LGBT sexual violence numbers are disturbing, but present opportunity

Justin Peligri, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet senior columnist.

I was one of 713 students who responded to a 40-question sexual assault survey last April. The results were released Wednesday – and it’s safe to say there’s a lot to unpack.

For starters, the results point to one GW community that seems particularly affected by sexual violence: LGBT students.

Twenty-two percent of GW undergraduates said they had experienced unwanted sexual behavior during their time at school. But that number jumped to 35 percent when looking specifically at non-straight students. That’s a 13-percentage-point jump we shouldn’t write off.

The survey also gives us a breakdown of unwanted sexual acts. In 11 out of 13 categories, LGBT people experienced sexual violence more than their straight counterparts.

For example, 19 percent of LGBT undergraduates said they had experienced an unwanted forced kiss, compared to 5 percent of undergraduate straight students. Twenty-five percent of LGBT undergraduates were forced to do something sexual. Seven percent of straight undergraduates said the same. The disturbing list goes on.

Forty-eight LGBT undergraduate students and 42 LGBT graduate students participated in the survey. That’s an admittedly small sample, but that doesn’t delegitimize the results.

In fact, these numbers are a wake-up call that should encourage us to focus our resources on the areas that need it most. That might mean, for example, tailoring sexual assault prevention training to LGBT-specific organizations like Allied in Pride and the Association of Queer Women and Allies.

GW has already targeted outreach to athletic and Greek communities – groups that administrators have identified as particularly important to reach. These survey results present an impetus for University leaders to add LGBT organizations to their list of groups to which they devote time.

In conversations about sexual assault prevention, we most often assume the survivors we talk about and advocate for are women – presumably straight women.

While violence against women is certainly a huge issue, the results of the survey reveal that, at least at GW, the LGBT demographic is a segment we can’t ignore when thinking about ways to make our campus more safe and inclusive.

The numbers we’re seeing here mirror a national trend: 44 percent of lesbians have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner compared to 35 percent of straight women, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Bisexual women experience violence at a rate 26 percentage points higher than their straight counterparts. Bisexual men experience it at a rate 8 percentage points higher than straight men.

And a jaw-dropping 64 percent of transgender people experience sexual assault during their lifetime.

The results of this survey are unnerving. But the numbers give our campus an opportunity to make changes where it counts.

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