Silent Closets

Speaking up about sexual assault in the LGBTQ community

The Feminist Closet

In the majority of sexual assaults, men are the perpetrators and women are the survivors. And this fact shouldn’t be ignored. Pervasive sexism fueled by the patriarchy leads men to both subconsciously and consciously view women as inherently less deserving of respect. We can’t combat rape culture without also combatting these oppressive structures that constantly devalue women.

But, if we frame rape as solely something that men do to women, we leave many people out of the conversation, including those from marginalized groups. Many studies on rape are centered around women as survivors but rarely specify the sexual orientation or gender identity of these women. Lack of specificity leads to erasure of LGBTQ identities, as being heterosexual and cisgender is typically the default assumption. Additionally, these studies frequently ignore victims who are trans, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming, as well as queer men.

One of my queer classmates was sexually taken advantage of at a party. The quotes throughout this piece are what they told me.

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“It’s still really difficult for me to discuss what happened last year, but it’s important.”

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Within the LGBTQ community, certain populations are at greater risk for sexual assault than others. For instance, trans, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming college students are five times as likely to be sexually assaulted as cis men, and slightly more likely than cis women.

Sexual assault also disproportionately affects bisexual people over their gay and straight counterparts—46 percent of bisexual women have been raped, which makes them nearly three times as likely to be raped as heterosexual women. Additionally, 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29 percent of heterosexual men. While gay men are not more susceptible to rape than straight men, they are disproportionately affected by other forms of sexual violence—gay and bisexual men are twice as likely as heterosexual men to experience sexual violence other than rape.

Though these studies do not cover the entire spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities, they provide a starting point for addressing sexuality, gender, and sexual assault. These statistics are alarming and, unfortunately, rarely talked about. More research and dialogue needs to be done on LGBTQ sexual assault cases in order to tackle this issue, especially since our collective silence on it could be preventing survivors from speaking out and accessing resources.

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“Whenever my straight female friends had similar experiences, I did my best to connect them to the available resources. When it happened to me, however, I suddenly found myself with so many different anxieties I never thought I would have and couldn’t find the courage to seek out resources. I was worried that the resources available were more geared towards women, like I had often heard they were from other queer friends with similar experiences, and that no one would believe me.”

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A variety of factors lead LGBTQ survivors to feel hesitant about accessing resources. Many resources are geared towards cis straight women, which can make survivors who are queer, trans, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, and/or men feel excluded. Some LGBTQ survivors may also worry about having to out themselves in order to get services. And those that do seek services risk being denied—85 percent of survivor advocates have worked with an LGBTQ survivor who was denied services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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“My biggest worry was that if others did believe me, I’d be confirming the preconceived notions that some hold that queer people are predators and perverts. I’d grown up hearing that from family members in an attempt to ‘save me’ from my queerness and it hurt so much more knowing they would be validated if I added to that narrative.

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