Barriers to Reporting Sexual Violence in LGBTQ Communities

Members of LGBTQ communities in the U.S. face higher rates of sexual violence than the general population. This sexual violence is perpetrated both by non-LGBTQ individuals—often coming in the form of hate crimes, which are crimes perpetrated specfically in response to someone’s identity—and also by other LGBTQ individuals.

While many survivors face barriers that may prevent them from reporting sexual violence, such as the fear of being judged or not believed, members of LGBTQ communities often face additional barriers to reporting or getting help.

One of the main barriers facing LGBTQ individuals is that, even if they want to get help, they may be reluctant to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to service providers when that disclosure may mean facing future descrimination or denial of services.

“If someone tries to get help and is not taken seriously, if their experience is minimized, or if they are asked to educate a care provider about LGBTQ topics while in crisis, that can add to the trauma they’ve experienced,” said Keeli Sorensen, vice president of victim services at RAINN. “It’s crucial that LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence have access to support that is affirming of their identities and competently addresses their needs.”

Some LGBTQ survivors may also be reluctant to report because they fear that it will reflect badly on their community or for fear that they may be unjustly labeled as the perpetrator.

Another concern that may prevent LGBTQ individuals from feeling comfortable seeking help is fear of having their sexual orientation or gender identity revealed without their consent—or being outed.

“Many survivors of sexual violence experience a loss of control during an assault, so for LGBTQ survivors, being outed without their consent can further this trauma and is potentially dangerous,” said Sorensen. “For instance, a survivor may be at risk of further violence or discrimination if outed to someone who is not supportive of their identity.”

LGBTQ survivors may choose not to report sexual violence because they don’t have access to resources. This is especially applicable for transgender survivors, such as cases in which transgender women can’t access services at shelters because their gender identity is not recognized and affirmed by shelter staff.

“No one should be denied access to these crucial resources because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” says Sorensen. “All survivors of sexual violence should have access to the support they deserve.”

For more information on LGBTQ survivors or to access RAINN’s Toolkit for Friends and Family on supporting a loved one, visit rainn.org. If you or a loved one have experienced sexual violence, you are not alone. To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

Additional Resources

  • National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs: A coalition of programs that document and advocate for victims of violence/harassment, domestic violence, sexual assault, police misconduct and other forms of victimization. Site has a list of local anti-violence programs and publications. Hotline: 212.714.1141
  • The Trevor Project: Help and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth. Hotline: 866.488.7386
  • LGBT National Hotline: Call center that refers to more than 15,000 resources across the country that support LGBTQ individuals. Hotline: 888.THE.GLNH (843.4564) pen pals, weekly LQB and T chatrooms for youth.
  • Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling: Directory of LGBTQ-friendly mental health specialists across the United States. Specialists listed are verified members of AGLBTIC, a division of the American Counseling Association.
  • FORGE (For Ourselves: Reworking Gender Expression): Home to the Transgender Sexual Violence Project. Provides services and publishes research for transgender persons experiencing violence and their loved ones.

A note on language: The term LGBTQ refers to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning. People who identify as LGBTQ can be found in all communities and cultures and although this term groups these communities together, it refers to many distinct communities and people with a wide variety of experiences.

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