Cornell’s third annual Sexual Assault Awareness week kicked off with a discussion that focused on sexual assault and how it specifically pertains to the LGBTQ community.
“We know that these topics, both engaging with issues of bias and discrimination surrounding the de-marginalized LGBTQ+ community as well as conversations about sexual assault, can approach personal and sensitive territory,” said event facilitator Garrett Heller ’17.
Heller began by laying out three principles for the event: confidentiality, honesty and self-care. He also emphasized that discussion participants should consider their own limited perspectives.
“We’ll be able to discuss findings and understandings that result from research, but we are definitely limited regarding the voices we have in this room and the experiences we have in this room,” he said.
Participants discussed the question of who is at risk when it comes to sexual assault.
“One thing that a lot of research has found is that the more you actually identify with the LGBTQ+ community … you actually have a lower risk of being the victim of an assault,” Heller said.
He explained that this was because a higher degree of affiliation with the community was correlated with lower levels of internalized oppression. However, this brought up the question of whether these findings reinforce victim-blaming language and the shortcomings of research.
According to a 2010 report from The National Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Survey, 44 percent of lesbian women and 61 percent of bisexual women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, compared to 35 percent of heterosexual women. Similarly, 36 percent of bisexual men have been assaulted compared to 29 percent of heterosexual men, while 26 percent of gay men have been victims of sexual assault.
Heller further asked the room to record their thoughts about the existing stereotypes, myths and scripts surrounding the LGBTQ community as well as those surrounding sexual assault. Participants then put their answers to these prompts on the whiteboard and were able to silently look at the other anonymous responses, which was followed by a brief discussion period.
Additionally, the group discussed the consequences of hypersexualization and lumping so many identities into one umbrella, as well as the roles of institutions, laws and language.
“All these stereotypes that we don’t necessarily associate with the sexual assault culture, none of these things exist in a vacuum,” Heller said. “All of the bias, discrimination that we see, from laws to discourse, for this community plays in this equation.”
Sexual Assault Awareness week will continue with events throughout the week surrounding the impact of sexual violence on campus and the Ithaca community at large, including a talk with the Ithaca Advocacy Center, a workshop of relationship violence and a Student Assembly meeting discussing Title IX at Cornell.