The LGBTQ community is no stranger to the struggle for equality. Discrimination laws inclusion for trans folks, same-sex marriage equality, and making sure our kids are raised in an accepting education system have all been hot topics in Maryland in recent months. I want to take my space to talk to you about another area where we do not have equality.
LGBTQ people experience violence at higher rates than non-LGBTQ individuals. Domestic violence isn’t just a husband beating his wife—it’s a woman threatening her girlfriend. Sexual violence isn’t just a man in a dark alley assaulting a woman—it’s a guy not taking no for an answer when a hook-up goes further than the other guy wants. Hate crimes aren’t just racially-motivated—they are committed against transgender people at some of the highest rates of any group.
Sexual assault is already unreported in general; less than half of assaults ever come to light. The retelling of a painful experience, fear of not being believed, and embarrassment are all reasons why survivors of this crime may not come forward for medical treatment or a police report. LGBTQ survivors have even more barriers to reporting.
Take “Carla” for example. She’s a high school student in Frederick. She’s been dating a girl for about a month now but she doesn’t know if she should tell her parents or how. One day after school, a guy tells her that he wants to speak with her privately and they talk alone in a classroom. He tells her that he will tell her parents about her relationship if she doesn’t perform oral sex on him.
Or take “Tom.” He’s recently moved in with his boyfriend to a Glen Oaks row house. His partner is popular, successful, and charming. After they’ve been living together for a few months, his partner begins to act more jealous and controlling. He doesn’t want Tom having friends because he worries he’ll get involved with them. One night Tom goes out with a friend for dinner anyway. When he gets home his boyfriend is furious and rapes Tom. Tom doesn’t know what to do. He wonders if he should go to the hospital or the police, but doesn’t want to get his partner in trouble or give the gay community a bad name. He’s not even sure if they’d understand what being gay means or that he didn’t want it.
Those examples are stories that could happen, but here is one that really did: A transgender female respondent in a qualitative research study shared how prior to her transition she was raped as an 11-year-old boy by two older boys who said, “You wanna be a girl? Well this is how girls get treated.” And you might remember the headline-making case of the openly gay Baltimore 15-year-old Jason Mattison, Jr. He was raped and murdered in 2009 in the Broadway East area. Police said that he had a “forced sexual relationship with” (in other words, was being repeatedly sexually assaulted by) the 35-year-old man who assaulted and killed him.
Sexual violence affects our community at unequal levels, and we recently confirmed just how much. The CDC announced their first-ever findings on rates of sexual violence for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in February. Here are some of the findings for their comprehensive 2012 national study:
- 13 percent of lesbians and 17 percent of straight women have been raped in their lifetime. For bisexual women, a staggering 46 percent have been raped.
- 35 percent of heterosexual women, 44 percent of lesbian women, and 61 percent of bisexual women experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.
- 21 percent of straight men have experienced some form of sexual violence other than rape, but for gay and bisexual men, those rates are at 40-47 percent.
While the CDC study didn’t capture transgender rates, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality did their own national study to do just that. They surveyed 6,450 transgender participants and discovered the following:
- 63 percent had experienced a “serious act of discrimination,” which includes “sexual assault due to bias” among many other events.
- 12 percent of respondents who expressed a transgender or gender nonconforming identity while in grades K-12 experienced sexual violence.
- 15 percent of trans youth left school due to severe harassment (sexual, physical, or otherwise).
These numbers are overwhelming. Nearly half of LGB men and women are survivors of sexual violence? Some studies have shown that over half of transgender people are. I think we can do better than these numbers. In fact, I know we can.
The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault works to help prevent sexual assault, to advocate for accessible, compassionate care for survivors of sexual violence, and to hold offenders accountable. We know that victims can be any gender, and so can perpetrators. Our member programs—the 17 rape crisis and recovery centers around the state—do too. You can find the one nearest you at www.mcasa.org. Our Sexual Assault Legal Institute (call 877.496.SALI) provides free legal services to all survivors of sexual violence, regardless of gender or orientation.
If this topic makes you feel like we need to do something to stop these higher rates, or if makes you wonder if one of your friends (or maybe you) is in an unhealthy relationship or at risk for sexual assault, I encourage you to keep reading beyond this article. Come to www.mcasa.org to learn more.
Flip through the rest of the issue in the embedded digital issue below. This article appears on page 19.
Read other articles in the