University advocates hope for increased sexual assault awareness



Cameron Gorman

Editor’s note: This story is part of continued coverage surrounding assault on college campuses. In an effort to open the conversation about assault, all sources have allowed The Kent Stater to use their full names and share their stories. 

For any community, sexual assault is a difficult issue to address. For the LGBTQ community, though, it is more complicated than that — the fallout from this type of violence can be made even more complicated when filtered through the prism of outside perception.

In fact, on the newly designated LGBTQ+ floor of Korb Hall on Kent State’s main campus, several sexual assault reports were filed over the past year.

“For the most part, I feel like within the (LGBTQ) community there is a lot of awareness. Most of the LGBTQ+ people I talk to are very adamant about advocating for victims of sexual assault,” said Dimitri Kirsch, a freshman political science major. “I think, especially amongst the transgender and gender non-binary community, there is an extra amount of awareness, since, as far as I know, transgender people face a higher sexual assault rate.”

Kirsch said he thinks a majority of the LGBTQ+ minors or individuals living in rural areas don’t have as high of an awareness about the risks within the community.

“But I think they are aware of what happens toward the community,” he said.

Though progress has been made in some spaces regarding attitudes toward people with marginalized genders or sexualities, there is still a significant number of hate, misunderstanding and fear directed toward people with those identities, according to Katie Mattise, program coordinator of Kent State’s LGBTQ Student Center.

“I definitely think that, a lot of times, whenever you talk about who’s more affected by rape, you hear ‘women’ and that’s it,” said Brien Thompson, secretary for Kent State’s Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) organization.

Harmful stereotypes or generalizations about the community can not only deal damage to its members — according to Thompson, they can also extend to misconceptions about who is affected by assault.

“(The LGBTQ community is) a minority group, a marginalized community, so you never know when you’re going to work with somebody — are they going to get it, are they going to think that it’s less of an issue because you’re gay or trans or bi or blame you?” said Ken Ditlevson, director of the LGBTQ Center. “Those things, I think, go through a survivor’s mind on a regular basis.”

In 2010, the rates of sexual violence for LGBTQ people were the same as, or even higher than, heterosexuals due to factors including high rates of hate-motivated violence, poverty and marginalization, as estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Yes, there are still some people within the community that (sic) are unaware. But more often than not, it is straight cisgender people who hear about these things and either do not take them seriously, don’t believe them at all or act as if the victim deserved it,” Kirsch said. “I feel that when people learn about sexual assault in the classroom they should hear about the shockingly high number of cases that happen to members of our community.”

Jimmy Bowen, the activism initiatives chair for Pride!Kent and junior sociology major, said he experienced sexual assault personally during an off-campus event.

“I do not feel that sexual assault awareness in the LGBTQ+ community is high enough,” Bowen said. “Most people believe that the rate of sexual assault is about as high as the rate for the general populace.”

That is not the case, according to Bowen.

“As LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience poverty, stigma and marginalization, we are also more at risk for sexual assault,” he said.

Mattise said she expects that statistics do not even necessarily reflect the actual rates of assault.

“There is still a real stigma around reporting sexual violence,” Mattise said. “There’s a ton of victim-blaming and not believing people who come forward. Add potential feelings of guilt, helplessness, depression, anxiety or a variety of others, plus the fact that some folks will react very negatively… if the violence reveals or hints at an LGBTQ identity and you have a really challenging path to coming forward.”

One form of sexual violence known to be committed against LGBTQ people is homophobic or “corrective” rape, where a person is forcibly raped in the belief that it will “cure” their sexuality, according to Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

“Outside views of inside the community is different,” Thompson said. “I feel like there’s a lot of misinformation that LGBTQ members must enjoy it because it’s what they want.”

Corrective rape and incorrect perception of enjoyment from outside the community creates judgement, Thompson said.

“From inside the community, I think it’s moreso (a) more scared view because people have to deal with every day knowing that they’re more at risk than anyone else —  that they’re more likely to be assaulted than anyone else,” Thompson said.

Around half of transgender people will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

When Kirsch was 16 years old, he was sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend — a straight cisgender male.

“At the time, I was still questioning my gender, and he knew that I identified as pansexual,” he said. “However, I do not know if the violence was stemmed from my being queer or if it was unrelated to that.”

Kirsch said he went to the police, who brushed it off. His boyfriend never faced any consequences.

“However, I do know quite a few people LGBTQ+ who have faced sexual assault, both from other members of the queer community and people who are outside of the community,” he said. “Some were offered help, some were completely overlooked.”

When an individual finds out someone might be transgender, they might react in a violent way and the individual may be viewed as a target — simply because they’re misunderstood.

“There’s not a lot of familiarity,” Ditlevson said.

Ditlevson believes understanding could be increased, though, if proper steps toward awareness are taken, such as campaigns to target awareness issues, survivor services targeted toward LGBTQ+ identifying people and counseling services and events such as the Clothesline Project, which highlighted assault in the community earlier this year.

“I think others (outside the community) don’t understand … (and) a lot of people think, well, they must like it because it’s people that they like to do it with,’” Thompson said. “People have this perverse view that everyone in the (LGBTQ) community is somehow different than them … that they have different (feelings).”

At Kent State, allies and members of the LGBTQ community can get involved with SASA and an assortment of other events sponsored by the LGBTQ Center.

“There is still a lot of work to be done around sexual assault to create increased levels of awareness and a real culture change,” Mattise said. “And until sexual assault is no longer a thing, awareness isn’t high enough.”

Awareness for sexual assault in general is not high enough currently, let alone in the LGBTQ+ community, Mattise said.

“Abuse and sexual assault happen everywhere, regardless of your gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or anything,” Kirsch said. “However, when you are in a marginalized group, people who want to abuse you will use that against you if they know that you’re afraid to come forward about it because you won’t be taken seriously, or you might even get in trouble.”

Cameron Gorman is a senior reporter, contact her at [email protected].