Published in QVegas issue August 2008
Penetration may not occur, and partners may not have the option of being spouses. So are these same-sex situations still considered rape, domestic violence and/or assault? And do these situations happen in our community?
Unfortunately, in the LGBT community, these situations do occur, and although the society’s definition of rape, domestic violence and assault may be a bit more fine-lined, the definition of assault is “a violent physical or verbal attack.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary mentions nothing about gender or sexual orientation, or how it happens.
“Sexual assault is any sexual contact: oral, anal, vaginal and/or penetration. And it can be done with any tool: fi nger, hand, tongue, penis or dildo. All are considered sexual assault,” said Christina Hernandez, a board member of the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence.
Assault can happen to anyone and be perpetrated by anyone. The San Francisco Women Against Rape (SFWAR) Web site estimates that one in every three lesbians has been, or will be, sexually assaulted by another woman, and violence occurs in one out of every four lesbian relationships. In men, it is estimated that one of every six has been, or will be, sexually assaulted, and in many cases, the perpetrator was or will be a heterosexual male. Eighty percent of sexual assault happens by someone the victim knows.
Although same-sex sexual assault happens, there is not much awareness about it some people don’t even realize that it affects the LGBT community. However, these situations happen, and many cases go unreported. Even in cases of male-female sexual assault, reports are not filed, but in the case of same-sex assault, situations are reported even less, more victims go without treatment and perpetrators go without consequences.
The Rape Crisis Center’s Website says one reason why same-sex sexual assault goes unreported is because the victims are, in some cases, afraid of being outed. And in other cases, they are afraid of homophobic reactions from policemen, hospital staff and/or social workers. This being said, Hernandez, a former staff member of the Rape Crisis Center, said policemen and counselors are trained in these situations and should handle them with consideration and regard for the victim. They are to handle the victim the same way they would handle a victim of an opposite-sex assault situation.
Although the logistics of same-sex sexual assault may be a bit different from opposite- sex sexual assault, the way the victims feel in either situation are very similar and should have comparable treatment. Feelings of guilt, shame and selfblame are often experienced in any assault situation.
However, in cases of same-sex assault, especially among women, victims often feel betrayed. “Women are generally seen as nurturers and caring individuals—not as perpetrators. So when this happens, there is a feeling of, ‘How could this happen?’” Hernandez said. Victims also experience feelings of denial; denial that this could happen; denial that another woman could do this; and/or denial that a partner could do this.
“In the state of Nevada, there is no real agency that focuses on this community that also focuses on violence,” Hernandez said. However, there are many resources that have trained professions who can help in these situations.
Going to the police is always an option; however, if victims do not feel comfortable with that, then there are other resources that can and should be used.
“If someone is sexually assaulted, they should go to UMC—the only hospital that can do a rape kit and can offer STI (sexually transmitted infection) prevention pills and
the morning-after pill, if needed. But, most importantly, just get checked and make sure you are OK,” Hernandez said. “I do encourage victims to file a report, but it really is an individual choice. No one but the victim knows the full situation and what is best for them.”
The Rape Crisis Center, Safe Nest, The Community Counseling Center and The Gay and Lesbian Community Center all have programs and people on staff to assist victims of assault. Assistance, in most cases, is confidential and free.
If you are a victim of same-sex sexual assault, here is a list of resources in Las Vegas that can help: The Rape Crisis Center (702- 366-1640, www.therapecrisiscenter.org); Safe Nest (702-646-4981, www.safenest.org); Community Counseling Center (702-369-8700); The Gay and Lesbian Community Center (702-733-9800, www.thecenterlv.com); and The Metropolitan Police Department (702-828-3111, www.lvmpd.com).