The biggest weapon relied upon by perpetrators of sexual assault is the expectation of silence from their victims. This silence proliferated by fear, shame, self-blame and threats of retaliation by the perpetrator, makes sexual assault one of the most under-reported crimes. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), there were over 4,000 violent incidents against LGBTQ+ persons tracked by Anti-Violence Projects throughout the United States in 2000. Only eighty (80) of those incidents involved reported cases of sexual assault/rape of an LGBTQ+ person. Perpetrators are aware that in some communities, LGBTQ+ persons must deal with potential discrimination and disbelief by the criminal justice system, unwanted media attention, and disclosure of their sexual orientation. For that reason, the LGBTQ+ community has been a vulnerable target for many perpetrators of sexual assault including "closeted" married women and men, military personnel, or single parents. Disclosing the sexual assault poses a risk of losing their job, family, and/or friends.
The dynamics of under-reporting are complicated, and involve several different factors:
- Sexual assault is commonly perceived as male against female violence. This stems from the misconception that men cannot be victims of sexual assault. Similarly, women are rarely considered perpetrators in same-sex violence.
- In heterosexual relationships, there are certain gender roles that exist. In same-sex relationships, this is not always the case. For the most part, there are no gender-dominant roles that exist in a same-sex relationship. Nevertheless, an intimate partner can also be sexually assaulted in the relationship; it is not exclusive to heterosexual relationships. The sexual assault is usually a part of a bigger issue known as intimate partner violence (IPV). IPV can exist in both heterosexual and LGBTQ+ relationships, as it is not about sex, but rather about power and control.
- If an LGBTQ+ person is struggling to "come out", they may believe that the sexual assault could simply been a 'first-experience' - something everyone must go through when coming out. This way of thinking might cause someone to remain closeted. They may not be able to make the distinction between consensual sex and sexual assault.
- A person, who is sexually assaulted by an acquaintance, may be less likely to report the sexual assault. Since many homophobic individuals portray LGBT people as being sexually promiscuous and predatory, disclosing the assault only reinforces the stereotype. The person may beleive that disclosing the sexual assault would somehow "betray" the LGBTQ+ community.
- Some people are reluctant to utilize support services offered at an LGBTQ+ center. Since the LGBTQ+ community is so close-knit, confidentiality may be a concern for many survivors. They may know someone who works at the center, or the perpetrator may be an employee of the center, thus creating an unsafe place for them to disclose any information about the sexual assault.
- Finally, the LGBTQ+ survivors may not know that they are able to utilize services at a rape crisis center. They may feel that they can only receive services through an agency that would understand their sexual orientation and sexual identity. Rape crisis centers may need to model that they are a competent resource for LGBTQ+ survivors. Creating collaborations with LGBTQ+ centers or groups is a way to reach the community to provide support and advocacy on issues pertaining to rape and sexual assault.