“The freedom to participate in public life without fear of discrimination, harassment and violence has been shown to have wide-ranging impacts on health, economic stability, and other key aspects of life,” reads a report on the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. So… what is the impact for individuals who don’t enjoy that freedom of participation? What if the very things that define who you are make you a target for sexual violence and harassment? What if your own identity impacts your resilience in the face of personal tragedy?
Historically, the focus on sexual assault in crime/victim surveys and studies has been stolidly binary; we generally understand the significance for men and women (while also accounting for rates of underreporting). However, research into the prevalence and impact of violence against gender and sexual minorities has grown more abundant in the last decade, and the truth is alarming. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals are at significantly higher risk (sometimes double) of being sexually assaulted than heterosexuals. Nearly half of all transgender people have been victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. Studies also show that sexual assault against LGBTQ+ students is more common on college campuses than incidents against heterosexual, cisgender male and female students.
Here is the truth: sexual violence doesn’t impact heterosexual, cisgender individuals at the same rate (or in the same way) as gender and sexual minorities. One researcher into the risks of sexual assault on college campuses said “by focusing on males versus females, we’re missing this group of people being victimized. We need to think about changing the language that we use when talking about sexual assault.”
We also need to consider the psychological impact of sexual violence. A survey of violent crime victims found that LGTBQ+ victims were “more susceptible to experiencing acute stress and anxiety symptoms,” and that overall, they faced more mental health challenges in recovery than heterosexual victims. These rates may be attributed to inadequate support in the social environment; the prejudice and hate experienced by LGBTQ+ peoples; and/or the added risk factors for mental health issues among these populations.
Due to discrimination, gender and sexual minorities are less likely to seek help from community resources like law enforcement, victim advocates, rape crisis counselors, or medical professionals. They are isolated from the resources that prove to be most effective in the aftermath of interpersonal violence, and they don't feel safe to speak out about their experiences. Unfortunately, sexual assault can double as hate crime when the victim identifies as LGBTQ+, deepening its negative impact. Furthermore, the CDC reports that the health risk factors associated with victimization are already major risks for the marginalized community of LGBTQ+, which multiplies their risks of substance abuse disorders, poverty, homelessness, and suicide.
The LGBTQ+ community needs support and recognition. Now in the public eye more than ever before, they are at greater risk of being targeted by violent offenders. If you or someone you know needs help coping with sexual assault or harassment, please contact The Center for Sexual Assault Survivors. We are an inclusive safe place for people of all orientations and genders to seek assistance, where you won’t find judgement or bias. Call today to find out how we can help: (757) 599-9844. Or call the 24/7 crisis hotline, day or night: (757) 236-5260.
Also, if you’ll be joining the Pride festivities this week, come by to see us tonight at Carousel Park in Hampton!