OPINION: Shining a light on LGBTQ+ sexual assault

Rather than striving for comfort, sexual assault against LGBTQ+ individuals should be included in conversation

PORTIA SIMMONS, Evergreen Columnist

Sexual assault is a hard topic to talk about. When we think of sexual assault, we think of the victims as just females, but there are many other people affected by sexual assault, including LGBTQ+ individuals. As reported by the CDC and many studies, LGBTQ+ individuals experience high levels of some form of sexual assault.

These are only the reported numbers of sexual assaults amongst LGBTQ+ individuals from 2010. Statistics were hard to find and there were not many articles or studies about this topic. It’s an area of sexual assault that is not talked about often, but it stills happens very frequently.

Alex Brown, junior zoology and psychology double major, said sexual assault against LGBTQ+individuals is common. She said she has experienced some form of sexual assault, in the form of toned down, but objectifying verbal statements.

“It’s more subtle things than blatant, it’s stuff like fetishizing lesbian relationships — that’s kind of where my biggest experiences come from,” Brown said.

Brown said something as simple as a date can lead to these negative comments from the public.

“I’ll be out with a girl and we’re at a bar, and we’re clearly together and guys will be hitting on us, and we’re like no, ‘We’re together.’ Then they will say ‘Oh that’s hot,’” Brown said.

Brown said she believes that people would not say this if one of them were male. She said her relationship should not be a subject for public scrutiny.

“It can be especially awkward if we’re not super comfortable already together, if we’re fairly new to dating each other,” she said. “That’s another pressure where everyone’s analyzing the relationship.”

Brown said she feels like she sometimes has to hide her relationships in public because of what others might say.

“There’s kind of this automatic defense that you put up, where you don’t want to really do public displays of affection, especially early on in the relationship because you don’t necessarily know if people are going to be cool with that around you,” Brown said.

Brown said she has also heard that many people view same-sex couples in just a sexual context and not a romantic one.

“Some people will see two men holding hands, and all they can think about is the sex aspect of their relationship, ‘they’re gay so they must have sex together,'” she said. “Well, they probably do, but they probably also have a deep, complicated and nuanced relationship like anyone else.”

Brown said that if you want to be an ally, listen to talks put on by LGBTQ+ speakers, and use your platforms and the information will come to you.

Matthew Jeffries, director of the Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center, said the discussion around sexual assault does not often focus on LGBTQ+ individuals.

“When we talk about sexual violence, we often think of it in very heteronormative ways, but it’s so much more than that,” Jeffries said.

Jeffries said LGBTQ+ individuals experience sexual assault and violence at higher rates than other groups, but society pushes them away.

Jeffries said that continuing bystander interventions and having more comprehensive sex education could help lower the rates of sexual assault. Although there is a shift in sex education, there needs to be more comprehensive LGBTQ+ sex education.

“I think there’s gonna need to be a lot of education for teachers to do that thoughtfully [and] affirmingly. [It causes less harm] than just not talking about it at all and [making] it an opinion. We are also assuming that health and fitness teachers in our K-12 schools really understand queerness,” Jeffries said.

Jeffries said sex education should not only talk about things of a romantic nature but also the concept of consent. This can be taught from a young age, a simple example could be when a child does not want a hug and how to set appropriate boundaries if you are uncomfortable.

“I think that comprehensive sex ed is good for everyone and comprehensive consensual education is important — prior education around consent is a better way to say it,” Jeffries said.

He said LGBTQ+ sexual assault is not talked about a lot because most people feel uncomfortable reporting it due to the negative stigma around it.

“We create sex to be this taboo subject. We obscure things to make them taboo,” he said. “There’s this weird power dynamic that happens because we don’t talk about it, and so people don’t feel comfortable coming forward to report.”

In order to alleviate the feelings around the taboo nature of sex, Jeffries said that we need to start a dialogue about this topic. He said we should be allies to the LGBTQ+ community, listen to survivors and help be their support system.

“I think, just in general, being an ally is just listening to people and hearing who they are because when people tell you who they are and what they have experienced, we should believe them,” Jeffries said.

Sexual assault is a topic that is very difficult to talk about, but what is harder is trying to talk about a topic revolving around the LGBTQ+ community, which might be viewed as invalid by others. To support the LGBTQ+ community, we need to not only accept individuals with love but to listen to their stories and be aware of sexual assault that takes place.

If you or an individual has experienced sexual assault, these resources from the Human Rights Campaign are available to you. You are not alone and you are valid.

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) 24/7
Online Counseling
Love is Respect Hotline
1-866-331-99474 (24/7) or Text “loveis” 22522
The Anti-Violence Project– serves people who are LGBTQ
Hotline 212-714-1124 Bilingual 24/7

LGBT National Help Center
National Hotline (1-888-843-4564) or National Youth Talkline (1-800-246-7743)
Online Peer Support Chat or Weekly Youth Chatrooms
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233
Text LOVEIS to 22522
FORGE– serves transgender and gender non-conforming survivors of domestic and sexual violence; provides referrals to local counselors
The Network La Red Hotline – 617-742-4911– serves LGBTQ, poly, and kink/BDSM survivors of abuse; bilingual
Northwest Network Hotline– 206-568-7777– serves LGBT survivors of abuse; can provide local referrals