For five years, I have worked for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services as the outreach coordinator. The position involves working to connect services with people who are traditionally under-served and to ensure that the organization develops services that are informed, meaningful and culturally appropriate.

One area of outreach is providing services to people who identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender or queer. As a community, LBGTQ+ people are more at risk for poverty, homelessness and stigmas that create a higher risk of sexual violence, often starting in childhood. These stigmas often contribute to creating vulnerable situations, whether it is living on the streets, couch surfing, or facing economic instability.

In many cases, people who identify as LBGTQ+ are not accepted and/or ostracized by their families, leaving them with little support and resources. In these situations, LGBTQ+ youth often end up homeless or staying with friends, increasing their risk of sexual violence, dropping out of school, and suicide.

In some cases, sexual violence is perpetrated by an intimate partner who wants to gain power and control over their partner. A high percentage (44 percent of lesbians, 61 percent of bisexual women, 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men) experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. In other circumstances, the sexual violence is perpetrated as a hate crime. According to a University of Minnesota brochure about LGBT Sexual Violence, 10 percent of hate crimes against members of the LGBT community involve sexual assault. Other studies show that 64 percent of transgendered individuals are sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Because of homophobia, transphobia and discrimination, it is difficult for LGBTQ+ survivors to seek services following a sexual assault. If they are not “out,” there may be fear that they will have to disclose that information when seeking medical attention or reporting to the police, and they may not be prepared to do that.

There is a fear that they will not be acknowledged and respected by service providers, or that people will not use the proper terminology or appropriate pronouns. These barriers can lead to a delay in reporting a crime or not reporting the crime at all, lack of appropriate medical care following an assault, and reluctance to seek services.

The SAPARS staff works hard to advocate for people who identify as LBGTQ+ when they have been sexually assaulted and go to the hospital, police station or seek any services. We advocate that they be addressed by the proper name and pronouns and that they be treated with the dignity and respect due to any survivor.

We educate systems to respond to survivors without making assumptions about someone’s gender or sexual identity, and to understand the additional needs of sexual assault survivors who are LGBTQ+. We are committed to ensuring that our staff and volunteers understand how to provide safe and meaningful services to LGBTQ+ survivors and that we provide ongoing opportunities to continue to learn how best to meet their needs.

One of our strategies to meet these needs is to bring our services to where people can most easily access those services in a space that is comfortable and safe for them.

For people who identify as LGBTQ+, our work has been mostly done in partnership with the local LBGTQ+ youth group provided through Outright L-A. SAPARS provides a monthly drop-in support for LBGTQ+ youth at their regular meetings. This allows youths to have a safe place that is judgment-free to discuss their sexuality and gender identity, as well as talk with an advocate about any sexual assault or harassment they may have or are experiencing.

In addition, Outright L-A also offers a support group for parents/guardians of transgender youths, helping them to understand the struggles of gender identity and how to connect to their youth in a healthy manner. And, Outright L-A supports local school groups and has a summer program Q+A (queer and allied, questions and answers) that is designed to fill the gap of support when school is not in session.

Working with Outright L-A has provided us a unique opportunity to better connect with youths who identify as LGBTQ+ and to expand our knowledge and skills. This partnership is just one of the strategies we have developed to meet the needs of populations who have been traditionally under-served by mainstream services, and is consistent with our commitment to create avenues for traditionally under-served sexual assault survivors to become fully served survivors.

Jamie Demers is Outreach Coordinator for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.


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