This month we celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride. Which is recognized every June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. Pride is equal parts a celebration, a protest, and a community building event. It is an opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come and recognize the strong leaders that came before us in the fight for equality and inclusion, such as the unsung heroes of Stonewall riots: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
Every year, allies, friends and family also take this chance to demonstrate love and support for the LGBTQ+ community. But what are we doing year-round to show support and advance towards a more inclusive culture?
For anyone working in the sexual violence prevention field or crisis centers, it is imperative that we implement and improve protocols to talk and work with the LGBTQ+ community. However, let’s not mistake this step as just a “nice” thing to do to show support. It is actually necessary in order to create a comprehensive response to sexual violence.
There is no doubt anyone and everyone can be a victim of sexual violence. Unfortunately individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ are at higher risk for sexual victimization than the general population. A 2011 study analyzed data from more than 75 research reports and found that lesbian and bisexual women may be up to 3 times as likely as heterosexual women to report having been sexually assaulted during their lifetime; gay men may be up to 15 times as likely as heterosexual men to report having been sexually assaulted during their lifetime (Rothman, Exner and Baughman, 2011). Transgender individuals are most likely to be victims of sexual assault; one in two are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives.
After a sexual assault members of the LGBTQ+ community can also encounter more barriers to accessing resources and services due to homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism in our society. Some of these barriers are intrinsically created by the experiences LGBTQ+ folks encounter in their lives. They have to deal with the belief that their sexuality and/or gender identity expression is in conflict with the societal standards of what’s consider to be right. Dealing with stigma, discrimination, and verbal or physical attacks are often part of their day-to-day lives and the majority experience this from a young age.
These experiences may lead LGBTQ+ people to believe that intimate partner violence, hate violence, and harassment are just a “natural” consequence of belonging to that community. As a result, they are sometimes conditioned to expect and/or tolerate high levels of violence and victim-blaming accusations, and do not feel entitled to safety. This constructed armor can lead to a sense of isolation, hopelessness and contributes to tremendous levels of underreporting of violence in our communities.
Helping dismantle these internalized myths should be one of the main focuses of our work when connecting with the LGBTQ+ community. We need to reinforce the idea that sexual assault is NEVER the victims fault, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ+ individuals are definitively the most vulnerable targets of hate crimes and unfortunately not all states have hate crime laws covering sexual orientation. LGBTQ+ individuals could be targeted due to an offender’s homophobia or transphobia, which could cause the survivor to experience fear, vulnerability, and self-blame. It is important for a survivor to hear multiple times from multiple sources that they did not cause the assault; another person made the decision to be violent and that’s not the survivor’s fault, regardless of the offender’s motive.
Another challenge in the rape victim advocacy movement in the United States is that often the services, advocacy, and support groups available are geared towards cis-gendered, straight people. We need to visibly show support to the LGBTQ+ community and make sure it’s clear we provide services/resources for them. That starts from our marketing materials like brochures, social media and website to attending, supporting and/or promoting LGBTQ+ events. Having an all gender inclusive bathroom sign in our offices/crisis center can make a difference for a survivor to feel welcomed and supported. Most importantly, it is crucial to hire LGBTQ+ individuals in our teams. We need their input, their voice and experiences. Mostly in crisis centers LGBTQ+ survivors may feel more support and comfortable with someone they can relate to.
Providing services and resources to sexual assault survivors requires a deep knowledge about the emotional, physical and mental effects of their experience and it can be greatly enhanced when we as educators, counselors, service providers, and advocates, also understand the survivor’s unique identity/identities and how all the factors mentioned in this post can affect their experience, perspective and healing journey after sexual violence.
Helping the most vulnerable makes our fight against sexual violence stronger. So this is a call to action for all of us in this field. LGBTQ+ survivors need us. Let’s take a deeper look into their experiences and our internalized myths so that we can provide resources and services in a more effective way. Let’s keep working on inclusion, create welcoming spaces and develop more visible opportunities for them. Because when we work towards ending inequality, we create spaces where LGBTQ+ people are seen as equal and reduce the amount of violence they experience, including sexual violence.
For more resources and information on how you or your organization can provide better services for the LGBTQ+ community visit The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
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Rothman, E. F., Exner, D., & Baughman A. L. (2011). The prevalence of sexual assault against people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual in the United States: A systematic review. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 12, 55-66. doi: 10.1177/1524838010390707
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