before. during. after. When thinking about how a sexual assault affects a survivor, some people might tend to focus on these latter two periods. They may think that the actual moments of sexual violence would be when the trauma begins and consider the aftermath to be when a survivor reflects on what occurred, possibly experiences symptoms post-traumatic stress disorder, and finds way to heal.
For LGBTQ+ sexual assault survivors, the “before” is often critical to how they will experience the “during” and “after.” As members of a marginalized group that continues to face discrimination from certain segments of society, their own sexual identity formation may have had its own traumas. Feeling rejection from loved ones, sensing that society didn’t consider them “normal,” and perhaps hiding their sexuality as a defense mechanism, LGBTQ+ people may already be carrying a heavy load prior to experiencing a violent sexual crime.
How they respond to this new trauma will likely depend on what they learned as the navigated their sexuality and identity in what is sometimes a very hostile world to them.
In this blog post – the second in a two-part series for Pride Month on LGBTQ+ sexual abuse and sexual assaults – I explain how members of the LGBTQ+ community face some unique challenges when deciding how to respond and recover from sexual assaults. While much work remains to be done, I end on a positive note by highlighting the progress we’ve made over the past few decades.
Deciding whether to disclose
Only a survivor can decide if and/or when they want to disclose or report a sexual assault. in general, many factors go into making this decision; LGBTQ+ people usually have some additional considerations, however.
First, if a same-gender assault occurred and a person is questioning their sexuality or closeted, they may wonder if they will need to come out to report the assault and the circumstances surrounding it. Discussing this situation confidentially with an independent third party (such as a sexual assault lawyer from our office) can be reassuring as it will give you a level of support that is completely independent of your life and relationships.
If a same-gender assault occurred against a non-LGBTQ+ person, the disclosure question is up-ended. I’ve had clients who have explained that when deciding to come forward they asked themselves, “Will people think I’m LGBTQ+ because of this?”
Some survivors, regardless of whether they identify as LGBTQ+ or not, experience physical pleasure during the assault. For instance, a man may have an erection or a survivor may even experience an orgasm. Although this is a biological response to your body being touched it is in no way an indication of consent. If such a bodily response happens, survivors may agonize over this response and hate themselves for it. If a non-LGBTQ+ person is assaulted by a person of the same gender, questions of their own identity and sexuality may arise. Sadly, this trauma can spur hate where there would not have otherwise been hate against the LGBT+ community.
Finally, if an LBGTQ+ is assaulted by a person of another gender, still more anguishing questions may arise. For example, if a person in a lesbian relationship is assaulted by a male and discloses the assault to her partner, there may be suspicion that the survivor “maybe wanted it from a man.”
Although the horrific idea that a person who is assaulted somehow must have “wanted it” is not limited to assaults within the LGBTQ+ community, it takes on unique dimensions among LGBTQ+ discussions about disclosure
Gender myths and assault
An extremely common concern among sexual assault survivors is whether they will be believed when they come forward. Sadly, for LGBTQ+ people, misperceptions and myths about the community compound these fears.
Generally, in both LGBTQ+ and heterosexual communities, there is a persistent myth that men cannot be sexually assaulted. Gender based violence can happen to anyone. Even if some people accept that men can be sexually assaulted, gender stereotypes may convince then that only “some” men can be assaulted. For example, if a heterosexual man discloses assault by a woman, some people may believe that he should have been able to overpower her.
Similarly, in a male same-sex relationship (or even outside of a relationship), if the larger/physically stronger person is sexually assaulted, there could be concern by the survivor that he would not be believed.
All sexual assaults, where sex and gender are involved, there is a power dynamic, but in marginalized and vulnerable communities, there are additional stereotypes to fight.
If you’re reading this blog and feeling discouraged, please remember that despite the hardships LGBTQ+ people face, “it gets better.” And, when it comes to sexual assaults, both our society and institutions are definitely getting better about handling these cases effectively, appropriately, and compassionately.
As a personal injury lawyer focusing her practice on sexual assault and sexual abuse civil claims, I am happy to report that judges in our system are noticeably better at shooting down arguments based on stereotypes than when I first started out 25 years ago.
Moreover, anti-discrimination and sensitivity training among police and other first responders has helped these people to better understand what a survivor may be feeling and/or how a survivor may respond when interacting with them.
Finally, although there has been historic hesitation to discussing both sexual abuse and sexual assault within the LGBTQ+ circles for fear it would further stigmatize the community or detract from positive messages about sexuality, there are many more supports and resources for survivors.
There is still much work to do to help LGBTQ+ sexual assault survivors, but we can continue to make progress if we all do our part. At Jellinek Ellis Gluckstein, we’re determined to continually improve our services and supports to help make this difficult time in a survivor’s life as easy and comfortable as it can be.
You can be confident that when you contact our office, you will be treated with compassion, empathy, and given the attentive care you deserve. At the same time, will fully respect your privacy to ensure you feel the safety you need to begin the process of healing. And that is something we’re very proud about.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.