Discussion group focuses on sexual violence in LGBTQIA+ communities

By Shelby Ashline

Daniel Maldonado/Daily Collegian)
(Daniel Maldonado/Daily Collegian)

A small group of students gathered in the Stonewall Center Monday evening for “Queer Conversations,” a dialogue on sexual assault and gender-based violence in LGBTQIA+ communities.

Associate Director at the Center for Women and Community Becky Lockwood facilitated the discussion, which was held from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and aimed to start a conversation about the prevalence of sexual violence within LGBTQIA+ communities.

“I think our community has a crisis that we’re largely not talking about,” said Josie Pinto, a sophomore public health and women, gender and sexuality studies major who is also the research and education coordinator at the Stonewall Center. Pinto, along with Lockwood and the director of the Stonewall Center, Genny Beemyn, worked to coordinate the event.

Lockwood began the discussion by explaining that while there is very little research on sexual violence in general, there is even less research that explores its prevalence in LGBTQIA+ communities.

However, she cited the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, which was conducted in 2010, as one of the first national surveys on the issue that included questions about gender and sexual orientation. According to the survey’s findings, sexual minority respondents reported levels of intimate partner violence and other forms of sexual violence at rates equal to or higher than those of heterosexuals.

In fact, 44 percent of lesbian women and 61 percent of bisexual women “experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime” in comparison to 35 percent of heterosexual women. 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men had such experiences, compared to 29 percent of heterosexual men.

“This is not just a (cisgendered), heterosexual issue,” Pinto said.

Lockwood, a Title IX deputy at the University of Massachusetts, said that “there’s such a small percentage of sexual violence that actually gets reported to the criminal justice system” as survivors ask themselves ‘Who is going to believe me?’ How am I going to hold this person accountable?’”

She explained that although victims don’t want others to be subject to their abuser’s physical and emotional attacks, they are often hesitant to turn people over to the prison system. In some cases, the assailant retaliates, Lockwood said, adding that an expelled attacker might sue the University concerning their right to “due process.”

“There’s always pushback when survivors start being heard and demanding respect,” Lockwood said.

Lockwood also emphasized that emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse, and that emotional abuse is also prevalent in LGBTQIA+ communities.

“Someone can brainwash you (to think) this is just what queer relationships are like,” she said, explaining that many people are still exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity when they venture into a relationship within an LGBTQIA+ community and, by consequence, don’t know what to expect.

Additionally, Lockwood explained effects of mental abuse through the phenomenon of “gaslighting,” in which the abuser twists information in order to make the victim doubt their own memory or perception. After a victim has been mentally abused, they enter an enhanced state of hypervigilance in which they are always alert to the abuser’s emotions, concerned about what they might do to upset them next.

CWC, she said, serves as a resource for people experiencing physical or emotional abuse, offering a 24-hour hotline, free counseling, support groups and a volunteer staff that includes people of diverse gender identities, sexual orientations and race. The Stonewall Center also trains new volunteers to be informed about and sensitive to the unique needs of LGBTQIA+ communities.

“We try to create a safe space for queer survivors,” Lockwood said of CWC, adding that the organization’s name often implies that it is only welcoming to women.

“We are the Center for Women and Community,” she said. “We struggle with that name sometimes because we want people of all gender identities to feel comfortable coming.”

Pinto also hopes to be able to expand the “Queer Conversations” to be inclusive to students of all the Five Colleges while focusing on various issues faced by LGBTQIA+ communities. In last month’s event, for example, the topic of discussion was misogyny.

However, Pinto said that it is important to continue talking about sexual assault and gender-based violence to explore how people of different sexual orientations and gender identities are affected. Through regular discussions, she hopes to “create intentional spaces for survivors.”

“I really just want a space where people can feel validated and supported and listened to,” she said. “I really just want people to be talking.”

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @shelby_ashline.