“Colleges and universities are still trying to navigate how to better respond to sexual assault on campus, but some LGBT students feel their unique needs are not being fully considered by their schools — even though LGBT students are actually more at risk for sexual violence than heterosexual students, and the U.S. departments of Justice and Education have affirmed that Title IX protects gay and trans students from discrimination.”
Some key points…
Sexual harassment is more prevalent among LGBT students. And LGBT students are more likely to want greater prevention efforts.
According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), LGBT students are “more likely than heterosexual students to be sexually harassed in college and to be sexually harassed often.”
Several studies indicate LGBT students are TWICE as likely as heterosexual students to be assaulted.
A recent survey by University of Michigan found that both LGBT students and students of color were twice as likely to be assaulted, while a poll this year of seniors by Harvard University’s Crimson newspaper concluded that LGBT students were nearly twice as likely to experience sexual violence. These are in line with previous limited academic research.
LGBT victims face a number of specific barriers to reporting.
- Some states define rape and sexual assault in ways that do not apply to victims of same-sex perpetrators. Examples include: the individuals must be opposite sex; the perpetrator is defined as male; 1st and 2nd degree rape is limited to intercourse or sodomy (other methods are lesser offenses), or only vaginal penetration counts.
- LGBT victims often have to educate about same-sex practices in addition to reporting the assault. Having to explain intimate sexual details may be too great a burden in the midst of the already difficult process of disclosing.
- Many victims fear they won’t be taken seriously, due to stereotypes about LGBT people. For instance, there is a common assumption that LGBT people are attracted to everyone of the same sex, and since most are heterosexual, they are unlikely to turn away someone who makes advances.
- Reporting carries the risk of alienating the LGBT community, especially if its members feel this reflects poorly on them as a marginalized group. The victim may fear backlash and loss of their only support system, made all the more devastating if they do not have a supportive family and friends outside of the LGBT community.
- A more extensive list of issues faced by LGBT victims can be found here.
There are a number of positive steps colleges and universities can take.
- Conduct a confidential campus survey, with results broken down by gender identity, to learn about the experiences of LGBT victims. Use this information to devise solutions that answer the needs of LGBT victims on your campus.
- Write sexual assault and sexual harassment policies with the least common examples in mind in order to ensure inclusiveness.
- Develop resources, such as a web page, that dispel myths and cover issues specific to LGBT victims.
- Remember that LGBT concerns are in addition to the underlying issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The core issues are the same for all victims, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Train all staff who deal with sexual assault and sexual harassment so that they will understand and be sensitive to LGBT victims’ experiences and concerns.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait for your LGBT community to ask.