Despite the gay and lesbian community making inroads into the mainstream, homophobia seems to be increasing, not decreasing. It appears as there is more backlash as gays and lesbians make strides in breaking down barriers. This bigotry is well entrenched and makes it easier for predators to prey upon gay victims. Offenders know that there will be many who believe that attacking homosexuals is fine. They also know that the victims often fear reporting the crimes. Thus, sex attacks against the gay community are some of the most underreported of all crimes, and of all reported crimes, gays suffer more violent hate crimes than any other minority (SPLC, 2010).
Even when victims are brave enough to come forward, they are victimized a second time by the criminal justice system. They have to relive their attacks in courtrooms . They fear unsympathetic jurors. Then, even after getting through all of that, justice often falls flat. In 2009, Robert Hanna pled guilty to MISDEMEANOR ASSAULT for killing Tony Randolph Hunter. Hunter was on his way to a gay club when Hanna beat him. Hanna used the 'gay panic' defense, claiming Hunter touched his crotch and buttocks. However, another victim in the attack stated that Hunter did not make sexual advances to Hanna. (Geen, 2009).
Jorge Steven Mercado was murdered, and like in the Hunter case, the perpetrator used the 'gay panic' defense. Twenty six year old Juan Martinez Matos went out to get a prostitute and found Mercado. He claimed he did not know Mercado was a man until they returned to the apartment of Matos. It was then that Matos killed Mercado, cut off his head, dismembered him, then burned his body. When this was discovered, the lead detective stated "Someone like that, who does those kind of things, and goes out in public, knows full well that this might happen to him," (Ellen, 2009).
Two lesbians were attacked in an Oshawa school park in front of children by a man who hit and spit at them. He kept referring to them as "fucking dykes." Their child saw the attack and had to go to therapy. The perpetrator received a four month sentence (Mitchell, 2011).
In 2010, nine men were accused of torturing and sodomizing three gay men, two of whom were teens. One victim was sodomized with a plunger and beaten with chains (Wilson & Baker, 2010). We can only hope that the justice system will react appropriately in this atrocious crime.
As a criminal and behavioral profiler, I noticed that I was seeing an increase in the number of sexual attacks against gay and lesbian victims. I was curious if the numbers were indeed going up. If one examines the FBI statistics, it is clear that hate crimes involving homosexual victims is escalating. Couple that with an intense anti-gay sentiment, and it is almost as if it has become open season on such victims. Many gays have warned that they continue to be bullied and harassed. Verbal taunts are haunting, and there is always the threat of physical violence. The cruelty is so hurtful that 5 teenagers who had been harassed or 'outed' as being gay went to the extreme of committing suicide. This happened in the span of a few weeks in the fall of 2010 (Hubbard, 2010). Other resources cite that 9 teens committed suicide in that timeframe. Even Canada had gay teens committing suicide in September 2010 (Xtra!, 2010). There is such a demeaning tone used against the gay and lesbian community worldwide, that it is dehumanizing. Homosexuals are turned into objects that can be bullied, raped, beaten, or even killed. As the gay and lesbian community achieves acceptance, those who harbor anti-gay sentiments escalate negative rhetoric. The bottom line is that there is a pattern showing the increase of violence against homosexuals. This must be addressed.
Just within the last few years, sexual assaults and rapes against lesbians have increased. It used to be that 1 out of every 4 lesbians had been the victim of rape and/or sexual assault. Today that number has grown to 1 out of every 3 lesbians. The numbers for male victims may actually be higher because males are even less likely to report an attack. In general, very few male rape victims will report an offense. They mistakenly believe that it makes them look weak or that they should be ashamed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I undertook a project whereby I interviewed a group of gays and lesbians who had been sexually victimized. This research took place in Phoenix Arizona and St. Petersburg, Florida. Requests for participants interested in discussing living as a gay or lesbian were distributed via fliers. It was a convenience sample. In the initial request, participants were not told that the research would examine sex crimes. The flier asked for gay and lesbian volunteers to discuss their relationships and obstacles in their lives.
The first one hundred respondents were included. Fifty came from each state. Initial contact was made by phone. Respondents were asked basic information about gender, ethnicity, age, income level, and residence. They were asked about sexual satisfaction, love relationships, and jobs. Then, participants were questioned as to whether they had experienced any sexual assault, rape, or molestation in their lives. Those who answered negatively had completed their part. Those who responded positively were asked to continue. The interviews ranged in length from 45 minutes to 2 hours each.
The group included 50 lesbians and 50 gay men. The average age in the sample was 25.3. The median age was 27. Ethnicity included 69% Caucasian, 17% Hispanic, 8% Asian, 4% African American, and 2% Other.
Of the 100 respondents, 63 indicated that they had suffered some type of molestation, rape, or sexual assault. This subset included an average age of 29.4, with a median age of 23. This broke down to 28 lesbians and 35 gay men.
All 63 stated that they had been sexually molested before age 14. Of those, almost all had been molested repeatedly (86%). The molesters included males and females of all ages. In the sample, 82% had been molested by an older male, while 18% had been molested by a female. One was victimized by both a male and a female. Almost exclusively, the males were molested by other males. However, one male was molested by an older female relative when he was 7 years old. The average age at which molestation began was 5 years old. Most indicate that they were not beaten during these sex crimes. However, they were threatened to keep quiet. They felt shame and were bullied. All victims knew their molesters prior to the assaults. Frequently, the offenders gained access to the victims by obtaining the position of caregiver (babysitter). Plus, many times, the perpetrators were family members.
Of the 63 respondents, 32 had suffered rape. In 60% of the cases, the victims knew their attackers. The attacks included oral, vaginal, or anal penetration. Women were victimized by other women 22% of the time, and in those attacks, the offenders were almost always their partners. Such cases were extremely sad as the women were loathe to report. They felt they would not be believed or receive help. Furthermore, there was a concern that it would taint the perception of lesbians if they did go to police. Thus, they suffered in silence. In cases where they were raped by men, they still knew their attackers over half of the time. Most were casual acquaintances. The women never reported these rapes either. Trauma, fear of stigma, and concern about the legal process kept the women from reporting. The only times women reported was when a rape was committed by a stranger.
Male victims were even less likely to report a rape than a female. Seven men in the sample stated that they had been raped. Most rapes occurred indoors in situations where the victims had been lured. Some met their attackers after meeting online, while 2 others were raped after meeting the perpetrators at a party. Two of the men were drugged and then assaulted. One victim was raped by two men. He was jumped outdoors and did not know his assailants. His attack was described as brutal. The offenders beat him, sodomized him, and twisted his testicles. The victim stated that he never had felt such pain in his life, but he wanted me to know that the emotional toll was the worst. He said that friends encouraged him NOT to report the crime. They said it would look bad for the gay community. In fact, only one victim reported his rape, and he said the investigation went nowhere. When I asked the others why they did not report the crimes, they replied:
"No one would believe me."
"They (police) wouldn't care."
Clearly there is a disconnect between gay and lesbian victims and the Justice system. This leads me to believe that as others have suggested, sex crimes against gays and lesbians are woefully underreported. We need more research and education programs which help the gay lesbian community. Law enforcement needs to be aware of the difficulties such victims face when they are attacked. Anti-gay attitudes have had an impact in victim willingness to report crimes. So it makes it easier for predators to prey on these types of victims. This must change or we will have more violence and silent suffering victims.
It is important to note that the group was non-random. The sampling method could have affected the results, but it may be that respondents felt more comfortable reporting attacks anonymously. Victimization numbers and characteristics were astounding and should not be ignored. This is an area that is underserved, and this must change. All victims deserve respect and help.
Ellen, Rose (2009). "Hate Crime: Gay Puerto Rican Teen George Steven Lopez Mercado Brutally killed," Associated Content, Yahoo, November 16, 2009, http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2397832/hate_crime_gay_puerto_rican_teen_george.html
Geen, Jessica (2009). "DC Man Sentenced to 180 Days For Beating That Led to Gay man's Death," Pink News, Oct. 15, 2009, http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2009/10/15/dc-man-sentenced-to-180-days-for-beating-that-led-to-gay-mans-death/ : UK.
Hubbard, Jeremy (2010). "Fifth Gay Teen Suicide in Three Weeks Sparks Debate," ABC News/U.S., Oct. 3,2010:http://abcnews.go.com/US/gay-teen-suicide-sparks-debate/story?id=11788128: New York.
Mitchell, Jeff (2011). "Man Gets Four Months for Schoolyard Assault on Oshawa Women," May 31, 2011, http://www.durhamregion.com/news/oshawa/article/178341 : Canada.
Rose, Ellen (2009) "Hate Crime: Gay Puerto Rican Teen George Steven Lopez Mercado Brutally killed," Associated Content, Yahoo, http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2397832/hate_crime_gay_puerto_rican_teen_george.html?cat=17 : CA.
Southern Poverty Law Center, (2010). SPLC's Intelligence Report: Gays Targeted for Hate Crimes Far More Than Any Other Minority in America, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/splcs-intelligence-report-gays-targeted-for-hate-crimes
Wilson, Michael & Baker, Al (2010). "Lured Into A Trap, Then Tortured For Being Gay," New York Times, October 8, 2010: New York. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/09/nyregion/09bias.html
Xtra!: Canada's Gay & Lesbian News, (2010). "Two Lesbian Youth Found Dead in Orangeville," Monday October 4, 2010, Latest News Roundup, http://www.xtra.ca/blog/national/post/2010/10/04/Two-lesbian-youth-found-dead-in-Orangeville.aspx : Canada