It is our commitment to educate on all queer related issues. From past moments and people in history to the current problems plaguing our community today. The matter of sexual assault and intimate partner violence is one of the most pressing issues among the LGBTQ.
Staggering statistics show how incredibly vulnerable queer people are to this abuse. And also, how unlikely they are able to get help after the violence occurs. We review some of the most well-known studies published in the last decade. And discuss how to address this problem in local communities, not simply among the LGBTQ, but among society at large. Check out the episode to stay informed and aware, and to gain training resources for local businesses and public facilities.
Today’s topic came as Evan was doing research for a different project. And we felt it was past time we addressed the prevalence of sexual assault and intimate partner violence in the queer community. The most current large scale studies on the issue were released several years ago and created quite a stir in the media. Yet this was before the Trump administration and the increase in homophobia and transphobia in America. While the studies were alarming when first reported, we can only imagine what would be found today. And so it is ever more important that we continue to shed light on the matter.
In this minisode, we are going to discuss some of the statistics concerning the queer community in relation to sexual assault and IPV (Intimate Partner Violence). As well as the dynamics surrounding these issues and how we address them. And we do need to start with a BIG trigger warning. We talk in depth about this issue, so please feel free to check out another one of our episodes. We suggest the most recent Villains of the LGBTQ; Anita Bryant. Or perhaps our sports episode, You Can’t Win a Championship Without Gays. Either way, don’t force yourself to listen to anything you are not in a safe place to hear.
We will begin by addressing one of the most well known reports. The 2010 Center for Disease and Control (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Before we dive in, it is important to understand some of the lingo used in discussing this topic. First, as we have stated, IPV stands for Intimate Partner Violence. And it doesn’t have to be a current partner, this also covers ex partners or spouses. The official definition is:
“Any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship, including acts of physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors.”
This can mean a variety of things. In addition to physical abuse and sexual violence, this also covers stalking, harassment, and financial violence. Financial violence is controlling or withholding a person’s income or preventing their ability to earn an income.
It is also important to understand the scope of the words ‘sexual violence’. This covers any type of unwanted sexual conduct, ranging from sexist attitudes and actions to rape and murder. Within this are several terms that are often interchanged but yet have distinct differences. These are ‘sexual assault’, ‘sexual abuse’, ‘rape’, and ‘sexual harassment’. It is important to understand these differences when advocating for survivors of sexual violence. This way we can aid victims in finding the proper justice for the crime committed against them. It also helps in directing survivors to find the help they need. Furthermore, this allows every victim of sexual violence to feel that they have a voice that speaks their full truth.
The online academic journal The Conversation details the differences between the four terms. We took some of their descriptions from an article that breaks down the terminology and linked the page on our published script. The article was written by three scholars who have spent a decade researching the topic. Their descriptions are as such:
Sexual Abuse – Used when referring to minors under the legal age of consent. Sexual abuse can include many different things, from touching a victim in a sexual manner to forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way to making a victim look at sexual body parts or watch sexual activity. Sexual abuse of a child is a criminal act.
Rape – Re-defined by the FBI in 2012, the legal definition now states: penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim. The definition was re-defined to remove gender and thus some of the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding rape. There are also no defenses for spouses or partners as there was in the past. Which means individuals are able to better report IPV.
Sexual Assault – This phrase is used often because it is also an umbrella term. Like sexual violence, it means a variety of traumas. Such as using false promises, insistent pressure, abusive comments or reputational threats to coerce sex acts. It can encompass noncontact acts like catcalls and whistles, which can make women feel objectified and victimized. It includes nonconsensual electronic sharing of explicit images, exposure of genitals and surreptitious viewing of others naked or during sex. The term also overlaps with rape, which can be a trigger word for some survivors. Others find the hard verbiage empowering. Because of this, if you are not a rape survivor, it is best to stick with the umbrella terms when discussing sexual assault.
Sexual Harassment – This is the broadest term of all but is usually used to reference to professional settings and relationships. The classic “sleep with me or you’re fired” scenario is a perfect example of sexual coercion. It is the most stereotypical form of sexual harassment, but also the rarest.
A second, and more common, form of sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention: unwanted touching, hugging, stroking, kissing, relentless pressure for dates or sexual behavior. Note that romantic and sexual overtures come in many varieties at work, not all of them harassing. To constitute unlawful sexual harassment, the sexual advances must be unwelcome and unpleasant to the recipient. They must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to “create an abusive working environment,” according to the Supreme Court.
Included in sexual harassment is gender harassment. This is conduct that disparages people based on gender, but implies no sexual interest. Gender harassment can include crude sexual terms and images, for example, degrading comments about bodies or sexual activities, graffiti calling women “cunts” or men “pussies.” More often than not, though, it is purely sexist, such as contemptuous remarks about women being ill-suited for leadership or men having no place in childcare. Such actions constitute “sexual” harassment because they are sex-based, not because they involve sexuality.
Now that we understand some of the terminology and nuances about IPV and SV (sexual violence) let’s get back to the 2010 CDC report. Ten years ago the Center for Disease and Control released an in depth survey on sexual assault and intimate partner violence. They found alarming results especially among Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people. *Note: There doesn’t seem to be any information on the transgender community in that report. However, another was released 5 years later which we will discuss. The CDC found that 44% of Lesbians and 61% of Bisexual women experienced some form of IPV in their lifetime. This was in stark comparison to 35% of heterosexual women. In addition, 44% of bisexual women have been raped in contrast to 17% of heterosexual women. And 22% of the bisexual women who were raped were violated by a partner or ex-partner.
For the men, the numbers were not much better. Especially for bisexual men who reported that 37% had experienced IPV compared to 29% of heterosexual men. While gay men were the lowest to experience IPV, at 26%, they were double heterosexual men in sexual violence that wasn’t from a partner. 40% of gay men and 47% of bisexual men reported non partner sexual violence compared to heterosexual men who polled at 21%. These statistics make it impossible for us to ignore what bi-erasure and prejudice has done to our community. The debilitating misconception that bisexual men ‘sleep with anyone’ has painted a target on the bisexual communities back. And the lack of funding, resources, and acceptance within our own communities has loaded the gun. We must become more vocal and active in supporting and validating our bisexual siblings.
Of course, it comes as little surprise which group has fared the worst in terms of SV and IPV. The 2015 Transgender National Survey found that 47% of transgender people were sexually assaulted in their lifetime. That number rose dramatically among people of color. With Indigenous Americans polling at 65%, Multiracial people at 59%, Middle Eastern at 58%, and Black trans folks at 53%. If you listened to our November episode on Transgender Myths and Misconceptions, we discussed the 22 black trans women murdered this year BECAUSE they were trans. This is an epidemic that is sweeping our country and the rise of hate crimes only adds to the terror queer people of color face.
But the real question is why are LGBTQ people so vulnerable to SV and IPV. The answer lies in the rampant homophobia, transphobic, and biphobia or our society. Let’s break down what factors into sexual violence. For starters, despite the wealthy white people driving the #MeToo movement (and we don’t want to discredit the movement at all, merely use it as a discussion point) we know they’re not the most susceptible to violence. In reality, impoverished areas see the most sexual violence. And because of laws and social bias that keep queer people from equal employment and equal housing, many LGBTQ folks live in poverty. Legally, many states allow for open discrimination. And with a presidential administration that has shown no favor or consideration for the queer population, we cannot expect that to get better any time soon.
Another dynamic that lends itself to this problem is the inability to find help, or the lost trust in authority figures. A 2012 report by M.S. Green found that 78% of trans and non-binary children were harassed for their identity. 35% reported physical assault and 12% reported sexual violence. Returning to the 2010 CDC report, 48% of bisexual rape survivors reported their rape took place between the ages of 11 and 17. Obviously this trauma at a young age opens the doorway to a lifetime of struggles. And when these abuses are reported and ignored, the trust in authority is justly invalidated. And this is further reinforced as the individual grows older.
85% of advocates surveyed reported they had worked with victims denied some kind of service because of their orientation or identity. One in five transgender people who has been incarcerated in a jail or detention center has been sexually assaulted by facility staff during their stay. And 17% of trans and non-binary people who stayed at a shelter were assaulted because of their identity. As a whole, the queer community has had no reason to feel safe or protected. 20% of lesbians and 48% of bisexual women surveyed stated they felt unsafe and reported symptoms of PTSD. Our society claims progressiveness and acceptance yet continues to allow for an unstable world for LGBTQ people.
With reliable resources out of the question and public officials or facility staff more hindrance than help, the queer community is ripe for violence. When we discussed non partner violence, gay men and bisexual men reported being sexually assaulted at 40% and 47%. And this was in 2010 before the spike in hate crimes that rose in 2017. This speaks no doubt to internalized homophobia and the fear of being outed. Both the perpetrator and the victim face this problem. This is not to excuse the aggressor in the slightest. We simply wonder what the world would be like if homosexuality was not a stigma. Instead either through cruelty or fear, men will lure other men away and then assault them. The abused who is already so broken now must face being outed to the authorities and possibly others. Because of this, many gay and bisexual men do not report their SV. And again, we pause to add emphasis on Biphobia which is in both the straight and the queer community.
There are countless ways LGBTQ people face IPV and SV but the reasons are always simple; Biphobia, Transphobia, Homophobia. Until companies, institutions, universities, and state and federal departments issue training and ENFORCE strict guidelines against bias there will be no change. People must see that ignoring prejudice is killing queer and marginalized communites. We hear this statement often, yet we see little change. Every company needs a non-discrimination policy and they need to actively enforce it. Experienced queer advocates need to be invited into facilities and businesses to train employees on LGBTQ issues. As a whole and individually we have to stand up to the querphobia’s running through our communities. We can fight this, but it starts with confronting our own biases.
Your recommended resource is forge.org which is an organization dedicated to advocating for the trans community and providing educational resources. Their website is filled with resources that any group or company can use for training materials. We also have linked the study compilation of Rothman, Exner, and Baughman which deep dives into the various aspects of sexual violence, and specifically writes about the LGBTQ community.
- Manuscript by Rothman, Exner, and Baughman – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3118668/#!po=25.0000
- FORGE – https://forge-forward.org/wp-content/docs/Respected-and-Whole-SA-FINAL.pdf
- HRC – https://www.hrc.org/resources/sexual-assault-and-the-lgbt-community
- PCAR – https://pcar.org/about-sexual-violence/lgbtq
- USA Today – https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/06/13/sarah-mcbride-gay-survivors-helped-launch-me-too-but-rates-lgbt-abuse-largely-overlooked/692094002/
- CDC (1) – https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/cdc_nisvs_victimization_final-a.pdf
- The Conversation – http://theconversation.com/whats-the-difference-between-sexual-abuse-sexual-assault-sexual-harassment-and-rape-88218