The Untold Story: Sexual Violence against LGBT People

By Jade Correa

Disclaimer: This article is by no means intended to derail or dismiss discussion of sexual violence perpetrated by men against women; it is merely intended to shed light on another form of sexual violence.  Some cisnormative language is used when discussing the form of sexual violence that is usually addressed, i.e. cisgender male perpetrators and cisgender female victims.

In discourse surrounding sexual violence, the narrative often places heterosexual men as the perpetrators and heterosexual women as the victims. While this discourse is entirely valid, it is too often the case that the disproportionate sexual violence experienced by LGBT people is silenced and left out of the conversation – the NUS Hidden Marks survey, for example, which has been instrumental in highlighting sexual violence against women on campus, made no attempt to investigate LGBT students’ experiences specifically.  Modern feminist discourse often proclaims an awareness of sexual violence against LGBT people, but it is rarely talked about in any depth outside of specific LGBT spaces.  This can be detrimental for LGBT survivors of sexual violence, as it is difficult for them to access the help they need – it’s quite telling that when writing this article, I found it a challenge to put together a list of resources and helplines that were specifically for LGBT survivors, as so few seem to exist.

We can begin by looking at some statistics to give an idea of the scope of this problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey on intimate partner and sexual violence in the US:

  • 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35% of heterosexual women;
  • 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29% of heterosexual men;
  • 46 percent of bisexual women have been raped (nearly half of whom between the ages of 11 and 17 at the time), 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.

Furthermore, it is estimated by US-based research that 64% of transgender people have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime.  Violence and discrimination against transgender people is heavily disproportionate even within the LGBT community.  Transgender people experience discrimination and erasure to such an extent that while we know that they experience higher rates of sexual violence, there is still very little information on the subject and a lot more to be done in terms of research and support.
On top of the prevalence of sexual violence against LGBT people, the stigma that LGBT people still experience in today’s society means that we are less likely to seek help from the police, hospitals, shelters, or rape crisis centres due to fear of discrimination, or in some cases, even further violence.

Why are LGBT people at a greater risk of sexual violence?
To put it simply, LGBT people are at a higher risk of most things – poverty, mental illness, and physical violence being just a few – which puts us in a vulnerable position regarding sexual assault. As is often discussed in relation to sexual violence perpetrated by men against women, sexual violence is about expressing power, domination, and control over the victim, not sexual attraction.  It is, as the term denotes, an act of violence; bearing this in mind, it’s easy to see how general discrimination against LGBT people can manifest this way.  Undoubtedly, at least some portion of sexual violence against LGBT people can be classed as overt hate crime, but the underlying reasons are often more complex than that.
With regards to the much higher rates of sexual violence among bisexual and transgender individuals, it is often the case that bisexual and transgender identities are hypersexualised – the content of porn sites boasting videos of “bisexual babes” and “tr*nnies” being only one manifestation of this.  Hypersexualisation of LGBT people then causes the kind of objectification that leads to sexual violence.
Another cause of sexual violence specifically against LGBT people is the phenomenon of corrective rape, in which the perpetrator attempts to “turn” the victim heterosexual, or reinforce the perceived heterosexual norm.  This has been reported in recent news in South Africa, usually against lesbian women.  Once again, the sexual orientation of the victim has a unique impact on the perpetration of violence.

The statistics and causes surrounding anti-LGBT sexual violence can paint a bleak picture, but my purpose with this article isn’t fearmongering or shock tactics. I firmly believe that we need to take into account the reasons for disproportionate sexual violence against LGBT people, and work towards lessening social stigma in order to prevent this violence.  Sexual violence is becoming more and more of a hot topic nowadays, with plenty of high-profile names proclaiming their feminist status and beginning to address how widespread sexual assault really is.  I believe that with this momentum, we need to bring LGBT people into the conversation – not to derail, but to include, and to work towards a world in which no one has to suffer the trauma of sexual violence.

Resources for LGBT survivors of sexual assault:

International projects:
http://www.pandys.org/lgbtsurvivors.html
http://www.survivorproject.org/

UK helplines:
http://www.galop.org.uk/  (020 7704 2040) – support for LGBT survivors of sexual violence
http://www.brokenrainbow.org.uk/ (0300 999 5428 or 0800 999 5428) – support for LGBT survivors of domestic abuse

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