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Pride Month: Exploring the additional challenges LGBTQ+ survivors of abuse face and what can be done to support them

This Pride month, I'm thinking about LGBTQ+ survivors of abuse and the additional challenges they face when considering disclosing their experiences. 

As an abuse lawyer, I've seen countless times the devastating impact that childhood sexual abuse can have on survivors. I also know that for LGBTQ+ people, disclosing abuse can be fraught with additional challenges. 

The intersection of sexual orientation or gender identity when added to the trauma of abuse often creates additional barriers that can prevent LGBTQ+ survivors from coming forward and seeking the help they need.

Stigma and stereotypes

One of the most significant obstacles facing LGBTQ+ survivors is the stigma that often still attaches to their identities. Discriminatory attitudes mean that homosexuality, bisexuality or being trans or gender diverse is still conflated with deviant behaviour which can compound feelings of shame and guilt. 

This stigma can discourage survivors from speaking out for fear of reinforcing harmful stereotypes or being subjected to further discrimination.

Fear of not being believed

LGBTQ+ survivors may also fear that their accounts of abuse will be met with disbelief or dismissed as a misunderstanding of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This can be particularly true if the perpetrator is someone of the same sex, which could be wrongfully interpreted as a consensual discovery of sexual orientation rather than abuse.

Internalised homophobia, biphobia and transphobia

Internalised homophobia, biphobia and transphobia can be significant barriers to disclosure. Survivors may struggle with self-acceptance, and the trauma of abuse might be intertwined with their feelings about their identity. The internal conflict between societal expectations and personal identity can lead to silence and a delay in seeking support.

Lack of LGBTQ+ inclusive support services

The availability of support services that are inclusive and sensitive to the needs of LGBTQ+ survivors is crucial. However, a lack of such services can impede disclosure. 

Survivors may feel that mainstream services don't understand or respect their experiences, leading to a reluctance to engage with these services. We need more visibility of LGBTQ+ professionals working in this area so that survivors can have complete confidence that they will be treated as an individual and total respect. 

Concerns about family and community reactions

Many LGBTQ+ individuals already face the risk of rejection from their families and communities because of their identity. The prospect of disclosing abuse can exacerbate these fears, as survivors may be concerned about being forced to “come out” in a hostile environment and being further ostracised or blamed for the abuse.

Disclosing sexual abuse can sometimes involve speaking about sexual orientation or gender identity meaning which could be overwhelming without the protection of a supportive home environment. 

Intersectional identities

For LGBTQ+ survivors who also belong to other marginalised groups, such as ethnic minorities or people with disability, the barriers to disclosure can be even greater. Intersectional identities can result in complex layers of discrimination and further isolation, making the decision to disclose sexual abuse even more daunting.

Moving forward

Considerable progress has been made in recent years to make sure survivors of abuse are heard. My message is clear, I believe you. We need to make sure all marginalised groups receive this message too. So here is my call to action: 

Those of us who provide support services to LGBTQ+ survivors – whether that is independent sexual violence advisers (ISVAs), the police, therapists or lawyers, let’s make one change this Pride Month and all-year-round to make our services better. That could mean: 

  • Training – make sure your staff and volunteers receive ongoing training that is sensitive to LGBTQ+ survivors.
  • Review your language and materials – is it truly inclusive or does it make assumptions about the sexual orientation or gender identity or survivors? 
  • Give assurances about confidentiality and privacy – not only in relation to abuse, but sexual orientation and gender identity too.
  • Physical environment – make it feel welcoming and safe. Displaying symbols like rainbow flags or safe space stickers can help. Provide rainbow lanyards to staff.
  • Visibility of LGBTQ+ staff – empower colleagues to be themselves in the workplace as this will go a long way to making service users feel they can be themselves too. 
  • Provide a feedback mechanism – we need service users to be able to tell us what we’re getting right and what needs more work. 

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting survivors of abuse at our dedicated abuse and criminal injuries section.