By: Caroline Gorman, Program Intern
A Disproportionate Impact
According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey, 46% of individuals that identify as bisexual women report being rape survivors, followed by 17% of heterosexual women and 13% of lesbians. Additionally, 75% of bisexual women in the United States report experiencing some other type of sexual violence. (Walters et al., 2013). This disproportionate impact is found even when controlling for other predictors (Canan et al., 2019). These staggering rates of victimization suggest that the overlaying identities of gender and sexual orientation put this group at high-risk of experiencing sexual violence.
Female-identifying bisexual survivors also face several intersectional challenges after experiencing sexual violence. It has been widely asserted that sexual minority stress can compound upon the already traumatic healing process after sexual victimization. Due to systemic oppression and resulting homophobia, bisexual women may experience chronic stress. Many also report feeling marginalized from the LGBTQ+ community (Dyar & London, 2018). Furthermore, a 2015 study recently found that bisexual women are more likely to receive negative social reactions like victim-blaming when disclosing an assault experience (Sigurvinsdottir & Ullman, 2015). A lack of social support and dismissive responses, coupled with stress and systemic oppression, could contribute to the fact that bisexual women have more pronounced challenges with problem drinking and drug use, depression, and PTSD symptoms after an assault (Johnson, 2017). These experiences can make the road to recovery increasingly daunting.
Unfortunately, as many survivors of sexual violence know, the concept of “victim-blaming” is used to dismiss victims. Bisexual women are often subject to victim-blaming due to the long history of sexualizing and fetishizing this population. In the United States, 18%-31% of people report believing the stereotype that bisexual women are inherently hypersexual, promiscuous, or unable to be in monogamous relationships (Dodge et al., 2016).
These stereotypes are used to blame and shame bisexual survivors and to produce the aforementioned negative social reactions. It has been shown that women perceived as more sexually active are more likely to be blamed for their own victimization (Dyar et al., 2019). Not only are these stereotypes fundamentally untrue, but they also perpetuate the long-standing image of bisexual women “performing” for the attention of heterosexual men. Just last year a young woman, Christine Hannigan, who identifies as bisexual, and her partner were physically assaulted by five men on a London bus after refusing to “perform” sexual acts for them (Mezzofiore, 2019). It is apparent that these preconceived notions about bisexuality are dangerous in numerous ways, from instigating victim-blaming to precipitating violent attacks.
Looking to the Future
Recognizing the unique stigmatization and challenges that bisexual women may face is a vital first step in the process to better support this population and those who’ve experienced sexual violence. Dispelling negative attitudes towards bisexuality and reducing oppression is essential to prevent violence, and improving recovery. Additionally, all disclosures should be taken seriously and blame should rest solely on the perpetrators of these crimes.
Canan, S. N., Jozkowski, K. N., Wiersma-Mosley, J. D., Bradley, M., & Blunt-Vinti, H. (2019). Differences in lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women’s experiences of sexual assault and rape in a national U.S. sample. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 088626051986372. doi: 10.1177/0886260519863725
Dodge, B., Herbenick, D., Friedman, M. R., Schick, V., Fu, T.-C. (J., Bostwick, W., … Sandfort, T. G. M. (2016). Attitudes toward bisexual men and women among a nationally representative probability sample of adults in the United States. Plos One, 11(10). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0164430
Dyar, C., Feinstein, B. A., & Anderson, R. E. (2019). An experimental investigation of victim blaming in sexual assault: The roles of victim sexual orientation, coercion type, and stereotypes about bisexual women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi: 10.31219/osf.io/udfqh
Dyar, C., & London, B. (2018). Longitudinal examination of a bisexual-specific minority stress process among bisexual cisgender women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 42(3), 342–360. doi: 10.1177/0361684318768233
Johnson, N. L., & Grove, M. (2017). Why us? toward an understanding of bisexual womens vulnerability for and negative consequences of sexual violence. Journal of Bisexuality, 17(4), 435–450. doi: 10.1080/15299716.2017.1364201
Mezzofiore, G. (2019, June 8). Lesbian couple viciously beaten in homophobic attack on London bus. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/07/europe/homophobic-attack-london-intl-scli-gbr/index.html
Sigurvinsdottir, R., & Ullman, S. E. (2015). The role of sexual orientation in the victimization and recovery of sexual assault survivors. Violence and Victims, 30(4), 636–648. doi: 10.1891/0886-6708.vv-d-13-00066
Walters, M. L., Chen, J., & Breiding, M. J. (2013). National intimate partner and sexual violence survey: 2010 findings on victimization by sexual orientation. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. doi: 10.1037/e541522013-001