BREAKING THE BINARY: Working Towards an Inclusive Understanding of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is a complex issue that goes beyond the common heterosexual understanding. Heterosexual approaches and assumptions of sexual violence can further marginalize members of the LGBTQ2S+ community unintentionally invalidating, discrediting, and ignoring their experiences. Many abusive behaviours are common across all relationships regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, but the unique circumstances and prejudices against the LGBTQ2S+ contribute to specific needs and additional barriers to accessing relevant supports and services.

There are extensive gaps in research regarding the unique barriers faced by the LGBTQ2S+ community. Without a more comprehensive understanding of how sexual violence impacts the queer community and the complexities influencing reporting rates, it is incredibly difficult to understand the magnitude and prevalence of the issue. In our recent research report, Sexual Assault in Saskatchewan, we aimed to examine this issue in our province and serve as a jumping off point for future research. 

THE ISSUE 

According to national research on reporting, gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals are six times more likely to experience sexual violence than people who are heterosexual. LGBTQ2S+ individuals experience unique circumstances that create additional harm and prevent access to supports and services in addition to the barriers faced by heterosexual and cis-gender individuals.  

LGBTQ2S+ individuals experience homelessness or transience at a much higher rate making them more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation by others. In Saskatchewan, queer and transgender youth lack safe community spaces, and the few that do exist become more difficult to access if the individual is homeless. Stigmatization, and a lack of non-binary services, results in individuals feeling excluded from supports and programs targeted towards only men or women; this is especially true in rural areas of Saskatchewan where services are limited or non-existent. A lack of inclusive services creates barriers for LGBTQS2+ individuals when seeking the help and support they need after experiencing sexual violence. 

Other research has found that perpetrators will often threaten to reveal the survivor’s sexual or gender identity to others if they report the assault to the authorities. In other instances, the survivor may not report because doing so would force them to reveal their  sexual and/or gender identity to the police and, should the case move forward, the public.

Many services operate under heterosexual assumptions that can prevent same-sex partner violence from being fully investigated and identified. For example, men admitted to the hospital with physical injuries are less likely to be questioned about potential abuse than women, influencing the likelihood of necessary intervention.

Although many organizations provide inclusive supports and services, there is a lack of understanding and awareness surrounding the importance of using inclusive language when communicating their services to the public. The absence of inclusive language in communications and marketing isolates these individuals as they feel excluded from these services. The use of inclusive language provides a clear indication for these individuals that they will be treated with respect, their experiences will be believed, and their needs will be understood and addressed appropriately. 

Although society has progressed significantly in our acceptance of the LGBTQ2S+ community, these individuals still experience social and societal exclusion. Therefore, when they experience sexual violence, a crime where victim blaming and shaming is so prominent by society and the justice system, their very identity can be unfairly used as a reason not to believe them, and to not take them seriously. 

With a few important considerations, support services and criminal justice institutions can contribute to a necessary shift in social attitudes towards the LGBTQ2S+ community. Together, we can work towards a collaborative, comprehensive, and inclusive approach to responding to and preventing sexual violence. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

There is a clearly demonstrated need for the development of more culturally competent services across all sectors responding to sexual violence. Here are some ways that organizations can guide the development and implementation of inclusive programs and services:

  • Consider the following questions to ensure the provision of a safe, inclusive space for LGBTQ2S+ survivors:
    • When we currently talk about sexual violence, who benefits from the conversation? What are the consequences of this, both intentional and unintentional?
    • What is the individual context, demographic location, and social context of the person telling their story?
    • How can we move our work outside of the gender binary system?
    • What would a framework of intersectionality bring to those impacted by the work that we do?
  • Create programming especially for LGBTQ2S+ individuals, focusing on their specific needs and circumstances.
  • Have staff participate in educational workshops to expand their understanding of LGBTQ2S+ terminology and experiences. Many LGBTQ2S+ organizations offer resources, information, and workshops. 
  • Create policies and guidelines for addressing discrimination in your organization, and ensure that non-heterosexist, inclusive language is in place in communications and marketing campaigns to let individuals know that they are a safe, welcoming space for LGBTQ2S+ identifying people to receive support services.
  • Seek out and establish partnerships with LGBTQ2S+ organizations to create resources programs, and referral networks that connect the LGBTQ2S+ community with relevant services, and resources.
  • Consider the need to provide advocacy and establish culturally competent contacts, including police, lawyers, and other advisory experts in order to prepare those within the LGBTQ2S+ community for potential systemic barriers they may face in the process of healing and seeking justice. 

The power to initiate change exists not only within larger institutions, but within all of us as individuals part of a greater community. Here are a few simple ways you can be an ally and advocate for change within your community: 

  • Familiarize yourself with LGBTQ2S+ terminology. Out Saskatoon’s Queer Terms page is a good place to start
  • Educate yourself on LGBTQ2S+ experiences and history to understand the impacts oppression and anti-LGBTQ2S+ can have on sexual violence
  • Be an advocate. Raise your voice and your platform for the LGBTQ2S+ movement and fight for equality. This could be educating friends, family members, and strangers, or volunteering with an organization that is pushing for change

For more information about this topic, read the sources of our information:

Sexual Violence in Saskatchewan: Voices, Stories, Insights, and Actions from the Front Lines

Relationship Violence in Lesbian/Gay/ Bisexual/Transgender/Queer [LGBTQ] Communities Moving Beyond a Gender-Based Framework 

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