Sexual assault and domestic violence are serious concerns for members of LGBT/Queer communities, as they are for all people. Sexual assault and domestic violence can affect LGBT individuals in a number of ways:
- Bisexual, transgendered, lesbian, and gay people experience violence within their intimate relationships at about the same rates as heterosexuals (Waldner-Haugrud, 1997; AVP, 1992)
- 30% of lesbians report having experienced sexual assault or rape by another woman (not necessarily an intimate partner) (Renzetti, 1992)
- 15% of men living with a male intimate partner report being raped, assaulted or stalked by a male cohabitant (CDC, 1999)
- LGBT individuals may experience abuse during their childhood. They may be abused by parents or others who are intolerant of homosexuality. They may be targeted for sexual abuse by adults that recognize their “difference.”
- Over 11% of gay and lesbian youth report being physical attacked by family members (Hetrick-Martin Institute, 1988)
- 42% of homeless youth, many of whom have run away from home to escape violence, self-identify as gay/lesbian. (Victim Services, 1991) LGBT persons face additional challenges in healing from childhood sexual assault, due to myths that childhood sexual assault may have “caused” them to be gay.
- Queer persons may be sexually assaulted as a part of a hate crime.
- A study of gay, lesbian and bisexual adults showed that 41% reported being a victim of a hate crime after the age of 16. (Herek, 1999) Sexual violence is more common among LGBT hate crimes, assailants may use rape to “punish” victims for what they view as their sexual transgressions.
Domestic violence and sexual assault have long gone unnoticed in queer communities because of homophobia and ignorance. For example, some people may believe that domestic violence always involves a male abuser and a female victim. Others may believe that rape always involves penetration by a penis. These beliefs do not allow for the possibility of violence within a same-sex relationship. It is important to note that queer people as well as heterosexuals may hold these beliefs.
Widespread homophobia in our society means that there is little support available to queer survivors, and that survivors may even have to fear further violence and harassment from the people they turn to for help. Where specific services for queer survivors do exist, survivors may still be hesitant to use these services. Queer communities can be small, even in large cities. Seeking services at a queer-identified agency probably precludes the option of anonymity, and may even require interacting with friends of the perpetrator.
When violence happens within a same-sex relationship, perpetrators may use specific tactics to maintain power and control, including:
- Threatening to “out” the victim to family, work or friends
- Using institutionalized homophobia, such as:
- The victim may not be believed by police because “women don’t sexually assault.”
- There are likely no shelters available to transgendered persons or gay men, and shelter environments may be hostile to lesbian women.
- Reinforcing feelings the victim may have that disclosing abuse somehow reflects badly on the entire queer community. The queer community is viewed by many as “sick” and survivors may be hesitant to disclose any information that might reinforce that view.
Working to end homophobia in our communities is also an important way to prevent sexual assault. Homophobia sends messages that queer people should be ashamed of themselves, and that they have no worth. It leads us to perceive queer people as less than fully human. Queer people may of course also be people of color, women, people with disabilities, or people who are oppressed in multiple ways. These oppressions all lead to the objectification of marginalized people, including queer people, and leave us vulnerable to violence.
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