As awareness grows of the disturbing prevalence of young women being raped on college campuses, there is a specific group facing sexual violence at an alarming rate. Nearly half of bisexual women report having been raped in a report being highlighted by the White House Council on Women and Girls.
About 46 percent of women who self-identified as bisexual told federal authorities that they had been raped—a stunning statistic compared with the 17 percent of heterosexual women who reported experiencing such sexual violence in the same report.
For a group that struggles for acceptance and stability, it's an area of crime that's rarely investigated.
"Coming out as an LGBTQ sexual assault survivor is like coming out twice," said Katherine Taylor of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Rape is already one of the most underreported crimes, said Taylor, and the LGBT community is a drastically under-studied population, so accurate rape figures are nearly impossible to discern.
But in the White House report, the federal government makes an attempt to do so. The report cites multiple sources, from medical journals to national studies, concluding that people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are "uniquely vulnerable" to rape.
"In any oppressed group, in any marginalized group, rates of violence are going to be higher," said Taylor.
In one study the White House relied on, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2010 research survey, gay men and lesbians reported equal, if not higher, levels of sexual violence than heterosexuals. To gather the information, a "random, digit dial telephone survey" was conducted across the country to interview more than 16,500 individuals. The survey consisted of about 60 questions having to do with stalking and sexual violence.
This is partly because rape victims depicted in the media are often young straight white women attacked by straight white men, and LGBTQ victims have fewer examples to heed for guidance, Taylor said. Depending on the age of the victims, perpetrators may say that what they are doing is normal for gay sex. Others may tell them that they are being treated this way because they are LGBTQ.
Even if victims realize they've been assaulted, they may be hesitant to seek help or go to authorities for fear of re-victimization, said Taylor. Many LGBTQ individuals have been victims of discrimination or physical assault at the hands of law enforcement, medical staff, or other service providers.
Most victims, gay or straight, were raped by someone they knew, either a current or former sexual partner or an acquaintance. Victims of rape can suffer from a lifetime of repercussions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, and sexually transmitted diseases. Some of these effects are amplified in LGBTQ victims.
"LGBTQ folks have a higher rate of coping mechanisms from trauma," said Taylor, which can include depression, addiction, or suicidal thoughts.
Last year President Obama added new LGBT protections to the Violence Against Women Act, which is intended to provide domestic abuse and sexual assault victims with the resources they need to get help. By changing the language of the act to specifically include the LGBT community, government officials say they hope to "send an important message" to service providers about the necessity of treatment for gay and lesbian victims. The revised act also explicitly includes the LGBT community in a large VAWA grant program, the STOP program.
Prior to this enactment, 45 percent of LGBT victims were turned away from domestic violence shelters when they sought help; 55 percent were denied protection orders. LGBT advocates hope the LGBT-inclusive language in the revised act will provide gay victims with the access to counseling and trauma services that they need.