Opinion: What does sexual violence look like in the LGBTQ community?

Free buttons on the CU LGBTQ Resource Center table at the 2011 Out Boulder Pridefest in Central Park in Boulder on Aug. 28. The office was renamed the Gender and Sexuality Center. (Robert R. Denton/CU Independent File)

Let’s get something straight: Not all victims of sexual violence are straight.

Last Monday, in light of both recent events surrounding Judge Brett Kavanaugh and recent sexual misconduct policy changes at this university, the CU Independent staff published a piece entitled “Our Stance: Let’s stop sexual assault before it happens.”

The piece noted that LGBTQ people “disproportionately experience violence more than heterosexual communities.” This statement is significant and warrants further investigation. Do LGBTQ really experience sexual violence more frequently than their peers? Why? And why don’t we hear more people talking about it?

In other words, what does sexual violence look like in the LGBTQ community?

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control conducted the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation.

The survey’s results were staggering. For instance, “60.4 percent of gays and lesbians report being sexually harassed compared to 45.9 percent of heterosexuals.” 

The survey also found that bisexuals were more frequently targeted than any other demographic.

Nearly half of bisexual women have reported being raped in their lifetime, compared to one in every eight lesbians and one in every six straight women.

That startling pattern is consistent throughout the CDC’s study. Two-thirds of bisexual women and half of bisexual men have been victims of sexual violence besides rape in their lifetimes. One in three bisexual women have been stalked at some point in their lives. Six in ten bisexual women “reported experiencing rape, physical violence and/or stalking within the context of an intimate partner relationship at least once during their lifetime.”

Martha Hawkinson is the case manager for crisis center Moving to End Sexual Assault, also known as MESA. It is a service provided by Boulder-based nonprofit Mental Health Partners. The center “provides support and services to ALL survivors of sexual assault and does not discriminate against any person based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, education, geographic location, age, ability, language, national origin, culture, immigration status, politics, profession, religious beliefs and/or spirituality.”  

She believes that LGBTQ people are affected by sexual violence more frequently because “perpetrators look for people that are vulnerable and are less likely to be believed to take advantage of.”

“Our LGBTQ peers are systematically oppressed,” Hawkinson said. “Perpetrators use this to their benefit, knowing that an LGBTQ survivor might not be believed or supported to the same degree as a cis and/or straight victim.”

But what if we just focused on on-campus sexual violence? Do the numbers look different? Evidently, no.

In 2015, the Association of American Universities conducted the AAU Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. The survey “asked students at 27 universities about their experiences with sexual assault and sexual misconduct, drawing responses from more than 150,000 students.” 

Unlike the CDC, the AAU also collected data about those with diverse gender identities. To represent this, the AAU used the acronym TGQN (Transgender woman, Transgender man, Genderqueer, gender non-conforming, questioning, not listed).

The results were that 75.2 percent of undergraduates and 69.4 percent of graduates and professionals identifying as TGQN reported sexual harassment. Verbal harassment was the most common.

Also, 61.2 percent of undergraduate TGQN students and 55.7 percent of graduate students reported experiencing “sexual remarks, or insulting/offensive jokes or stories,” while 66.2 percent of TGQN undergraduates and 57.4 percent of graduate students reported “inappropriate comments regarding body, appearance, or sexual activity.”

The survey also found that gays, lesbians and bisexuals experienced more instances of non-consensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation, non-consensual sexual contact involving the absence of affirmative consent, intimate partner violence, harassment and stalking than their heterosexual peers.

Even more shocking, bisexuals constituted the highest percentage of those affected in all five categories.

The AAU and the CDC both came to one very clear conclusion: the LGBTQ community experiences sexual violence at significantly higher rates than cisgender and heterosexual individuals, and bisexuals are prime victims.

Despite such a high prevalence of sexual violence in the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ voices are “underrepresented in the movement to end sexual violence,” Hawkinson said, citing conflicts with care providers as an example that she has witnessed “time and time again.”

“For example, if a trans woman goes to the hospital and gets a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) exam, and the ER doctor uses the wrong pronouns, that survivor could feel that seeking medical attention is revictimizing and disempowering,” Hawkinson said. “This can lead to LGBTQ survivors not wanting to seek support, report to law enforcement and become part of the movement to end sexual violence.”

So, we’ve established that LGBTQ people are over-victimized and underrepresented in the world of sexual violence. What can we do about it?

“Medical providers need to understand the unique needs of LGBTQ survivors and ensure that the care they offer fits those needs,” Hawkinson said. “Advocates must honor the decisions to report or not, to seek medical attention or not and understand the barriers of entry unique to LGBTQ survivors. Law enforcement needs to start by believing and recognize an LGBTQ survivor’s courage and bravery in reporting their assault, despite many experiences of discrimination.”

In order for LGBTQ voices to be truly heard in discussions of sexual violence, Facebook likes and retweets aren’t adequate. As Hawkinson points out, direct action needs to be taken by those who deal with LGBTQ victims of sexual violence every day.

“If we want LGBTQ survivors to become more involved in this movement, we need to better demonstrate that their experience is just as valid, that their trauma is just as legitimate and that they will get the support that the seek out and need for their healing process,” Hawkinson said. “This requires large-scale, systematic change.”

The CU Boulder Gender and Sexuality Center can be reached by calling 303-492-1377 or emailing gsc@colorado.edu. These forms of contact should not be used in case of an emergency.

To anonymously report harassment, visit the Division of Student Affairs’ Confidential Reporting page. Additional on-campus, off-campus and online resources can be found on the Gender and Sexuality Center’s resource page.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Anna Haynes at anna.haynes@colorado.edu.

Anna Haynes

Senior News Editor

Anna Haynes is a sophomore journalism and political science major at CU Boulder. She is interested in LGBTQ issues as well as diversity on campus and in Boulder.

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