With technology continuing to advance at a breakneck pace, making our lives more convenient and connected, one would hope that we would be safer as well. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The sobering truth is that sexual assault and sexual violence occur frequently throughout the U.S. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is assaulted every 73 seconds, a rate that is horrifically excessive. Certain subsets of the population are more vulnerable to this type of crime including children, minorities, and those who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum.
The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) found that “sexual minority respondents reported levels of intimate partner violence at rates equal to or higher than those of heterosexuals.” It’s unclear whether that is still true ten years later, and modern data is more difficult to pin down. Like the information contained in the aforementioned NISVS survey, much of the relevant data surrounding sexual assault in the LGBTQ community is outdated.
That’s because, for starters, the community has greatly expanded over the last decade. While the LGBTQ acronym was first used in 1996, “Q” wasn’t an official part of the club until 2016. The lengthier acronym is considered more inclusive, an important consideration for those looking for support in the face of adversity.
Make no mistake, the LGBTQ community faces high rates of stigma and marginalization, even as they go about their day-to-day lives. LGBTQ individuals may be discriminated against under the guise of religious beliefs, morality, or simple bigotry. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In 2020 and beyond, combating sexual assault and misconduct within the LGBTQ community is essential for the health of humanity.
How Sexual Assault and Violence Affect Community Health
For many who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum, frequent marginalization can lead to poor overall mental health including depression. Marginalized members of the community may also remain silent in the face of discrimination or violence in fear of possible repercussions such as outing. LGBTQ crime victims may be reluctant to report sexual assault or similar crimes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Although nearly half of the transgender community will experience sexual assault at some point in their lives, the bulk of those victims experience roadblocks while seeking help. In a survey of victim advocates, 85% reported working with one or more LGBTQ survivors who were denied services due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. That large number is troubling, indicative of systematic discrimination that must be quashed for the good of the nation and the world.
Denying services to victims of sexual assault represents the very definition of injustice. The use of rape kits and the documentation of visible wounds are a crucial part of any sexual assault case. Survivors who hope to press sexual assault charges against their attackers need as much physical and forensic evidence as possible. It’s important to note that the legal definition of what constitutes sexual assault may vary from state to state, but the crime is generally defined as indecent sexual conduct without the consent of both parties.
Healthcare Discrimination and the LGBTQ Community
For survivors of sexual assault, the repercussions can last a lifetime. Mental trauma, fear, and shame may follow a survivor for months or even years. Thus, those reporting and seeking treatment for a sexual assault should be treated with the utmost care and respect, no matter their gender identity or sexual preference.
Forensic rape kits are just the beginning when it comes to healthcare for sexual assault victims who identify as LGBTQ. Both the survivor’s physical and mental needs should be addressed, in the form of culturally competent care. Victim service providers should make sure to use the proper pronouns, and avoid acting surprised by unexpected gender identity or orientation information provided by the survivor.
LGBTQ survivors of sexual assault should also be referred to mental health resources as appropriate. The trauma associated with a violent act, including sexual assault, can compound any existing mental health conditions or cause some to develop. Sexual assault survivors may lose hope. They may experience depression, anxiety, PTSD, or a combination of conditions. Counseling is an essential part of the healing process for many survivors, so they should be made aware of all relevant resources in the area. Mental health counseling can help survivors with behavioral strategies such as mindfulness, regular exercise, or continued therapy to cope with their anxiety and trauma.
Another Kind of Global Pandemic
The unfortunate reality is that sexual assault and misconduct aren’t just an American problem; sexual violence against members of the LGBTQ community is a common occurrence throughout the world. Sexual assault and discrimination can occur in a posh metropolitan apartment, a popular nightclub, or even a Kenyan refugee camp. It’s time to put a stop to these types of crimes, in every location, and provide more support to survivors.
No one should ever be denied medical attention or be more susceptible to sexual violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, survivors of sexual violence or assault should be treated with respect and compassion, no matter if they choose to press charges or not. Victim-blaming culture has no place in the modern world, and every survivor of sexual assault deserves the chance to heal without fear of discrimination or other repercussions.
Guest Author Bio
Jori Hamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, healthcare, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori, and through her portfolio at Writer Jori Hamilton.