There are spaces where--as acts of community, healing, bravery, and advocacy—conversations about sexual assault happen frequently, like resource centers, socially conscious crevices of the internet, and a growing number of college campuses. But conversations about rape culture, power-based violence, effective support for survivors, how to safely intervene in dangerous situations (known as bystander intervention), and where to find help are not a widespread or mainstream reality.
Discussing sexual assault of people who are LGBT happen even less. Within LGBT advocacy and sexual violence advocacy, the topic frequently remains in the closet, and the hurdles survivors encounter are magnified.
Whatever the reasons this is the case--be it a lack of resources and misconceptions about LGBT relationships as well as about the various forms that sexual assault can take—the effect is a perpetuation of shame around matters of sexual assault.
Sexual violence is a phenomenon that both thrives on and creates silence and secrecy. In the aftermath, survivors may grapple with guilt, self-blame, and difficulty finding support as they struggle to be believed, heard, and seen. Rape culture is a prevalent reality in our society and, indeed, a lived experience for many survivors. Rape culture means a lot of things, including that folks are quick to dismiss a survivor's truth, to invalidate one's trauma. This is especially true for survivors who are LGBT.
"A woman can't commit sexual violence."/"Men can't be assaulted."/"Sexual assault doesn't happen to LGBT people or in LGBT relationships."/"Mainstream sexual violence advocacy is one-size-fits-all, and is therefore LGBT inclusive."/"Within the LGBT community, safe and abundant resources are easy to find."/"People believe LGBT survivors of sexual violence exist and people care about them"---these are common misconceptions that can drown out the voices of LGBT survivors as they seek ways to tell their stories, as they work to heal.
Last month, Smithsonian Magazine reported that "If you're not straight, you're at higher risk for domestic violence and most help-centers and laws focus exclusively on straight and female victims." A 2013 article from Al Jazeera America stated that 1 in 8 lesbians have been raped, while 4 in 10 gay men and almost 50% of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence. Bisexual women are at the highest risk, as the CDC found that 75% have been with a violent partner in their lifetime.
"One in every two transgender people has been sexually victimized, and usually more than once, often many, many times," according to a piece in the Huffington Post titled "Transgender Sexual Violence Survivors Are Slipping Through the System." Sexual violence ripples strongly through marginalized communities, thus potentially enhancing the risks and difficulties associated with being disenfranchised.
The Smithsonian Mag article further found that, because of the historically troubled relationship between law enforcement and the LGBT community combined with a fear of being "outed," such violations are less likely to be reported to the authorities. Furthermore, law enforcement officials and people in the medical industry, tragically, are often perpetrators of sexual assault against LGBT people as well. Lacking legal and social support, LGBT survivors are more likely to seek comfort through drugs and alcohol. Additionally, there may be less legal protections in place for LGBT survivors, depending on state laws. Existing resources for survivors tend to assume gender normativity and heteronormativity, and, in turn, are not equipped to invite or serve those who are LGBT.
Shame, erasure, violence, and substance misuse already disproportionately impact the LGBT community. These issues are heightened for LGBT survivors of sexual assault. As most factions of both the LGBT movement and the mainstream anti-sexual violence movement continue to not treat LGBT survivors as a priority, or even really a bullet point on the agenda, the LGBT community as a whole is sucked deeper into the clenches of marginalization. If leading LGBT figures and organizations do not work towards awareness and solutions, then the movement only contributes to its own oppression, halts its own success.
The good news is that resources exist. The Anti-Violence Project (AVP), Love is Respect, FORGE, and VAWnet are just a few of the numerous places were LGBT survivors and their supporters can find help. Even Everyday Feminism offers insight into understanding and aiding trans survivors, and the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) recently highlighted sexual assault and intimate partner violence in the bi community.
It is equally important to acknowledge that, with the help of the appropriate resources, survivors of sexual assault, as well as people who are LGBT, have a strong capacity for resiliency. Advocacy is an investment in the well-being of LGBT survivors because growth and health are not only possible, but within our reach. With the right tools, trauma can become an axis for positive action.
As we are currently in the midst of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (#SAAM), though, this is a prime opportunity to recognize our ongoing responsibility to bring an end to sexual violence, to help survivors heal, and to prevent future instances from occurring. To the detriment of individual survivors, the community at large, and the mission of the movement, we have barely scratched the surface.
Special thanks to Lauren Herold for her research and editorial contributions.