There are many cultural myths about sexual assault: men cannot be assaulted; if you’re dressed provocatively or flirting, you led them on; it doesn’t count if you were drinking; and that members of the LGBTQ community cannot be assaulted. While these are all egregious myths, today’s post will only tackle the latter.
Recent studies have found that almost one in three lesbian-identified women reports being assaulted by another woman, and one in eight men will be assaulted in their lifetime, most often by another man. The statistics for same-sex assault might be higher than heterosexual identified survivors because of the chance for homophobia, transphobia, or bias (one example of this is the now-famous story of Brandon Teena in the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry“), among many other reasons. According to one study, lesbian-identified women report stranger assaults, as opposed to assaults within the LGBT community, either frequently or often. This applied research from the National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women further discusses some of the nuances and difficulties of reporting sexual violence within the LGBT community. According to this article, one in three gay men, one in five bisexual men, and one in 10 heterosexual men report being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.
Sexual assault is the umbrella term for a number of different crime and includes rape or penetration. However, it’s important to note that sexual assault doesn’t have to include penetration, and a sexual assault occurs when consent is not given. Because this distinction is often not included in the conversation, our culture tells us that if there hasn’t been penetration, there hasn’t been an assault. This is one of many reasons why it can be difficult for lesbian or LGBTQ-identified survivors to come forward about their assaults: our culture is telling them that without being penetrated, it is not an assault. In fact, the Office on Violence Against Women states that “sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.” Notice that there is no explicit mention of penetration in this definition.
We have biases about masculinity and power, about gender-based-aggression, about who always wants sex and who will be the sexual gate-keeper, all of which are based on gender. But the reality is that sexual assault is any situation in which consent is not given, and power is taken away, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Men do not always want to have sex. Gay men do not always want to have sex. Women can be assaulted by women, because aggression and violence know no gender. We talked about male survivors of sexual assault in an earlier blog post, noting that assault doesn’t always involve penetration. A great post on The Feminist Wire was just published about what happens when women hit women, and it’s written by a current Williams College student.
Further complicating sexual assault in the LGBT community is that many survivors may not be out, and coming forward with their story of assault also reveals their sexuality, which can be especially complicated for trans* survivors. These are all barriers for survivors to find support, especially complicated by the fact that because of the above-mentioned biases, these survivors are less-likely to be believed when disclosing information about an assault. A forthcoming book is a compilation of stories from queer survivors about their experiences and why this conversation is important. This conversation is even more amplified on college campuses, where underreporting is already far-too-common. In fact, schools who have higher instances of reporting may suggest a more supportive administration and actually a safer campus.
Thankfully, LGBTQ survivors of assault aren’t alone. There are a number of resources online, over the phone, and in person, to help support all survivors. Below are a few examples, and there are more available on our resource page, as well.
Rainbow Hope: Online Support Group for Lesbians Survivors of Abuse and their Partners.
Survivor Project: a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the needs of intersex and trans survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Gay men’s domestic violence project
Lambda: a non-profit, gay / lesbian / bisexual / transgender agency dedicated to reducing homophobia, inequality, hate crimes, and discrimination by encouraging self-acceptance, cooperation, and non-violence.
Want to join the conversation, or support a survivor? Support Speak About It and help us visit more schools and spark more dialogues. Because sexual assault can happen anywhere, regardless of sex or gender, and is never, ever, the fault of the survivor. #30daysofSpeakAboutIt