This past Tuesday a discussion panel was held in BU’s Center for Gender, Sexuality & Activism which addressed issues regarding sexual violence within the queer community.
The event was organized by BU’s Queer Activist Collective as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Week.
Three panelists–BU crisis intervention counselor Jessica Sparks, Fenway Health violence recovery counselor Carmen Leah Ascencio, and GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project outreach education manager Austin Bay–fielded a series of pre-determined questions posed by a senior member of the QAC and later joined a brief discussion-style Q&A session.
Sexual assault, according to the panelists, is defined by a situation in which a person is threatened, coerced, or forced to engage in sexual activity against his/her will.
“The key,” explained Bay, “is that these situations are non-consensual. This also includes acts that are not completed or implicit.”
The panelists emphasized that, although sexual assault is an issue in both hetero-normative and queer communities, cases involving the assault of GLBTQ individuals occur with a higher frequency. They attributed this trend to the fact that GLBTQ individuals are often targeted specifically for their sexual orientation.
Sparks added that almost forty percent of homeless youth identify as GLBTQ, and many members of the queer community remain homeless into adulthood. She explained that, frequently, unsafe living environments contribute to the disproportionally large number of queer individuals who have reported instances of sexual assault.
The panelists also discussed the many issues that arise when members of the GLBTQ community who have been sexually assaulted seek legal or medical help.
Explained Ascencio, “A nurse might not always know how, for example, to refer to or treat a trans patient. She might not know the trans patient’s sensitivities or the correct terminology to use. Having to explain all this to a medical practitioner can make a victim’s experience even more traumatic.”
Sparks added that filling out police reports can be equally problematic when officers aren’t trained to deal with GLBTQ individuals. The gender of the victim is required for a report, and explaining one’s specific situation to an officer can also worsen the trauma.
Even worse, explained the panelists, is that sometimes sexual assault inflicted on GLBTQ individuals isn’t regarded as seriously as it would be were the situation a hetero-normative one. Reports of police officers disregarding homosexual abuse or meeting cases of it with cynicism are not uncommon. Individuals working in the sex industry or engaging in BDSM practices also have a difficult time having their assault cases taken seriously by law officials. “They’re regarded as deviants,” said Sparks. “The cases are treated as if the abuse was their own fault.”
The panel discussion concluded with tips for helping friends in the GLTBQ who have been sexually assaulted.
“Know your resources,” advised Sparks. “Familiarize yourself with some organizations you can refer them to that are specialized or have the capability to deal with GLBTQ cases.“
And finally, the panelists agreed, one should always support the choices that a victim makes when handling his/her own case. “Empower them by respecting their decisions. Don’t instruct. Don’t blame them. Just listen,” said Sparks.
For information on GLBTQ-friendly assault help in the greater Boston area, visit the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s website or call their 24-hour hotline at 1 (800) 841-8371. More information on Sexual Assault Awareness Week can be found on the organization’s Facebook page.