They are the quiet victims who try to hide what happened. They know that too often they won’t be believed. They suffer in silence and just try to forget. Very few people talk about the victimization of lesbians and how that victimization is viewed by society. There is still a very strong prejudice against same sex relationships which manifests in discrimination and sometimes violence.

All victims face an uphill battle when they are sexually assaulted. However, bisexuals and lesbians have even more hurdles. Whether the perpetrator is a stranger or a partner, the barriers that face all rape victims are even more daunting for same sex victims. Because of the bigotry that still exists, there are those who sweep the attacks under the rug. You rarely hear of these attacks in primetime media because they are not assigned an importance by society, which is a tragedy.

Lesbians who are raped, especially if the attack is committed by a partner, are less likely to report their victimization than almost any other victims. The CDC has found that bisexuals and lesbians have very high sexual victimization numbers. These innocent victims fear how they will be treated by the criminal justice system, the media, and the public.

There is a pervasive worry that they will not be believed, and sometimes there is pressure not to report if the attacker is a partner. Lesbians can be reluctant to report a domestic attack for the same reasons a heterosexual partner may not report an assault. Emotional attachment, fear, and feelings of shame all play a role. But even worse is the idea that they are somehow harming the image of fellow lesbians if they report attacks committed by other females. There is a terror that bigots will snatch the cases for headlines to demonize gays as evil. What a sad position to be in.

But this is not all of it. Even when they manage to get past the hurdles and take action through law enforcement, social services are set up primarily to help heterosexuals. It is difficult to find services catered to gays which provide understanding and support. Where do they go? Can they trust that they will be treated fairly?

When they ask these questions, they realize they are in deep trouble

When they summon the courage to move forward, there are cases that simply get dropped. Leads are not followed. Cases grow cold. Victims point out that such cases are not pursued simply because the attacks are not viewed as being as serious as other crimes. In short, because they are gay, they face discrimination.

Then, when victims get past initial troubles, they must face juries who may harbor bigoted views. It is hard enough to go before a jury as a victim, but imagine the extra worry that goes along with knowing that hate is directed at same sex couples. What if you had to worry that a jury would not help you simply because of your sexual preference? Some people are so full of hate that they will not accept those who are different from them. This unequal treatment is unacceptable.

So many barriers are in place that the report numbers are quite low. This leads to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness which further the degradation of the sexual assault. Being the victim of a sex crime can be soul crushing. Confidence, comfort, and control are taken away in a moment. It can take a lifetime to rebuild one’s self confidence after such a trauma. Victims question themselves over and over, wondering what they did wrong, even though it is never the victim’s fault.

For lesbians, the pain and humiliation can be so much more complicated. For many who struggled with coming out only to be attacked by a same sex partner, dealing with the shock and pain can be overwhelming. To have overcome all of the bullying and stigmas attached to being a lesbian and then having to deal with a rape often triggers emotional difficulties such as post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and a whole host of other problems.

In a step toward true equality, we need more social service resources to provide understanding and comfortable environments for gays who have been victimized. This, of course, applies for both male and female victims. Males struggle with the same obstacles and the same hate. The wall of bigotry must be removed. Progress that has been made is simply the tip of the iceberg. Long standing attitudes of hate must be rooted out. We need policies and education so that victims can receive the help they need with the knowledge that they are respected. Every victim deserves to be treated with dignity, and they must feel comfortable coming forward to report crimes.


Criminal profiling and the deviant mind
Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D.

Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D., is a criminal profiler and expert on serial crimes.

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