Sexual Assault & GLBTQ Survivors
People who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer/Questioning (GLBTQ) are also survivors of sexual assault and face not only the barriers to seeking help that all survivors face, but also a range of obstacles that are unique to the GLBTQ community. As with opposite-sex assault, same-sex assault includes forced vaginal or anal penetration, forced oral sex, or other forced sexual activity. Similar to heterosexual sexual assaults, GLBTQ assaults may also occur to anyone regardless of class, gender identity, race, or culture and can be perpetrated by strangers, acquaintances and/or within the context of an otherwise consensual relationship.
GLBTQ survivors experience the same effects and emotional reactions, and are in need of the same support and intervention services as opposite-sex assault survivors. However, there are also unique factors and special needs to consider for GLTBQ survivors, such as stigma, discrimination, societal homophobia, stereotypes about the gay community, and barriers to service.
- Like all survivors, GLBTQ survivors often feel self-blame, shame, fear, anger, and depression. GLBTQ survivors may also be led to question their sexuality, or how it is perceived by others, especially if the assault was perpetrated as a hate crime, directed against the survivor’s sexual orientation or gender identity as perceived by the perpetrator. See also Was It My Fault?
- GLBTQ survivors may not be “out”. Survivors who are not “out” may not want to seek counseling, legal or medical help for fear that doing so will mean disclosing their sexual orientations as well.
- GLBTQ survivors may feel ostracized. They may feel this from both mainstream society and within the GLBTQ community. They may also feel that their sexual orientation or gender identity is focused on more than the assault itself.
- Transgender people may not want to seek hospital care. This is because it would mean revealing that their gender is not congruent with their biological sex, which in turn might cause discrimination.
- GLBTQ survivors may feel punished for acting outside of society’s prescribed gender roles. This may increase the amount of shame that they feel as a result of an assault.
- GLBTQ survivors may be reluctant to tell family and friends who do not approve of their sexuality and/or gender expression. They may fear that it will only reinforce negative stereotypes.
- GLBTQ survivors may have privacy concerns within their GLBTQ community. Particularly with small and tight-knit communities, they may be reluctant to tell others about an assault or an abusive relationship, fearing that everyone will know.
- GLBTQ survivors may lack support from their communities. This refers not only to the community at large, but also from the GLBTQ community itself. GLBTQ community members may not want to admit that there is sexual assault and domestic violence within the community for fear that it will only perpetuate stereotypes about GLBTQ people.
- There is often heterosexism and homophobia in the systems that are designed to help survivors. This can mean overt discrimination against GLBTQ survivors, or it can be the assumption that all survivors are heterosexual. The legal system may also be discriminatory and may not even recognize same-sex assault.
Gay or Bisexual Men
- May tie the assault to his sexual orientation and view this as deserved in some way or a punishment.
- May be reluctant to report due to the potential backlash on the GLBTQ community and enhanced homophobia. He may also be worried about being treated insensitively by law enforcement or health care professionals.
- May have experienced particularly severe and damaging violence if this was a hate crime.
- May well feel targeted and less safe within his community if the assault was perpetrated by another gay man.
- May worry he is broadcasting his “secret sexual identity” to others if he is not yet out of the closet.
Research is limited, but there is evidence that the rate of sexual assault upon this community is very high. It is often part of a hate crime with a high degree of violence that may cause serious injury. Here are some resources for further information:
How to Support a GLBTQ Survivor
Supporting a GLBTQ survivor is similar to helping any survivors; however here are some things to consider:
- Do not tell the survivor that abusive behavior is a normal part of GLBTQ relationships, or that it cannot be domestic violence because it is occurring between GLBTQ individuals.
- Be alert for an abuser monopolizing support resources through manipulation of friends and family supports, and generating sympathy and trust in order to cut off these resources to the survivor. This is a particular issue to GLBTQ people and others living in small insular communities, where there are few community-specific resources, neighborhoods or social outlets.
- An abuser can attempt to portray the violence as mutual and even consensual, especially if the partner attempts to defend against it, or as an expression of masculinity or some other "desirable" trait.
- Do not depict the abuse as part of sado-masochistic (S/M) activity. Relationship violence can exist in S/M relationships, but it is not implicit nor unique to this type of relationship. Relationship violence is not S/M, nor should any non-consensual violent or abusive acts that take place outside of a pre-arranged scene or in violation of pre-determined safe words or boundaries be considered part of, or justified as, a normal S/M relationship
Common Myths About GLBTQ Survivors
Myth: A woman can’t rape another woman.
Reality: While the majority of perpetrators of sexual assault are male, the idea that woman-on-woman sexual assault does not occur is a product of gender role stereotypes that encourage the idea that women are never violent. This stereotype can make it less likely that women who were sexually assaulted by another woman will be believed by those around her. It can also make a survivor who has believed that women are nonviolent feel disillusioned that she has experienced violence from a woman.
Myth: Gay men are sexually promiscuous and are always ready for sex.
Reality: Men who identify as gay, like all people, have the right to say no to sex at any time and have that respected. Because of the stereotypes that many people have about gay men’s sexual availability, it may be more difficult for a gay man to convince others that he was assaulted.
Myth: Bisexuals are kinky anyway, and sexual assault for them is just rough sex that got out of hand.
Reality: Bisexuality reflects a sexual orientation, not sexual practices. Bisexuals, like heterosexuals, practice a wide range of sexual behaviors, and, for bisexuals, like for heterosexuals, rough sex and a sexual assault are two very different things. Because of stereotypes about bisexuals, they, too, may have difficulty being believed about a sexual assault.
Myth: When a woman claims domestic abuse by another woman, it is just a catfight. Similarly, when a man claims domestic abuse by another man, it is just two men fighting.
Reality: Unfortunately, domestic abuse and violence occurs in all types of intimate relationships, and people in same gender relationships may be dealing with this. The myth that people of the same gender are "just fighting" both denies the reality of domestic violence as well as reinforcing that some types of violence are acceptable.
As with all cases of sexual assault, these myths can only be dispelled when they are replaced by truth. This requires that members of the GLBTQ community and heterosexual allies speak out and acknowledge sexual assault and domestic violence within the GLBTQ community, in order to both prevent future assaults and to provide competent and compassionate care to survivors.
Further Online Resources
- Community United Against Violence
- Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project
- Anti-Violence Project
- Survivor Project
- National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
- Lambda GLBT Community Services
- Human Rights Campaign
- Queer Resources Directory
- National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs