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Breaking down Stigma: Abuse and the LGBT+ Communities

“That doesn’t happen to us.” “We both fight each other.”

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At a recent high school booth event, we asked students questions about various sexual assault or domestic violence topics. One student proclaimed, “If it’s LGBT+, I’ll know it.” When asked if those in LGBT+ relationships are impacted more, less, or at a comparable level to those in heterosexual relationships, the student answered less. They were shocked to find out they were wrong, stating they thought that homosexual relationships were more “genuine” or “equal.”

A CDC study published in 2010 found that bisexual women were disproportionally impacted by rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner than heterosexual women.

  • 44% lesbian, 61% bisexual, and 35% heterosexual women experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their life
  • 26% gay, 37% bisexual, and 29% heterosexual men experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their life

A study focusing on trans individuals published in 2015 reported that 47% of trans individuals experienced sexual assault at some point in their life (this compares to 46% of bisexual women). Furthermore, 54% of trans individuals focused on some form of intimate partner violence, with 24% of survey-takers reporting severe physical violence (compares to 18% of the US adult population).


Barriers with the LGBT+ Community

Sexual violence is pervasive in the LGBT+ community, but this is not as commonly known as it should be, as seen with the high school student. There are many barriers that individuals face that are unique to this community, making it less likely for someone to come forward to friends—let alone make a police report or seek domestic violence or sexual assault-specific services.

  • Do not want to “betray” the community by bringing negative attention to another LGBT+ person

There is a lot of stigma towards this community for simply existing. Individuals may feel that exposing abuse may give the community as a whole a bad image.

  • Fear they may be ousted from the community for accusations

As with abuse or violence in heterosexual couples, it is possible that the victim will not be believed by their friends or support systems. Many LGBT+ individuals have tightly knit communities in their area that are other LGBT+ folks; thus, if they are not believed, they lose access to that entire community. While this may not necessarily happen, the fear of losing that community may keep the individual from disclosing.

  • Not out—especially with domestic violence

By coming out about domestic violence someone experienced, they may out themselves accidentally. Furthermore, this could contribute to the abuse: “If you leave me/don’t do what I want/etc., then I will out you to your family.”

  • Marginalized communities—people of color, bisexuals

Intersectionality matters. Historically marginalized communities, such as people of color, may face more barriers. People who identify as bisexual are sometimes falsely characterized as “easy,” or not “gay enough” or “straight enough.”

  • Preconceived notion of abuse only existing within heterosexual cisgender binary
  • Lack of LGBT+ accepting resources
  • Fear of mistreatment—not believed, blamed on orientation



How can we address this problem?

Make space in discussions of domestic violence and sexual assault for LGBT+ perspectives. Something as basic as using male pronouns in referring to perpetrators and female pronouns in referring to the survivor in education around abuse reinforces the myth that abuse only occurs in cisgender, heterosexual relationships, where the male is always the perpetrator.

Recognize your own biases in relationship dynamics. It is not uncommon for people to think that behaviors in a heterosexual couple are abuse, but those same behaviors in a homosexual couple are acceptable. By recognizing these possible biases, we can extend the reach of the “Me Too” movement, where any form of abuse or violence is not acceptable regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Tri-Valley Haven is an LGBTQ+ affirming organization, meaning that individuals can seek services and be accepted for their identity, free of discrimination or animosity.

Emily is a Preventionist and Sexual Assault Advocate at Tri-Valley Haven.  For more information about how to access or support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org

For additionalresources and information:

Trans Individuals: Forge— https://forge-forward.org/anti-violence/for-survivors/

LGBTQ+: The Network La Red— http://tnlr.org/en/ (Massachusetts-based, but has further information for various communities)

General info: RAINN—https://www.rainn.org/articles/lgbtq-survivors-sexual-violence

Myths about LGBTQ+ Domestic Violence: HRC— https://www.hrc.org/blog/common-myths-about-lgbtq-domestic-violence

Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project Hotline: 1-800-832-1901



Smith, S. G., Zhang, X., Basile, K. C., Merrick, M. T., Wang, J., Kresnow, M., & Chen, J. (2010). NISVS: An Overview of 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Center for Disease Control.

James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.


Click to access For-Service-Providers-Barriers.pdf

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this insightful article on the barriers LGBT+ persons often face when trying to access services for trauma. Tri-Valley Haven is an LGBT+ affirming organization and we welcome all survivors seeking help.


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