For the past 20 years, April has been designated as Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Month. This year it takes on added significance with the COVID-19 pandemic making it more difficult or risky for sexual assault survivors to seek help.
This is devastating abuse of power effects people of every age, race, sex, national origin, socioeconomic background, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
“It is important to recognize that sexual assault is a varied form of violence,” explains Susan Holt, manager of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s STOP Domestic Violence Program. “We frequently think of rape when we think of sexual assault. But sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact and can include sexual harassment, forced pornography, incest, drug facilitated sexual assault, forced sex work, stalking, etc.”
Very little research has focused on why the transgender and bisexual populations are at higher risk for sexual assault but Holt points to structural racism, transphobia and biphobia as factors “as well as the near impossibility of finding assistance that is LGBTQ specific and focused, affirming and safe.”
The Center does make finding assistance possible with a wide array of services that have long been in place to help, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, prevention services, training and consultation, advocacy and referral, specialized assessment, safe housing and basic necessities.
In addition, the Center’s Legal Advocacy Project for Survivors (LAPS) can assist with such things as advocacy and restraining orders.
Says Holt: “LGBTQ people who have been victimized are entitled to safe, supportive, and equal services.”