Understanding Sexual Assault in LGBTQ+ Relationships
October 13, 2021
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Sexual assault is prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community. Though it often fails to receive adequate attention from dating violence campaigns and initiatives, it is an important issue that must be examined and addressed.
Before continuing, it is crucial to recognize that this information may be traumatic to some readers. The following article details the sexual harassment, assault, rape, and other harsh realities of dating violence experienced by LGBTQ+ people.
5 Facts About Sexual Violence in the LGBTQ+ Community
The Queer Community Experiences Higher Rates of Sexual Assault
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), LGBTQ+ people experience higher rates of sexual assault than straight people across the board, with bisexual and transgender individuals experiencing some of the highest rates of sexual violence.
For example, 46% of bisexual women have been raped in their lifetime, compared to 17% of heterosexual women. Additionally, according to data collected in the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey Report, 47% of transgender people said they were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetimes. People in the queer community also experience higher rates of physical violence and stalking in relationships.
Sexual Violence Begins in Adolescence
HRC also reports that many queer people begin experiencing sexual violence as children or teens. In particular, 48% of bisexual women rape survivors experienced their first rape between the ages of 11 and 17 (compared to 28% of heterosexual women).
Sexual Violence Is More Common Among LGBTQ+ People of Color
People of color in the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to be sexually assaulted. According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center (NSVRC), this is especially true for trans and nonbinary people of color.
While 47% of all transgender people have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, this rate climbs to 53% among Black transgender people, 59% among multiracial transgender people, and 65% among American Indian transgender people. Rates of sexual violence are also incredibly high for transgender people who have done sex work (72%) and those who have expeienced homelessness (65%).
LGBTQ+ People Face Higher Rates of Suicide
According to NSVRC, sexual abuse victims are at higher risk for depression and suicide. More than 50% of LGBTQ+ survivors of harassment, sexual violence, and physical violence in K-12 schools indicated that they had attempted suicide.
Sexual Assault Increases Risk of HIV Transmission
According to HRC, HIV disproportionately impacts certain members of the LGBTQ+ community, and sexual assault increases that risk. Additionally, NSVRC reports that 32% of LGBTQ+ respondents don't use protection to avoid problems with their partners, and 28% noted that it would be unsafe to negotiate. Almost 20% of respondents said they were subjected to sexual violence because they requested safer sex practices.
How Sexual Assault Impacts LGBTQ+ Students
The effects of sexual assault (SA) on LGBTQ+ students are detrimental and can manifest in a multitude of ways.
Queer Students Are Less Likely to Report SA
LGBTQ+ students are less likely to report sexual assault. While all victims of sexual violence face barriers to reporting, queer survivors often face additional roadblocks. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that queer survivors are sometimes reluctant to report sexual assault because they feel it will reflect poorly on themselves and other LGBTQ+ people, furthering existing stigma against the community.
The Heteronormative Focus on SA Excludes LGBTQ+ Survivors
College sexual assault prevention initiatives often center around heteronormativity. Most institutions are not aware of the prevalence of sexual assault in the LGBTQ+ community. Queer students are left to spread awareness about their experiences on their own.
LGBTQ+ Survivors Are Taken Less Seriously
Queer victims of sexual assault are sometimes taken less seriously when they are in same-sex relationships. Because of the normalization of sexual assault and rape culture on campus, as well as existing stigmas against LGBTQ+ individuals, queer students' sexual assault experiences are often belitteled and rendered invisible.
Discriminatory Bathroom Policies Impact SA
Transgender students' sexual assault experiences are sometimes rooted in discriminatory bathroom policies. Students' safety can be at risk when they are forced to use bathrooms according to their gender assigned at birth, or if their gender presentation confuses someone else who decides to interfere with them. For many, having to use gender-misaligned bathrooms leads to a higher risk of sexual assault, creating a fear of communal bathroom use.
Negative Impact On Academics
The Center for American Progress reports that sexual harassment affects LGBTQ+ students' educational outcomes. Queer survivors of sexual assault may be less focused in classes, drop or skip courses more frequently, transfer schools, or even drop out of college because of their experiences.
What to Do If You Experience Dating Violence
The mass influx of students returning to campus this fall after a lull last year due to the pandemic will likely impact the prevalence of campus sexual assault.
It is important to remember that the best way for students to prevent campus sexual violence is to avoid committing it, and to help others learn how not to commit it. Ways to do this include cultivating an awareness of consent (e.g., what it is and ways to make sure it is a part of all dating interactions) and encouraging a commitment to consent across the student body.
If you have been subjected to dating violence, it can be difficult to know how to handle the situation. The following paragraphs describe some steps you can take.
Students who experience sexual assault can take immediate action. First, ensuring your own safety is paramount. Report the incident to someone you can trust as soon as you can — multiple people, if possible. If you don't have someone you can trust, consider connecting with a crisis hotline or other support organization (some of these are listed in the next section). Next, seek medical attention. If the assault included forced penetrative intercourse, students should seek out a rape kit provider as soon as possible.
In addition to following post-sexual assault procedures, it's also vital for students to check in with themselves and their support systems. Queer students may find that seeking support within the LGBTQ+ community — and with other survivors and victims — can benefit their mental health.
Taking the time to digest and process the traumatizing events with a therapist, family members, and friends can also help a survivor heal in the aftermath of sexual assault. External support systems can also be essential during the reporting process, which is often difficult, particularly for LGBTQ+ individuals.
Additional Resources to Address LGBTQ+ Dating Violence
There is help available for dating violence survivors, their family, and their friends.
- FORGE is an organization that directs transgender and nonbinary sexual assault survivors to the resources they need to address their trauma. The organization is also dedicated to empowering the trans and nonbinary community beyond providing resources.
- Love Is Respect is a website that provides different avenues of support for its users. The site outlines what healthy relationships should look like, offers resources specific to LGBTQ+ people, and helps people create safety and exit plans for abusive relationships.
- The Network/La Red is an organizing campaign led by survivors of sexual assault focused on the LGBTQ+, BDSM, and polyamorous communities. The campaign offers various resources for help, including a 24/7 confidential support hotline.
- Community United Against Violence offers counseling specifically for LGBTQ+ survivors of violence and abuse. It also conducts programs and workshops meant to stop the cycle of violence within and against the queer community.
- RAINN is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. Its 24/7 hotline provides support, advice, information, and referrals to other resources in a survivor's local area.
Sexual assault in the LGBTQ+ community is often underdiscussed, despite the fact that queer individuals are more likely to experience sexual violence than straight people. Moving queer people into the spotlight of dating violence is essential to providing them with proper support.
By increasing awareness of dating violence in the LGBTQ+ community, more studies will be conducted, more resources will be created, and more knowledge will spread. There must be widespread justice for survivors of sexual assault, including queer survivors.
Editor's Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about health-related issues.
Angelique Geehan works to support and repair the connections people have to themselves and their families, communities, and cultural practices. A queer, Asian, gender-binary, nonconforming parent, Geehan founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support. She organizes as part of several groups, including National Perinatal Association's Health Equity Workgroup, the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance, QTPOC+ Family Circle, and Batalá Houston.
Angelique Geehan is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
Feature Image: Westend61 / Getty Images