Gay men, lesbians and bisexuals are more likely to end up victims of violent crime than heterosexuals, according to a study recently released by Statistics Canada.
Sexual Orientation and Victimization, a study based on data from a 2004 Stats Can General Social Survey, found that the odds of being victimized by violent crime — including physical and sexual assault and robbery — were nearly twice as high for gay men and lesbians and 4.5 times as high for bisexuals as compared to heterosexuals.
“It confirms other statistics out there about violent crime toward the LGBTQ communities,” says Howard Shulman, coordinator of the Anti-Violence Program at the 519 Community Centre. “Most of the research in the past was done in the US so to actually have Canadian stats is useful but unfortunately it just confirms the research that was done in the past.”
While the study identifies a number of commonalities among those likely to experience violence — being single, living in urban areas and going out at night on a frequent basis — sexual orientation remained one of the biggest factors.
Although the study was based on data from 2004 Shulman points to the number of complaints of victimization The 519’s Anti-Violence Program receives as proof that violence against queers is a problem that’s still with us.
“I know that in terms of our statistics, in 2007 the number of reports about bias crime or harassment was up 16 percent over 2006 so they did rise,” Shulman says. “Certainly the numbers are lower from the numbers we would get from, say, 15 years ago but hate crimes, bashing, verbal harassment are still happening.”
Cheryl Dobinson, a queer health researcher and a member of the Toronto Bisexual Network feels bisexuals are at an increased risk for abuse because internalized homophobia or biphobia may leave them feeling unworthy of taking care of themselves, emotionally or physically.
“Bisexual people can sometimes end up feeling that there is nowhere that they truly belong,” says Dobinson. “Because of biphobia that sometimes comes from gay and lesbian communities and the stigma that is attached to being bisexual in some gay and lesbian circles as well as in the straight world, bisexual people can experience minority stress that can have an impact on their mental health.
“Isolation, lack of social support and drug and alcohol use can also have a relationship to low self-esteem and leave bisexuals feeling unworthy of self-care and safety and can increase their exposure to risky situations.”
Dobinson says bisexuals may be particularly likely to experience sexual violence.
“Bisexual women, for instance, may experience sexual assault from male friends or acquaintances who think that being bi means a woman must want to have sex,” she says.
The Stats Can study also revealed that gay men, lesbians and bisexuals experience higher levels of spousal abuse than heterosexual couples. Fifteen per-cent of gay men and lesbians reported spousal violence while the figure for heterosexuals was half that, at seven percent.
The report also found discrepancies in reports of discrimination. The proportion of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals who felt they were discriminated against was found to be three times higher than heterosexuals. Nearly 42 percent of gay men and lesbians and 47 percent of bisexuals felt they had experienced some form of discrimination in the past five years — most commonly in the workplace or when applying for a job — compared with 14 percent of heterosexuals.
Relations with police was another area that queers felt less than satisfied with than their straight counterparts. Fewer than 42 percent of gays and lesbians felt the police were doing a good job of treating them fairly while 60 percent of people who identified as straight thought the police were conducting themselves in a fair manner.
“Given the statistics of people’s satisfaction with regard to the police… people in the LGBTQ communities are still having difficulty in reporting to the police and having their cases taken seriously and having police follow up with them,” says Shulman. “I think those are issues that still remain.”
Despite the sobering statistics the study found that the majority of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals asked — more than nine out of 10 — felt “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with their personal safety, a rate similar to heterosexuals Canadians, and one that seems to be at odds with victimization rates.
“It’s a bit surprising,” says Dobinson. “There are a couple of different things that I think could be going on. One is that our communities might have normalized a certain level of victimization due to living in a homophobic and biphobic society.
“Another is that living in this type of society may have led to us becoming more resilient in some ways, that we might be less willing to live in fear even though we know that being queer may put us at risk.”
Shulman says it would have been more useful to study rates of violence among trans people, a group historically left out of similar studies
“In terms of rates of violence against the transsexual and trangendered communities their experiences with the police and issues like those would be useful to have statistics because I would guess that the rates would be much higher in terms of violence,” says Shulman.