding citizens – especially when the stigma against LGBTQ people is so focused on our sexual behaviors and desires. We are literally fighting decades of harmful and damaging myths created about us including the most noxious – that we are sexual predators – simply because we are LGBTQ. LGBTQ people are as diverse as non-LGBTQ people. And like non-LGBTQ people, we we can be both survivors or perpetrators of violence.
In this context, LGBTQ people experience staggeringly high rates of sexual violence and additional – sometimes insurmountable – barriers to survivor support services and care. Within the LGBT community, transgender people and bisexual women face the most alarming rates of sexual violence. The numbers speak for themselves.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 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. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 12 percent of transgender respondents experienced sexual assault in K-12 education settings. Among both of these populations, sexual violence begins early, often during childhood. According to the CDC, nearly half (48 percent) of bisexual women who are rape survivors experienced their first rape between ages 11 and 17.
For LGBTQ survivors of sexual assault, their identities – and the discrimination they face surrounding those identities – often make them hesitant to seek help from police, hospitals, shelters or rape crisis centers, the very resources that are supposed to support them. Eighty-five percent of victim advocates surveyed by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects reported having worked with an LGBTQ survivor who was denied services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The NTDS found that among those transgender respondents who had interacted with police, 6 percent reported having been physically assaulted and 2 percent reported having been sexually assaulted by police. Among black transgender people, 15 percent reported physical assault and 7 percent reported sexual assault by police. Additionally, 22 percent of those transgender people who had attempted to access shelters reported being sexually assaulted by either another person in the shelter or by shelter staff.
While discussions of rape culture and sexual assault are increasing, these alarming statistics among LGBTQ people are unlikely to stop without serious and meaningful conversation within our community and with our allies about issues including LGBTQ-inclusive prevention education, and culturally competent care for LGBTQ survivors.
As individuals, though, there are some steps LGBTQ people can take in the meantime:
- Start by believing. Disclosing sexual trauma can be re-traumatizing, and made much worse by not knowing whether people will believe you or blame you – which happens all the time. If someone tells you they have been sexually assaulted, start by believing; and always avoid saying things like “What were you wearing?” “Why were you out so late?” or “You shouldn’t have been drinking that much.” Here are some more tips for what to do if someone discloses to you.
- Talk about consent. Consent is something we need to discuss in more detail, and beyond “no means no.” What does it mean to consent? (Here’s a great resource on that question.) Can a person take back consent after some sexual contact has occurred? (Absolutely, yes.) In what cases is a person not capable of consent? (When they’re underage or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, for example.)
- Become an advocate. Contact your local rape crisis center and ask about becoming a volunteer victim advocate, or volunteering in any other capacity. The more LGBTQ advocates we have, the better our community’s survivors will be served.
- Put aside your false assumptions. There are many myths about sexual assault. Supporting each other means setting these harmful fictions aside and understanding what sexual assault is. Sexual assault is is any sexual contact without consent. It is not limited to heterosexual intercourse. Men can be raped. If a person has an orgasm but does not consent, it’s still rape. If you are unclear on what sexual assault is, or have questions, educate yourself.
- Hold each other accountable. If you see a fellow member of the LGBTQ community – or anyone, for that matter – acting in a way that seems sexually predatory, or perpetuating myths about sexual assault survivors, speak up. Likewise, if you work, volunteer or otherwise come in contact with people who provide services to survivors and aren’t culturally competent and LGBTQ-inclusive, let them know that they should be, and connect them with resources.
For more information on how sexual violence affects LGBTQ people, check out HRC Foundation Health and Aging Program’s new resource on Sexual Assault and the LGBT Community.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, here are some LGBTQ-friendly resources:
National Sexual Assault Hotline
(can also refer you to a local rape crisis center)
1-800-656-HOPE (4673) 24/7 or
Online Counseling at http://apps.rain.org/ohl-
1-866-331-99474 (24/7) or Text “loveis” 22522
The Anti-Violence Project – serves people who are LGBTQ
Hotline 212-714-1124 Bilingual 24/7
GLBT National Help Center
Hotline 1800-246-PRIDE (1-800-246-7743) or
Online Chat at http://www.volunteerlogin.org/
The Network La Red – serves LGBTQ, poly, and kink/BDSM survivors of abuse; bilingual
Northwest Network – serves LGBT survivors of abuse; can provide local referrals