The story of your college years can be about a lot of things: education, independence, growing up—or in many cases, putting off growing up for a few more years. Unfortunately, for a lot of students it’s also a story about sexual assault.
A Department of Justice study in 2011 estimated that one in four women in college have been the victim of rape and that, alarmingly, women who attend college are more likely to be raped than women who do not. When President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in March 2013, it came with the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (“SaVE”) Act attached to it, adding new regulations about what services and information schools must provide to victims and authorities as well as new mandates about prevention programs.
The provisions come with an added wrinkle: how to make sure LGBT students benefit from their full effect? Sexual minorities seem to be at the highest risk for such attacks. A CDC report last year indicated that while 43 percent of straight women report some form of sexual violence in their lifetime (these statistics include incidents like sexual harassment), that number increases to 46 percent for lesbians. Gay men are more than twice as likely as straight ones to have been victims: over 43 percent indicated having been assaulted, compared to 20 percent of heterosexuals.
Worst of all, an unbelievable 75 percent of bisexual women and 47 percent of bi men reported past assault. Bisexual women were the group most at risk for rape-specific incidents as well, with 46 percent having been raped.
Most SaVE Act provisions depend on the victim coming forward, but the Justice Department estimates that 95 percent of campus rapes are never reported. The gay community seems to be particularly reluctant to report. UC Berkeley’s Gender Equity Resource Center, for example, notes that LGBT victims fear reporting due to the risk of encountering homophobic police officials, potential for being outed to friends and family, anxiety about possibly being treated with greater scrutiny than a heterosexual victim, and even danger of being shunned by the gay community for supposedly perpetuating a negative image. Many also fear playing into longstanding myths that sexual trauma “causes” homosexuality and bisexuality in the first place.
“We have to make sure students know that we’re not just here for issues of male-on-female assault,” a spokeswoman for UC Berkeley, Janet Gilmore, told 429Magazine. “Our Title IX [the federal legislation covering sex discrimination on campuses]office runs the gamut, and all types of students need to know that they have rights too.”
Campuses offer anonymous counseling services and online materials that may help gay students afraid of extra stigma, Gilmore says. Students, gay and straight, have complained that the school does not do enough to curb sexual assault, and California state legislators are scrutinizing the university after hearing testimony from Berkeley students last month. Gilmore says there’s no way to know if the increase in reports means the problem is getting worse or if more victims are now willing to come forward. “We’re taking a close look at the data,” she says.
The “look the other way” attitude and culture of silence that enables abuse and sexual assault can be particularly pronounced in same-sex cases. A woman named Jeanette, who asked that 429Magazine not use her last name or any specific identifying information about her, described a public assault by her then-partner several years ago: “She was squeezing me so tight I could barely breathe, and she was just dragging me down the street. If a man had been doing that to me I think somebody might have stepped in, but I’ve never seen that in the LGBT community.
“If you see two women fighting, it’s a cat fight,” Jeanette added. “If you see two men fighting, it’s just a couple of guys having a fight. Nobody thinks that it might be another kind of attack.”
The SaVE Act provisions go into effect March of 2014. The extension of the Violence Against Women Act also included specific protections for LGBT persons outside of college settings. The act will have to be reauthorized in 2018.