April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month – an opportunity to create community action to end this societal scourge.
Nationally, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). On average, 68 percent of sexual assaults go unreported and one in five women report being raped, RAINN estimates. The popularity of online dating is only adding to the problem, especially as technology becomes easier to use and more age groups participate.
In dating and intimate partner relationships, sexual violence is often an escalated act that follows other acts of emotional or physical abuse such as demands, restrictions, criticisms, controlling behavior, inappropriate touching, pressuring and ignoring boundaries, according to RAINN.
While intimate partner violence can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, here are some additional statistics on how domestic violence impacts members of the LGBTQ community:
- LGBTQ communities experience the same rates of intimate partner violence and sexual assault as heterosexual communities, about one in four people, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
- 19 percent of transgender respondents have experienced domestic violence at the hands of a family member because of their transgender identity or gender non-conformity, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
- 44 percent of lesbian women, 61 percent of bisexual women and 35 percent of heterosexual women experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- LGBT-identifying individuals, with the exception of lesbian women, are more likely to experience sexual assault on college campuses than heterosexual individuals, according to the study “Campus Sexual Assault: A Systematic Review of Prevalence Research from 2000 to 2015.”
- Nearly 4 in 10 gay men experience sexual violence in their lifetime and 64 percent of transgender individuals, according to “College Student Health Survey Report: 2007-2011.”
So, what can we as a community do about this? It starts with dialogue and education.
- Be educated – and educate others – about sexual abuse and assault and help the community understanding of both the legal and emotional consequences. According to RAINN, the effects of sexual assault means that a victim is three times more likely to suffer from depression compared to the general population, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. LGBTQ people face higher rates of poverty, stigma and marginalization. And transgendered individuals are far more likely to attempt suicide and live in poverty. For our community that means a large strain on social services, broken families and unproductive workers.
- Learn how to talk about sexual abuse and assault. Just because something is uncomfortable to talk about doesn’t mean it should be ignored.
- Have the courage to step in and help. A bystander reporting abuse. A family member listening. A friend taking in a victim. A neighbor reporting suspicions. A stranger understanding sexual orientation. Your actions can make a difference.
A starting point is a 24-hour crisis hotline managed by the YWCA South Hampton Roads in collaboration with other community organizations. It receives 800 calls per month and an average of 26 calls a day from someone in a crisis situation, including abusive relationships. Last year 432 of those calls were about sexual violence.
If you, or someone you know, is a victim of domestic violence, help is just a phone call away. The Coordinated Crisis Care hotline is 757-251-0144. Also, many resources and services are available at the YWCA’s website, YWCAcanhelp.com, including a new Live Chat feature for someone reaching out online.
The YWCA’s website, ywca-shr.org, provides resources and information about how to recognize signs of abuse and how to access an emergency shelter with food and clothing if someone is in imminent danger, among other helpful advice.
To help raise awareness of sexual assault, I invite you to register for and attend the annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event April 27. Men are invited to step up by walking a mile in downtown Norfolk wearing high heels.
Sexual assault and abuse is not a heterosexual problem or an LGBT issue. This is a community problem with grave consequences for everyone. Let’s change that – now.