Sexual violence affects every demographic and every community – including LGBTQ people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience sexual violence at similar or higher rates than straight people. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP) estimates that nearly one in ten LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) has experienced sexual assault from those partners. Studies suggest that around half of transgender people and bisexual women will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes.
As a community, LGBTQ people face higher rates of poverty, stigma, and marginalization, which put us at greater risk for sexual assault. We also face higher rates of hate-motivated violence, which can often take the form of sexual assault. Moreover, the ways in which society both hypersexualizes LGBTQ people and stigmatizes our relationships can lead to intimate partner violence that stems from internalized homophobia and shame.
Yet, as a community, we rarely talk about how sexual violence affects us or what our community’s unique needs are when it comes to preventing sexual assault and supporting and caring for survivors of sexual violence.
The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found for LGB people:
- 44 percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35 percent of straight women
- 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29 percent of straight men
- 46 percent of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 17 percent of straight women and 13 percent of lesbians
- 22 percent of bisexual women have been raped by an intimate partner, compared to 9 percent of straight women
- 40 percent of gay men and 47 percent of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, compared to 21 percent of straight men
Within the LGBTQ community, transgender people and bisexual women face the most alarming rates of sexual violence. Among both of these populations, sexual violence begins early, often during childhood.
- The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.
- Among people of color, American Indian (65%), multiracial (59%), Middle Eastern (58%) and Black (53%) respondents of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey were most likely to have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime
- Nearly half (48 percent) of bisexual women who are rape survivors experienced their first rape between ages 11 and 17.
For LGBTQ survivors of sexual assault, their identities – and the discrimination they face surrounding those identities – often make them hesitant to seek help from police, hospitals, shelters or rape crisis centers, the very resources that are supposed to help them.
85 percent of victim advocates surveyed by the NCAVP reported having worked with an LGBTQ survivor who was denied services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 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. Additionally, 17% of respondents who stayed at one or more homeless shelters in the past year were sexually assaulted at the shelter because they were transgender
This epidemic of sexual violence in the LGBTQ community is something we must all work together to address. If someone discloses to you that they have been sexually assaulted, remember to believe them, reassure them that it wasn’t their fault, keep their disclosure confidential (unless the situation requires mandatory reporting), and never pressure them for more information than they want to share.