By Michelle Beshears, professor of Criminal Justice at American Military University
In April, criminal justice faculty members at American Military University have been writing articles in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). One area that is often overlooked is violence against those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT). Because of a combination of stigma and myths, sexual assault in the LGBT community is often rendered invisible or dismissed outright.
Statistics show that the sexual assault rate for LGBT individuals is comparable or higher than the sexual assault rate for heterosexual individuals. Nearly half of bisexual men and women have experienced sexual violence or rape in their lifetime. Approximately 1 in 8 lesbian women and nearly half of bisexual women experience rape. As for gay men, 4 in 10 experience sexual violence other than rape and an alarming 64 percent of transgender individuals experience sexual assault.
Only recently has sexual assault been acknowledged for women who have sex with other women. And there is still a stigma that goes along with males in the LGBT community who have fallen victim to sexual assault. This is especially true with gay and bisexual men and is the reason many cases of abuse go largely unreported.
Unfortunately, when assaults are perpetrated by LGBT community members, crimes often go unreported and/or are dismissed. Just as with other victims of sexual assault, underreporting is due largely to victims feeling a sense of denial or simply not knowing where to turn. Victims often fear that they will not be believed.
People who identify with the LGBT community face a variety of hate crimes including sexual assault. These acts of violence occur both inside and outside the prison system. However, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) has contributed greatly toward reducing sexual violence in prisons and jails. Activists continue to fight to ensure compliance with these regulations and their expansion into immigration detention centers, which remain unprotected.
The LGBT community is starting to receive more support regarding sexual assault prevention and support and the LGBT community is included in the Violence Against Women Act. The Department of Justice Title IX, which protects students on the basis of gender identity/gender stereotypes, also includes sexual assault prevention.
Support resources for the LGBT community will continue to grow and it is important that the topic of sexual abuse prevention and support continues to reach those in the LGBT community.
About the Author: Michelle L. Beshears earned her baccalaureate degrees in social psychology and criminal justice and graduate degrees in human resource development and criminology from Indiana State University. She most recently completed her PhD in Business Administration with a specialization in Criminal Justice. Michelle served in the U.S. Army for 11 years. She obtained the rank of Staff Sergeant prior to attending Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia where she earned her commission. As a commissioned officer she has led numerous criminal investigations and worked with several external agencies as well. As a civilian she has worked with the local sheriff’s department, state drug task force and FBI. Michelle is currently an assistant Professor of criminal justice at American Military University & American Public University and is full-time faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies. You can contact her at Michelle.Beshears(at)mycampus.apus.edu.