BUSPH Study Finds Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People at Increased Risk for Sexual Assault

in Uncategorized
February 14th, 2011

A new study led by researchers at Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) has found that across 75 different research reports, lesbian and bisexual women may be up to three times as likely as heterosexual women to report having been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and that gay men appear to be approximately 15 times as likely as heterosexual men to report the same.

The study, which appears online and in the February issue of Trauma, Violence and Abuse, is the first to systematically review and analyze the results of research investigating sexual violence with lesbian, gay and bisexual people, according to lead author Emily Rothman, associate professor of community health sciences.

“Practitioners who work with lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) clients or patients should be aware that the prevalence of sexual assault victimization among this population is high; trauma-informed practice is critical,” she said. “Continued advocacy is needed to change oppressive social norms in our culture that support violence against LGB people, including homophobia and the use of violence to control others.”

Emily Rothman

Emily Rothman

Rothman and colleagues reviewed 75 studies that examined the prevalence of sexual assault victimization among a total of 139,635 lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents in the United States. All studies were published between 1989 and 2009 and report the results of quantitative research. The authors reviewed the reported prevalence of lifetime sexual assault victimization (LSA), and also subtypes of sexual assault, including childhood sexual assault, adult sexual assault, intimate partner sexual assault, and hate crime-related sexual assault.

The research team found that on average, 43 percent of lesbian and bisexual women, and 30 percent of gay and bisexual men, reported having experienced at least one form of sexual assault victimization during their lifetimes. Given that the estimates of lifetime sexual assault prevalence among U.S. residents range from 11-17 percent for women in general, and 2-3 percent for men, the authors concluded that LGB individuals are likely at increased risk for sexual assault victimization as compared to heterosexual people.

Why would LGB individuals be at increased risk for sexual assault? While Rothman and colleagues’ study did not investigate the answer to this question, they note that several plausible explanations have been put forward. “We tend to see increased rates of violence victimization among groups with fewer rights in society, or who experience more discrimination,” she explained.

One of the most important lessons from this study, said Rothman, is that “medical professionals, teachers, parents and others need to be aware that a high percentage of LGB people may have experienced a sexual violence trauma, either recently or in the past. Providing trauma-informed medical care, dental care, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, classroom education — all of it — may be critically important for these survivors’ wellbeing.”

Besides Rothman, co-authors of the study include Deinera Exner, a doctoral student at Cornell University and recent graduate of the Boston University School of Public Health, and Allyson Baughman, a doctoral student at UMASS Boston and researcher at BUSPH.

The full study can be accessed on the Trauma, Violence and Abuse website.