Five Things to Know When Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Sexual Violence Survivors

Sexual violence perpetrators specifically look for vulnerability when targeting potential victims. Due to societal bias and institutionalized discrimination, LGBTQ individuals experience unique factors of isolation. As a result, there are higher rates of sexual violence experienced by the LGBTQ community. Nationwide, approximately 1 in 8 lesbian women (13%) and nearly half of bisexual women (46%) have been raped in their lifetime. Additionally, 4 in 10 gay men (40%) and nearly half of bisexual men (47%)have experienced sexual violence other than rape. Finally, 1 in 2 transgender individuals have experienced some form of sexual violence. Due to daily discrimination and high rates of sexual violence within the LGBTQ community, it is important to approach these survivors in an affirming manner. Below are five tips that can help justice practitioners to do so.

 

  1. There are many different identities within the LGBTQ community. It is important to use appropriate language and demonstrate respect for all identities. LGBTQ communities have concepts of gender, appearance, and performance that may not correlate with traditional perspectives on sexuality and gender identity. As responders working with someone who has experienced trauma, it is important to recognize and overcome implicit biases you may have about gender and sexual orientation. Justice practitioners can demonstrate respect by engaging in active listening and being conscious of language and terminology when asking questions. Do not use derogatory labels or slurs for LGBTQ people. Recognize not all people use gendered pronouns such as “he” and “she.” People who do not conform to the male/female gender binary may use “they/them” pronouns. Responders should not make assumptions about someone’s pronouns based on their appearance. One approach to determining pronouns is to introduce yourself by saying, “My name is John and I use he/him/his pronouns, what name would you like me to call you and what pronouns do you use?” Remember that transgender individuals may have obstacles to legally changing their name, but feel trauma or discomfort using their legal name. While you may be required to use a victim’s legal name on documentation, you can demonstrate compassion and respect by addressing them with the name they prefer.  

 

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The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found

that one in five (20%) respondents who were incarcerated in jail, prison, or juvenile detention

in the past year were sexually assaulted by facility staff

during that time.

~~~~~

 

  1. LGBTQ communities have been present in every society throughout time. Some individuals may feel that some identities within the LGBTQ community are new or even false. This is not the case. In fact, many indigenous societies throughout the world have had more than two genders and more than one sexual orientation. These societies honored these identities and viewed them as natural and valuable to the culture as whole. Recognizing the history and ubiquity of LGBTQ identities can help normalize and humanize the vast spectrum of gender identities and sexualities that exist today.

 

  1. LGBTQ community members are often afraid of the criminal legal system. There have been many documented cases of violence and rejection by law enforcement and other justice practitioners with regard to LGBTQ individuals. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that one in five (20%) respondents who were incarcerated in jail, prison, or juvenile detention in the past year were sexually assaulted by facility staff during that time. In addition, there are numerous other documented and anecdotal reports of law enforcement using slurs, physical assault, and disbelief with LGBTQ people who report sexual violence. As a result, many LGBTQ people are fearful of the criminal justice system and reluctant to report victimization. It is important for responders to be conscious of the fact that LGBTQ survivors may be wary of the criminal justice system and hesitant to be entirely forthcoming with details relating to their gender or sexual identity. Justice practitioners who are conscious of their language and non-verbal cues and respond with respect and open-mindedness can help to mitigate fear and distrust among LGBTQ victims.

 

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…It is important for responders to remember

the sexual assault they are responding to may be only one

in a series of traumas throughout the victim’s lifespan,

and this can affect survivors’ memory, emotional presentation,

comfort with law enforcement, and coping strategies.

~~~~~

 

  1. LGBTQ individuals have intersectional identities and consequently experience multiple forms of trauma. No human being is unidimensional. People have many different facets, identities, and life experiences, and LGBTQ survivors are no different. Not only do LGBTQ people often have a traumatic history of rejection and abuse for identifying as LGBTQ, they may also be members of other vulnerable communities (e.g., immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, or people in poverty). Each of these identities increases vulnerability for discrimination and violence throughout the lifespan, sometimes resulting in complex trauma. The neurological impacts of complex trauma can be compounded by an additional traumatic experience, such as sexual assault. Therefore, it is important for responders to remember the sexual assault they are responding to may be only one in a series of traumas throughout the victim’s lifespan, and this can affect survivors’ memory, emotional presentation, comfort with law enforcement, and coping strategies.

 

  1. There are many myths about sexual violence in the LGBTQ community–do not believe them! Some of the false ideas about the LGBTQ community include myths that LGBTQ people are more promiscuous than straight people, that LGBTQ people, and transgender women, in particular, are more likely to be perpetrators, and shaming myths that gay men cannot be raped because they “like it." These are all false beliefs with no empirical foundation and should not be part of any sexual violence investigation or prosecution. Partner with local LGBTQ advocacy agencies and centers to access educational opportunities to improve your response to LGBTQ sexual violence survivors and explore other community resources and support services for referrals.

 

 

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