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Examining why bisexual women experience the highest rate of violence

The prevalence of crimes that target members of the LGBT community is relatively well known. It’s generally accepted that queer individuals are more likely to become victims of crime than straight people, and for a variety of reasons: prejudice, lack of resources, and financial inequality, to name a few. But what many people don’t recognize is the difference in victimization between those within the LGBT community.

According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2010, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women all experience different rates of sexual violence by any perpetrator and intimate partner violence (IPV). The The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) found that overall, “bisexual women had significantly higher lifetime prevalence of rape and sexual violence other than rape by any perpetrator when compared to both lesbian and heterosexual women.”[3] The lifetime prevalence of rape by any perpetrator was 13.1 percent for lesbian women, 17.4 percent for heterosexual women, and 46.1 percent for bisexual women, making bisexual women’s victimization rate more than double that experienced by women of other sexualities. The lifetime prevalence of sexual violence other than rape (including “being made to penetrate, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences) by any perpetrator was 46.4 percent, 74.9 percent, and 43.3 percent, respectively. For the purpose of the NISVS, victimization by any perpetrator included rape, sexual violence other than rape, and/or stalking.

The survey then defined IPV as “rape, other sexual violence, stalking, physical violence, and psychological aggression by an intimate partner.” Though not as steep, there was a difference between sexualities in regards to IPV victimization as well. While the lifetime prevalence of IPV was 43.8 percent for surveyed lesbian women and 35 percent for heterosexual women, bisexual women came in at 61.1 percent—a significant jump even from their lesbian peers, who are part of the same overarching community.[3]

But for the purpose of understanding differences in victimization between women of different sexualities, the distinction between perpetrators hardly matters; whether it’s by a stranger or her spouse, a bisexual woman is far more likely than anyone else to experience sexual, physical, or psychological violence or aggression. (This statement includes gay, bisexual, and heterosexual men, whose lifetime prevalence of sexual violence other than rape by any perpetrator was found to be 40.2 percent, 47.4 percent, and 20.8 percent, respectively. Though alarming, and on trend with women’s sexualities and rates of victimization, men of all three sexualities experience violence at lower rates than bisexual women.)

But why?

Unfortunately, the NISVS doesn’t ask victims of violence where they were at the time of the incident, who exactly committed the act of violence (such as a casual sex partner versus a spouse), or even whether the victim’s sexuality was known to the perpetrator. Even if they did, the victims themselves might not know why they specifically received the brunt of someone else’s violent behavior.

Despite these roadblocks, one can look to societal causes that may contribute to violence against bisexual women. Myths regarding bisexuality, linguistics, and finite resources for bisexual people may play into bisexual women’s high rate of victimization.

Bisexual people face a number of stereotypes and misunderstandings that result in their erasure as well as prejudice from people outside of the community. Those who are less educated on the sexuality spectrum often believe that bisexuals are promiscuous, and that if they like more than one sex or gender, they must be sleeping with different people all the time. Similarly, these individuals believe that bisexuals are never satisfied sexually or romantically; if they’re dating a person of one gender, they’ll always itch for a person of another gender. Both of these (wildly untrue) beliefs can create a sense of insecurity for a person dating someone who is bisexual. After all, that person believes they’ll never be able to satisfy their partner or call their partner their own. That insecurity results in a feeling of lost power, which is the most significant cause for IPV.

The same individual may even go so far as to believe that their bisexual partner should not be friends with people of any gender, since their partner is attracted to more than one. Not only does this reinforce the person’s insecurity, but it harms their bisexual partner; their bisexual partner gradually becomes isolated from friends and thus loses a major source of support, which is a form of psychological manipulation and abuse. Such behaviors are also frequent “gateways” to escalated, physical behavior.[4]

Though insignificant to some, the word “bisexual” might be another factor that contributes to the myth that bisexuals are promiscuous. The word “sexual” is a blatant part of the sexuality’s name; while monosexual people get to come out as gay or lesbian, bisexual people have to come out via a term that immediately brings up the topic of sexual, versus romantic, attraction. Ideally, this wouldn’t be an issue. But bisexual individuals (particularly women) have heard it used as an excuse for lewd comments a thousand times. When somebody, inevitably a man, is scolded for asking a bisexual woman if she’d be willing to have a threesome or saying her sexuality is “hot,” they argue that they couldn’t help it; the term is biSEXual, after all, so sex is immediately on their mind.

Promiscuity, even if a bisexual woman does fit its definition, doesn’t justify disrespect. A woman deserves dignity and respect whether she sleeps with one person or one hundred throughout her lifetime. However, “slut-shaming” is still prominent in many modern cultures, and plenty of people maintain that a woman who “gets around” is less virtuous than a woman who does not. Sensing a pattern here? Those who view bisexual women as promiscuous and frown upon promiscuous people are arguably more likely to psychologically or physically abuse that woman. The lack of respect for bisexual women helps the abuser to justify violence toward them—even if the abuser is in a romantic relationship with the victim.

These mental justifications aside, bisexual women possess fewer resources than their straight and lesbian peers when they experience violence. Bisexual women are frequently berated both by hetereosexual people and the LGBT community, normally for not appearing to be queer enough; both claim bisexuals “can’t make up their minds” or that they’re merely experimenting sexually but using it to invade the queer community. As a result, bisexual women may not find comfort or assistance in resources that gay and lesbian people can use, like queer-specific shelters and fundraisers. Even emotional support can be hard to come by in the LGBT community.

All of these elements combine to make a dangerous environment for bisexual women. Insecurity resulting from a bisexual woman’s identity, prejudice toward bisexual people or the queer community in general, and the oversexualization of bisexual women may contribute to their high rate of violent victimization.

Bisexual people who are “out of the closet” are prone to a similar level of outward hatred and violence as gay and lesbian people, but with the added disadvantage of possessing a sexuality that is widely misunderstood. Though we lack data to explain why bisexual women experience the highest rate of violence, it’s reasonable to believe that these circumstances influence the varied rates of victimization among lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women.

Sources

[1] Farnsworth, S. (2016). Bisexuality And Intimate Partner Violence: Enabled And Encouraged. HuffPost: The Blog. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephanie-farnsworth/bisexuality-and-intimate-_b_11648872.html

[2] HRC (2017). Bisexual FAQ. Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/resources/bisexual-faq

[3] Walters, M.L., Chen J., & Breiding, M.J. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_SOfindings.pdf

[4] Break the Cycle (2014). Know the Signs: Spotlight on Isolation from Friends and Family. Break the Cycle: Dating Violence Blog. Retrieved from https://www.breakthecycle.org/blog/know-signs-spotlight-isolation-friends-and-family

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