What We Know
What is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault does happen, and it’s more common than people think. Most people are uncomfortable talking about sexual assault, yet many of us know someone who has been sexually assaulted. We should be disturbed by the idea of sexual violence because it is disturbing. It is a terrible crime which can have long lasting impacts across a person’s life. It is okay to react when hearing about it – you can still support and believe those who tell you.
Sexual violence in all of its forms occurs because one person or group of people abuse their greater power over another person or group.
Sexual assault does not occur because of how people look, dress or identify. It does not occur because of who they are, who they socialise or affiliate with, or where they are. It occurs regardless of whether someone was drinking or on drugs, using hook-up or dating apps, or even at public or semi-private sex venues.
Sexual assault is not sex, it is violence. No one deserves to be assaulted and their assault is never the victim’s/survivor’s fault.
We know that poor societal attitudes towards women, children and other minority groups (such as people with disability and people from non-Anglo-Saxon backgrounds) create a context within communities where sexual violence is able to occur at high rates. This also applies to other types of violence, such as domestic and family violence.
We also know that the broader community talk about gender-based violence and gender does mean that more women are the victims of violence than men, though men are also victims and their trauma is equally as valid.
For LGBTQ+ communities, power imbalances occur differently when intimate relationships are with the same gender. Power imbalances can occur in relationships for a variety of reasons, including:
- Differences in age, education, social standing, or employment
- Being out or not
- How we feel about who we are
- Traditional views and stereotypes around ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’
- Substance use
- Mental health
- Whether we are part of the “scene” or not
- How we identify
This does not mean we are impacted differently when sexual assault is perpetrated. In fact, it can mean the impacts are compounded, especially if we feel isolated or alone.
Sexual violence does not discriminate. It impacts people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, socio-economic groups and religions. National data collection says that one in five girls/women will be sexually assaulted from the age of 15 throughout adulthood, as will one in 20 boys/men. There is very little Australian research into prevalence rates for trans and gender diverse people, but one Australian study concluded that trans men, trans women and non-binary people are experiencing sexual assault at four times the rate of cisgender women. Sexual violence remains the most underreported crime affecting society. While reporting rates of sexual assault have gone down across Australia in the last few years, this does not mean rates of sexual violence in society have decreased.
We know that by increasing visibility of sexual violence, its impacts and where to get help, those in our community may be able to access support and feel less alone. Also, by giving voice to sexual violence victims, the cycle of shame and self-blame can be broken and prevalence rates may decrease.
LGBTQ+ Communities at Risk
As with many other marginalised community groups, sexual violence impacts our community at higher rates than those in broader society. We are vulnerable to sexual violence being perpetrated against us to a greater degree. This is NOT because we are a violent community – we are not, and the vast majority of us are not abusive or violent.
We are at a greater risk to sexual violence because we may be targeted by others because of our identity. We may also have compounding issues which make us more susceptible to violence, and there are many barriers stopping us from being able to tell others and seek support.
Unfortunately, research and an evidence base on violence in the LGBTQ+ communities is minimal. Due to the vast underreporting of sexual violence, and the length of time between when the assault/abuse took place to when people feel safe enough to talk about it, the true incidence of sexual violence for our community groups may never be known. Research is also limited because the focus of research on violence in Australia is aimed more towards the mainstream, and on broader types of violence, such as domestic violence. Whilst this research is important, focusing on the mainstream leads to greater gaps in the data specific to and needs of people in harder to reach populations, such as the LGBTQ+ community.
Since reporting rates are also very low, it can seem as though particular types of violence do not exist or are not a problem for our community. This is a serious issue as it leaves people impacted by violence more isolated, and means that funding for issues within marginalised communities receives less focus.
In the LGBTQ+ community, our risks for being sexually assaulted are higher because:
- We are living in a broader society where the structures and people do not always understand and support us.
- Historically, we have not had support when reporting violence to systems and as a result we may fear discrimination and violence from the systems that are meant to support us.
- We do not know who to go to and how to get help. We often don’t know which services are more inclusive, and many services for victims of sexual abuse are geared toward supporting female victims and male perpetrators.
- We may not be ‘out’ or want to ‘come out’ to our family, friends or community, including because it may not be safe to be so.
- We feel shame about where we were when it happened or fear repercussions for what we were doing when we were assaulted (such as taking drugs or engaging in public sex).
- We feel shame about what apps or websites we access or worry that people will blame us for using them.
- Years of discrimination, shame, isolation and abuse may mean that we are less likely to recognise subtle forms of abuse or seek help for them when they occur. We may even think that we deserve the violence or that it is a ‘normal’ part of our life. LGBTQ+ people are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, experience mental health issues, have suicidal thoughts and face homelessness – all factors which increase our risk of sexual assault.
All of these vulnerabilities create barriers to talking about sexual assault, and permeate a silence through our community. We can do better than this, as no one deserves to be sexually assaulted. It is never the fault of the victim and always the responsibility of the perpetrator.