Monday, November 18, 2013

Prevention Must Include the LGBTQ Community

Recent research suggests that members of the LGBTQ community are just as—if not more—likely to be victims of sexual violence as their heterosexual peers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010 Findingson Victimization by Sexual Orientation found that nearly half of lesbian women, four in ten gay men, half of bisexual men, and three-quarters of bisexual women have been victims of sexual violence in their lifetime. Such alarming figures make it clear that sexual assault is a problem that affects students of all sexual orientations. Moreover, the often marginalized position of the LGBTQ community compounds and complicates numerous issues faced by survivors of sexual assault.

For example, as we've written about in the past, it's not unusual for survivors to be discouraged from reporting by the fear that they will encounter hostility on the part of law enforcement and other first responders. The fear of hostility motivated by homophobia compounds the problem for members of the LGBTQ community. For some LGBTQ survivors, reporting a sexual assault could mean "outing" themselves before they're prepared to reveal their sexuality. There's also the fear that, because the conventionally accepted narrative of sexual violence focuses on heterosexual assaults, an assault involving members of the LGBTQ community will be sensationalized.

Another ugly fact is that homophobia not only contributes to underreporting of sexual assault in the LGBTQ community, but can also motivate assaults against members of that community. According to the University of Minnesota Morris Violence Prevention Center, sexual assault is often used as a weapon by those who wish to humiliate LGBTQ people for their sexual orientation, or (especially in cases where a lesbian woman is assaulted by a straight man) somehow "cure" them of their orientation. The unhappy overlap between hate crimes and sexual assault is especially important for administrators to be aware of in light of the Campus SaVE Act's requirements for schools to include hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity in their annual security reports.

These issues make clear the importance of harm-prevention programming that encompasses the entire spectrum of a campus population. The current conversation about sexual assault on college campuses is, of course, incredibly important and a welcome change from decades of silence on an issue that won't go away unless it's addressed directly. But does the conversation campuses are having about sexual violence include all of the students affected by the problem? A conversation about sexual violence on college campuses that revolves around or even assumes scenarios involving heterosexual male perpetrators and heterosexual female victims fails to address the needs of survivors whose experiences fall outside the range of that common but by no means universal experience.

 Administrators need to consider programming designed to help all students by covering the unique problems faced by members of the LGBTQ community. By bringing these issues into the conversation, schools encourage students to report sexual assault, regardless of their gender, race, or sexual orientation.  Inclusive and effective prevention training must recognize the grim but important truth that sexual assault can affect any student on campus.

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