Content warning: This page contains information about relationship and sexual violence.
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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex or asexual victims of sexual assault confront the same issues as any survivor, and may also deal with issues and needs that are unique to their identity.
Washington University is dedicated to providing well-trained, culturally competent support for LGBTQIA survivors of sexual and relationship violence.
- Washington University has staff devoted to LGBTQIA activities and resources. Travis Tucker Jr., Associate Director of Campus Life, works with students, faculty and staff to create a welcoming and supportive environment for all members of the campus community. Please contact Travis with any questions you may have or explore additional WashU LGBTQIA+ resources.
- Habif Health and Wellness Center recognizes you have a right to respectful, culturally competent health care and will provide LGBTQIA friendly practitioners upon request.
- The Washington University RSVP Center is dedicated to offering student-centered, trauma-informed care, support and resources to LGBTQIA students. In addition, we offer training that acknowledges and addresses the prevalence of violence as well as the unique barriers and concerns affecting students in the LGBTQIA community.
As with any other sexual assault, assault against LGBTQIA people can include forced penetration, oral sex or other unwanted sexual activity with a body part or other object, and it may occur within the context of an otherwise consensual relationship. LGBTQIA people may be assaulted or abused by someone of any gender and any sexual orientation. Victims experience the same emotional reactions, and are in need of the same support and intervention services, as different-sex assault survivors.
LGBTQIA people may experience physical, emotional, sexual or psychological abuse in the context of their relationships. Abusers of LGBTQIA individuals may use their partner’s sexual orientation against them in a variety of ways, including threatening to “out” their victims, telling their victims that their orientation is not real or valid, telling their victims there is no abuse in LGBTQIA relationships or otherwise normalizing the abuse or monopolizing limited community resources for LGBTQIA people. It is important to remember LGBTQIA people may be in a relationship with someone of any gender, and bisexual and queer individuals in different-sex relationships may still have many of the same needs as any other LGBTQIA person experiencing relationship violence.
LGBTQIA victims face different and greater social pressures than heterosexual people. These differences can manifest themselves in different ways:
- LGBTQIA survivors are less likely to report a sexual assault
- There is often a greater tendency to blame victimization on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Barriers to Services
Members of the LGBTQIA community can face barriers to services for survivors because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
- Culture stigma and shame about sexuality often silences survivors. The additional stigmas of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and acephobia create additional barriers.
- Because of fears of being “outed,” survivors might not wish to report their assault.
- Perceptions or past experiences of police and service providers acting in homophobic ways, fears of being seen as a “traitor” to the gay community, or fears of a loss of community can also make it more difficult for an LGBTQIA person to make the decision to report an assault.
- Guilt and self-blame for an experience of sexual violence often cause survivors to question their experience and doubt their ability to maintain their own safety. This experience can also cause LGBTQIA students to question their identities.
- Many areas lack LGBTQIA-affirming services or organizations that understand the unique experiences of the LGBTQIA community. Instead, some survivor support resources are based on genders or the gender binary, may not have the education or training needed to serve LGBTQIA communities, or employ homophobic service providers.
- Traditional supports for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence, which tend to focus on removing survivors from unsafe conditions are less accessible for LGBTQIA survivors, since there are few spaces that are completely welcoming for LGBTQIA people in general. Additionally, gendered spaces may not always be safe for LGBTQIA people if their abusers were of the same gender or sex, if they are not welcome in spaces that align with their gender identity, or if safe spaces for people with their gender identities do not exist.
- Other members of the LGBTQIA community may not be supportive of victims, and may not know how to balance the needs of the survivor with the needs that all LGBTQIA people have for supportive communities. LGBTQIA community members may also want to “protect” the LGBTQIA community, by maintaining myths about a lack of relationship violence within LGBTQIA relationships.
- LGBTQIA survivors may face the assumption from care providers that violence in an LGBTQIA relationship is “mutual” or normal, a stereotype that is not held in heterosexual relationships.
- Bisexual and queer survivors may also face assumptions and stereotypes about their sexual and dating practices due to their sexual orientations.
- It is often falsely assumed that asexual people do not experience sexual attraction because of trauma. Additionally, asexual people who do experience trauma face additional barriers to speaking about their experiences because of the lack of visibility and people’s bias against asexuality.
- Trans and gender-nonconforming survivors face barriers to gendered resources and face high rates of structural oppression, which create barriers to being out as trans. Trans survivors often experience abuse through ridicule or fetishizing, being misgendered, denial to medical or social transition, and other forms of abuse that block or shame them from living in their trans identities.
How to Support an LGBTQIA Survivor of Dating, Intimate Partner or Domestic Violence
- Do not tell the survivor that abusive behavior is a normal part of LGBTQIA relationships, or that it cannot be domestic violence because it is occurring between LGBTQIA individuals.
- Allow survivors to label their own experiences, and believe them when they say that they experienced a partner’s behavior as abuse.
- Be careful to use language that mirrors the survivor’s language – avoid assumptions about the gender of the perpetrator, use the same language regarding the experience that the survivor uses.
- 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 LGBTQIA people and others living in small, marginalized communities, where there are few community-specific resources, neighborhoods, or social outlets.
- Be aware that 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.
- Often LGBTQIA survivors are worried about how their community may respond to the abuse, or how other people outside of the community may understand the situation. Focus on supporting the survivor and letting them decide what course of action to take.
Adapted from “The Revolution Starts at Home,” materials produced by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (2005), materials produced by The Northwest Network (2011), and best practice recommendations for LGBTQ survivors from the Online Resource Center for Violence Against Women (2014)