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Special Considerations for Multicultural and/or Underrepresented Communities

This section is included in the training not because individuals of different racial, ethnic, or sexual orientation will be treated differently in this process, but because you, as a hearing board member, need to recognize personal biases in how your approach different students and different scenarios.

Race/Ethnicity

Assumptions, stereotypes, and racism all play a role in the way sexual violence is perceived within communities of color as well as perception of dominate groups towards communities of color. They can shape the way accusers are viewed, the reactions that are expected by survivors, and influence the perception of what actually happened. At play is an intersection of sexism and racism (McGuffey, 2013). Research tends to show that sexual violence is linked with power and structural inequality. (Collins, 2004). Mcguffey (2013) states, “the more marginalized victims perceive themselves to be… the more likely they are to believe that no one cares about their suffering” (p.111).

Because culture varies greatly among ethnic and racially underrepresented minority populations, there are similarities across the spectrum, but there is no one single way for a person to make meaning of what has happened to them. Utsey, Brown, and Bolden (2004) found that the coping mechanisms between African Americans, Caribbean immigrants, and African immigrants varied significantly from group to group. The color of one’s skin does not define who they are. The culture of an individual should be considered when attempting to understand trauma of a survivor.

The Striving for Justice Toolkit (2014) lays out three common myths that exist surrounding communities of color and sexual violence:

Myth: Women of color are promiscuous, so if they are sexually assaulted, it is because they were “asking for it.”

Myth: Asian-American women do not get sexually assaulted because they are always willing to have sex.

Myth: African-American and Latino cultures are violent; therefore women in these cultures experience the violence of sexual assault as “normal.”

Another Myth that exists is that the majority of sexual violence is perpetrated by men of color, specifically black men, towards white women. In fact, the large majority of all sexual violence is committed by someone of the same race (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011).

Culture and gender also intersect surrounding gender beliefs of various cultures. Some cultures hold more traditional gender beliefs than others. A study by Golden, Perreira, and Durrance (2013) found that traditional gender beliefs were associated with “a sevenfold increased risk for physical assault” (p. 2142). Jimenez and Abreu (2003) found that Hispanic-American females endorsed a greater acceptance of traditional gender roles which may influence the acceptance of more rape myths. The same was found for Asian-American women (Lee et al. 2005).

The Striving for Justice Toolkit (2014) lays out how race and ethnicity might create barriers to seeking help or reporting sexual violence:

  • Women of color, in addition to the barriers that all survivors face when seeking help, may also face barriers that are unique to their community. These obstacles can come either from inside the survivor’s ethnic or racial community, or from the professionals from which the survivor seeks help. It is important to remember that each culture and community has its own set of values that may contribute to a survivor’s willingness or reluctance to seek help about a sexual assault.
  • Violence in communities of color not only affects the individual, but also the community. Survivors are well aware of this dual affect but the subject is often not discussed. Survivors are often left to choose either to maintain silence around the assault or to voice it, knowing that if and when the assault is disclosed, she/he may face isolation. The survivor may also choose not to disclose the assault to her/his community as part of a sense of loyalty to the community and/or family to preserve family honor. This challenge is further exacerbated when deciding to file a formal complaint. Survivors in this situation are not only choosing to disclose their own painful experience, but also carrying the pain of adding more negative attention to his/her community or family.
  • Given these challenges often faced by survivors of color, they often seek alternative responses to the assault. Survivors may avoid speaking about the experience altogether and attempt to maintain relationships within her/his community. Survivors may also choose to recover from the incident by seeking out support from non-members of the community that are private or safe. This is often meant to protect anonymity.
  • The barriers involved with disclosure of sexual assault within communities of color are important to recognize in that they present some evidence as to why a survivor may choose not to disclose the abuse, to stay in an abusive relationship, or to do nothing at all. This is telling in that choices are often limited for survivors in communities of color. Survivors face the threat of losing relationships, shaming from their community, and/or experiencing difficulty with a healthy development of their social identity.

Research by McGuffey (2013) supports the notion of barriers to seeking help or reporting. Her work focuses on black women and sexual violence. Through interviews with 111 women, McGuffey found that there are three controlling images which include the “Black Superwoman” and “Cultural Protector” (p. 112). The Black Superwoman refers to stereotypes that black women must rise above all adversity with resilience and tenacity. This is a cause for many women not to seek help, but to attempt to internally handle the physical and emotional effects of trauma without anyone’s assistance. As a Cultural Protector, women may choose not to report sexual violence so as not to further any negative stereotypes and protect the culture to which they belong.

When considering the needs of survivors and what supports are appropriate, it is important not only to identify the barriers faced with the assault itself, but also to examine the impact of the assault as it relates to the community of which the survivor is a part. In doing so, we recognize and acknowledge the complexity of the experience and also give space to the survivor to create their path to recovery.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender

Definitions:

Sexual violence is defined as sexual abuse occurring at any time in the lifespan, including instances of sexual harassment. Prior to defining the terms of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, it is important to note that the meanings ascribed to these words are influenced by personal, cultural, historical, and societal factors (Cassese & Mujica, 2000; Pierce, 2001; Scheer, et al., 2003).

Lesbians and gay men are individuals that develop intimate and/or sexual connections with members of the same sex. Homophobia is defined as any attitude or behavior that is predicated in the assumption that heterosexuality is both normative and desirable, resulting in the marginalization of lesbians and gay men at personal, familial, and/or societal levels.

Bisexuals are individuals that develop intimate and sexual connections with people regardless of that person’s sex. Biphobia is defined as any attitude or behavior that is predicated in the assumption that engaging in intimate/ sexual behavior solely with those of the opposite sex is both normative and desirable, resulting in the marginalization of bisexuals at personal, familial, and/or societal levels.

Transgender individuals are broadly defined as individuals who feel that their gender is not congruent with their biological sex. Transphobia is defined as any attitude or behavior that is predicated in the assumption that biological sex and gender are binary and synonymous, resulting in the marginalization of transgender individuals at personal, familial and/or societal levels.

Due to historical and current patterns of individual and societal oppression directed at members of LGBT communities, members of these groups are often reluctant to self-identify to others such as service providers or strangers administering surveys, making accurate statistics on the size of these groups difficult to obtain. The 2000 US Census reports that “nationwide, 594,000 same-sex unmarried-partner households represented 1 percent of all coupled households” (Simmons & O’Connell, 2003, p. 3). This finding has been critiqued as a severe under- counting of same-sex families (Smith and Gates, 2001). For instance, this Census population estimate also does not take into account non-partnered lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.

In 2002 the National Survey of Family Growth estimated that “4.1% of the US populations aged 18 to 44 years (more than 4.5 million individuals) identified as homosexual or bisexual” (Mayer, et al., 2008, p. 991). The estimates of transgender individuals in the US general population range from 3-10% (Carroll, Gilroy & Ryan, 2002).

Challenges in measuring the LGBT community

  • Estimates of the size of the LGBT community vary for a variety of reasons. These include differences in the definitions of who is included in the LGBT population, differences in survey methods, and a lack of consistent questions asked in a particular survey over time.
  • In measuring sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals may be identified strictly based on their self-identity or it may be possible to consider same-sex sexual behavior or sexual attraction.
  • Defining the transgender population can also be challenging. Definitions of who may be considered part of the transgender community include aspects of both gender identities and varying forms of gender expression or non- conformity.
  • Similar to sexual orientation, one way to measure the transgender community is to simply consider self-identity. Measures of identity could include consideration of terms like transgender, queer, or genderqueer. The latter two identities are used by some to capture aspects of both sexual orientation and gender identity (Gates, Williams Institute).

Sexual Assault in LGBT Communities

A sexual assault can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religion, geography, ability, appearance, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

  • Studies show that most people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) knew the person who sexually assaulted them (http://www.pcar.org/lgbt-community-and-sexual-violence).
  • Sexual assault is extremely damaging to the health and well- being of victims who identify as LGBTQ.
  • In the absence of accessible LGBTQ- affirming services, victims may encounter barriers to post-assault services due to homophobia and transphobia.
  • Additionally, intersections between systems of inequality and discrimination such as homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, ableism, and racism may heighten risks and challenges for diverse subsets of the LGBTQ population (Gentlewarrior, S., & Fountain, K. (2009).
  • Culturally competent service provision to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survivors of sexual violence. (Retrieved from VAWnet, National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women: http://new.vawnet.org/ Assoc_Files_VAWnet/AR_ LGBTSexualViolence.pdf)

LGBT Communities & Victimization by Sexual Orientation

Little is known about the national prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual violence (SV), and stalking among lesbian, gay, and bisexual women and men in the United States.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation indicates that individuals who self-identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual have an equal or higher prevalence of experiencing IPV, SV, and stalking as compared to self-identified heterosexuals. Bisexual women are disproportionally impacted.
  • They experienced a significantly higher lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, and rape and SV (other than rape) by any perpetrator, when compared to both lesbian and heterosexual women (CDC, NISVS Report, 2010).
  • Sexual minority respondents reported levels of intimate partner violence at rates equal to or higher than those of heterosexuals.
    • Forty-four percent of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, and 35% of heterosexual women experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
    • Twenty-six percent of gay men, 37% of bisexual men, and 29% of heterosexual men experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.
    • Approximately 1 in 5 bisexual women (22%) and nearly 1 in 10 heterosexual women (9%) have been raped by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Rates of some form of sexual violence were higher among lesbian women, gay men, and bisexual women and men compared to heterosexual women and men.
    • Approximately 1 in 8 lesbian women (13%), nearly half of bisexual women (46%), and 1 in 6 heterosexual women (17%) have been raped in their lifetime.
      • This translates to an estimated 214,000 lesbian women, 1.5 million bisexual women, and 19 million heterosexual women.
    • Four in 10 gay men (40%), nearly half of bisexual men (47%), and 1 in 5 heterosexual men (21%) have experienced SV other than rape in their lifetime.
    • This translates into nearly 1.1 million gay men, 903,000 bisexual men, and 21.6 million heterosexual men (www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/ ).

Intimate Partner Violence

Sexual minority respondents reported levels of intimate partner violence at rates equal to or higher than those of heterosexuals.

  • Forty-four percent of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, and 35% of heterosexual women experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Twenty-six percent of gay men, 37% of bisexual men, and 29% of heterosexual men experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 bisexual women (22%) and nearly 1 in 10 heterosexual women (9%) have been raped by an intimate partner in their lifetime (www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/ ).

Sexual Violence

Rates of some form of sexual violence were higher among lesbian women, gay men, and bisexual women and men compared to heterosexual women and men.

  • Approximately 1 in 8 lesbian women (13%), nearly half of bisexual women (46%), and 1 in 6 heterosexual women (17%) have been raped in their lifetime.
  • This translates to an estimated 214,000 lesbian women, 1.5 million bisexual women, and 19 million heterosexual women.
  • Four in 10 gay men (40%), nearly half of bisexual men (47%), and 1 in 5 heterosexual men (21%) have experienced SV other than rape in their lifetime.
  • This translates into nearly 1.1 million gay men, 903,000 bisexual men, and 21.6 million heterosexual men (www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/ ).
  • Among rape victims, bisexual women experienced rape earlier in life compared to heterosexual women.
    • Of those women who have been raped, almost half of bisexual women (48%) and more than a quarter of heterosexual women (28%) experienced their first completed rape between the ages of 11 and 17 years.
    • The rate of stalking among bisexual women is more than double the rate among heterosexual women.
    • One in 3 bisexual women (37%) and 1 in 6 heterosexual women (16%) have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed. This translates into 1.2 million bisexual women and 16.8 million heterosexual women (www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/ ).

Stalking

  • The rate of stalking among bisexual women is more than double the rate among heterosexual women.
  • One in 3 bisexual women (37%) and 1 in 6 heterosexual women (16%) have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
  • This translates into 1.2 million bisexual women and 16.8 million heterosexual women  (www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/ ).

Transgender Survivors of Violence

  • In a study of 6,436 individuals who identified as transgender and gender non-conforming, significant percentages of respondents reported having experienced discrimination and violence.
  • Transgender and gender non-conforming people reported high rates of harassment, physical assault, and sexual assault in a variety of settings including, but not limited to, schools, workplaces, prisons, and homeless shelters.
  • Sexual victimization was correlated with higher rates of HIV infection and attempted suicide among respondents. Sexual assault rates were higher among people of color, suggesting intersections between trans-phobia and racism.

Hate and Bias Motivated Incidents

  • NCAVP gathered crime data on 2,181 hate or bias-motivated crime victims reported to 15 member organizations in 12 states.
  • Hate or bias-motivated crime incidents included verbal, physical, and sexual attacks on individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ), people perceived to be LGBTQ, or property.
    • Of 2,181 reported LGBTQ hate crime victims, information was available on the sexual heterosexual, 7% as bisexual, 3% as queer, 2% as questioning or unsure, and 1% under a self-identified term.
    • Of 1,983 victims whose gender identity was known, 52% identified as male, 32% as female, 11% as male-to-female transgender, 3% as female-to-male transgender, 1% as questioning,
    • Of the victims whose disability status was known, 31% identified as living with a disability.
    • People of color were over represented as hate crime targets compared to the demographics of the general population.
    • Sexual assault (74 reported incidents), assault with weapons (262 reported) assault with weapons (137 reported incidents) robbery (49 reported incidents), and vandalism (111 reported incidents) were the most commonly reported hate crimes.

REACTIONS & FEELINGS AFTER AN ASSAULT IN LGBT Communities

  • Have fear of being forced to come out if you talk about the trauma
  • Feel that you are betraying the LGBTQ community by accusing a partner or friend
  • Feel that you have nowhere to turn or help and fear unhelpful responses from social services, law enforcement, legal systems and medical staff (http://www.pcar.org/lgbt-community-and-sexual-violence)

Best Practices

Numerous studies over the past two decades indicate that members of the LGBTQ community suffer disproportionate rates of sexual victimization compared to the general population. Affirming and culturally competent services are essential to assist individuals who identify as LGBTQ who have histories of childhood sexual abuse, adult sexual assault, sexual harassment, and hate crime victimization (Grant, J. M., Mottet, L. A., Tanis, J., Harrison, J., Herman, J. L., & Keisling, M. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the National Gender Discrimination Survey. Retrieved from The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: http://www.thetaskforce.org/ downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf).

Students with Disabilities[1]
  • Those who perpetrate sexual violence against people with disabilities often socialize their victims to believe that the abuse is normal and acceptable. Victims may grow up not understanding the difference between appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior. Furthermore, a survivor may be confused by the violence if it is perpetrated by a caregiver or family member who may also do nice, appropriate things for the survivor.
  • Because the perpetrators of abuse towards people with disabilities are often caregivers, a survivor may fear being punished by his/her caregiver for speaking out. A survivor may also fear a loss of services if s/he reports the caregiver, or may fear that a new caregiver might do something even worse.
  • People with disabilities are often patronized, and are therefore often not taken seriously if they report a sexual assault. Additionally, a survivor may fear disbelief and may therefore choose not to report the assault at all.
  • Because people with disabilities are often stereotyped as not being sexual, a survivor may have difficulty having his/her report taken seriously.
  • A survivor with a cognitive disability might lack the vocabulary to explain what has happened.
  • A survivor with a disability may be isolated, and may therefore not have a strong support network of family and friends to seek help from.
  • A survivor with a disability may have counselors who have not been trained in the issues specific to survivors with disabilities, or who are uncomfortable having a client with a disability. Some survivors may also face counseling buildings that are not accessible to survivors with some physical disabilities.
Male Survivors[2]
  • It is only a myth in our society that men are not sexually assaulted, or that they are only sexually assaulted in prisons. In fact, 9% of all rape victims outside of criminal institutions are male (U.S. Department of Justice, 1994).
  • Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Justice records an average of greater than 12,000 reported sexual assaults of males annually, and predicts that if unreported assaults are included, the actual number of males who are sexually assaulted in the United States each year is approximately 60,000 (U.S. Department of Justice, 1994).
  • Additionally, while these numbers include only males over the age of 12, the Department of Justice records that a male’s age of greatest risk of sexual assault is age 4. It is important to note, however, that very few studies have been done to document the sexual abuse or sexual assault of males. Furthermore, it is estimated that male survivors report sexual assault and abuse even less frequently than female survivors, and so it is difficult to make an accurate estimate of the number of men and boys who are being assaulted and abused.
  • Men have many of the same reactions to sexual assault that women do. For both male and female survivors, anger, anxiety, fear, confusion, self-blame, shame, depression, and even suicidal thoughts are all common reactions for someone who has experienced a sexual assault. Men, however, are more likely than women to initially respond with anger, or to try to minimize the importance or severity of the assault. Additionally, a survivor of a male-on-male rape may question his sexuality, or how others perceive his sexuality.
  • The physiological reactions of a man during a sexual assault may also make it more difficult for him to recognize that he was sexually assaulted. Some men may have an erection or may ejaculate during a sexual assault, and may later feel confused that perhaps this means that they enjoyed the experience, or that others will not believe that they were sexually assaulted. In reality, erections and ejaculations may be purely physiological responses, sometimes caused by intense fear or pain. In fact, some perpetrators will deliberately manipulate their victim to orgasm, out of a desire to completely control their victims. A physical reaction of an erection or ejaculation during a sexual assault in no way indicates that the man enjoyed the experience or that he did something to cause it or permit it.
  • Because men in our society are expected to always be ready for sex and to be the aggressors in sexual relationships, it may be difficult for a man to tell people that he has been sexually assaulted, especially if the perpetrator was a woman.
  • Also, either the survivor himself or those around him may feel that a “real man” would have been able to protect himself. Our society expects men to be in control, and therefore the survivor and others may have difficulty accepting the image of a man who has been victimized. In the case that the perpetrator is a woman, the survivor may be mocked or feel ashamed that a woman overpowered him. However, it is common for both men and women to “freeze” during a sexual assault, making him or her incapable of physically resisting the perpetrator. Sexual assault is, therefore, no sign of physical weakness in the survivor.
  • Despite the evidence of male sexual assault, rape is still predominantly viewed as a “women’s issue.” This may be because stereotypes cause most people to be more comfortable with the image of a woman being deprived of her power in a sexual assault than a man. The degree to which the issue of male sexual assault continues to be swept under the rug is evidenced by the fact that the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report continues to only include female victims under its definition of “forcible rape.” Many hospitals are unused to looking for signs of male sexual assault, and some police departments do not even collect statistics on its frequency.
 

[1] This section reproduced with permission from the University of Michigan’s Striving for Justice: A Toolkit for Judicial Resolution Officers on College Campuses. http://sapac.umich.edu/tags/striving-justice-toolkit

[2] This section reproduced with permission from the University of Michigan’s Striving for Justice: A Toolkit for Judicial Resolution Officers on College Campuses. http://sapac.umich.edu/tags/striving-justice-toolkit


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