Sara Giza is a queer, empowerment-based, trauma-informed activist, who has divided her time over the past decade between advocacy work and freelance writing. She can be found on Instagram @searingsara
The names used in the following post have been changed to protect survivors’ identities and privacy. Some of the content of this blog post may be triggering for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
1 out of 6 women and 1 out of 33 men have experienced attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are targeted for rape and sexual assault at least twice as often as straight youth. About 50% of transgender people report “unwanted sexual activity” at some point in their lives. (Stotzer, R. 2009, Violence Against Transgender People)
While the statistics are unsettling at best, they are hardly news to those of us who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum and within the queer community. Hate crimes have sadly become par for course, as fear and loathing of otherness continues. Yet, largely absent from the collective conversation is the intimate partner violence that occurs within LGBTQ+ relationships, whether it involves emotional, physical, sexual or financial abuse, or the use of privilege, children, intimidation and isolation.
Having worked as an advocate at two different dual domestic violence and rape crisis centers, I have witnessed members of the LGBTQ+ community struggle with abuse from their partners, often the people they trust the most. As with minorities and the marginalized, research on this topic has been minimal but is currently growing. One study on intimate partner violence with LGBTQ+ identifying individuals found that 98% of respondents had experienced verbal abuse by a former partner and 71% had experienced physical violence. 41% stated that an intimate partner had forced them to have sex. (Heintz, 2006) Data from the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey showed that “bisexual women experience significantly higher lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner,” while 37.3% of bisexual men reported experiencing interpersonal violence.
Even when a survivor attempts to get help, it can be particularly challenging for members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially if they do not feel safe or comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation up front to a stranger.
Anna was 23 and in her second serious same sex relationship. “At the time, I didn’t really have the experience to conceptualize what was going on,” she recalled. “All I knew was that she would have these wild mood swings. She would throw things like the phone or remote control at me, punch a hole in the wall and even broke the handle off of our sliding glass door.”
The idea of intimate partner violence stirred a heteronormative narrative and images. All she ever saw from the media growing up was that straight men were always the perpetrators. It never occurred to her at the time, that she was in fact being a victim of it. “After the blow outs, I felt ashamed and like I had done something wrong. I never told anyone about them. I was the first openly gay person in my family and I wanted everyone to think I was happy in my relationship just like them,” she said. If a person throws something at you, even if they miss and fail to hit you, that is still an act of physical abuse as the intention was there, along with the act of intimidation.
Even when a survivor attempts to get help, it can be particularly challenging for members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially if they do not feel safe or comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation up front to a stranger. Domestic violence and rape crises centers often only provide services to survivors of domestic violence when the perpetrator is an intimate partner, while they’ll see survivors of sexual assault regardless of who the perpetrator is. Jonathan, a gay man in his 30s, was seen as a walk-in at one such agency. He told the receptionist that he needed to speak to an advocate regarding issues he was having with his roommate.
He did not immediately disclose whether his situation involved domestic violence or sexual assault. As the receptionist heard the word “roommate,” she assumed it was domestic violence related and a roommate was not an intimate partner. Believing that he did not meet the criteria for services, he was about to be turned away. At that very moment, a queer advocate happened to walk by and noticed him. She asked him to follow her back to her office. Behind closed doors and aware that he was speaking with a fellow member of the community, he felt comfortable disclosing that the roommate in question had been his partner.
They had recently broken up. However, due to limited financial resources and lack of a support system, he was stuck living there. His ex-boyfriend removed his bedroom door, preventing any sense of privacy and would frequently try to force his way into the shower with him. Thankfully, Jonathan was able to receive emergency shelter once it was determined that he met the criteria.
While it has been estimated that between 20-35% of LGBTQ+ couples experience intimate partner violence, only 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ survivors receive help from service providers. (M. Ciarlante and K. Fountain, 2010) Along with the sense of shame and stigma that survivors often endure, LGBTQ+ individuals face added barriers when seeking assistance. Some include:
- Heteronormative/male-centered stereotypes
- Fear of being outed
- Lack of inclusion (i.e. signage and paperwork that is affirming to the spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities, gender neutral bathrooms, etc.)
- Having to legitimatize relationship
If you or someone you know identifies as LGBTQ+ and is experiencing abuse of any form from a partner, know that all survivors have rights.
- The right to decide when or if to press charges
- The right to apply for a protection order
- The right to consent to or decline any portion of a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam
- The right to have a victim advocate with you at the hospital or in court
- The right to choose who you share your story with and how
Most of all, each one of you has the right to feel safe and loved simultaneously.
A few helpful resources for the LGBTQ+ community:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: You can anonymously reach trained advocates 24/7 or access other resources and information directly at www.thehotline.org
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE or online at www.rainn.org
- The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs: Provides national advocacy for local LGBTQ+ communities
- The Trevor Project: For LGBTQ+ youth and young adults struggling with the trauma response of suicidal ideation
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center: Leading nonprofit providing information/tools to prevent and respond to sexual violence
- End Rape On Campus: Nonprofit ending sexual assault at schools through direct support, prevention through education, and policy reform