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Lesbian Survivors : Chicago, Illinois, Rape Victim Advocates...helping victims become survivors since 1974
Lesbian Survivors

Lesbians, and bisexual women, are in some ways no different from other survivors, but they have their own issues and special needs. Like many survivors, a lesbian may have to deal with Rape Trauma Syndrome. Their extra needs and issues can be broken down into institutional and personal challenges.

Institutional Issues
Not all, but many survivors end up dealing with police and hospital personnel. This interaction can pose a problem that is familiar to many lesbians and some bisexual women. The question of when or if to come out (reveal that one is not heterosexual) can be difficult at this time of crisis. Many lesbians, even those who have not been raped, might recognize this conversation with a doctor:

Doctor, "Are you sexually active? Is there any chance that you're pregnant?"

Patient, "Yes and No."

Doctor, "Have you been sexually active recently?"

Patient, "Yes."

Doctor, (condescending look) "Then how do you know you're not pregnant?"

So, a lesbian dealing with medical personnel in the emergency room after a rape may likely have the added problem of deciding if and when to come out. The decision to come out or not to come out can be an every day reality of being gay. That issue does add stress to an already difficult situation, when rape is also an issue. There is a legitimate fear for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that coming out will adversely affect one's treatment.

This fear is probably increased when dealing with law enforcement. Lesbian survivors might be afraid that the police won't be as vigorous in their investigation if they come out, or that the information will become public knowledge if it comes out in court. Depending on the extent of one's secrecy, this can be a real concern.

Another institutional concern with lesbians and bisexual women, as well as for gay or bisexual men and transgender people, is the dearth of specialized and competent services available.

Personal Issues
In addition to the hassles of dealing with various institutions, some of the more personal effects of the rape may be different for lesbian and bisexual survivors. Firstly, it is not uncommon for a lesbian survivor's partner to exhibit symptoms of the attack and the Rape Trauma Syndrome herself. The chance of this is increased if the partner is also a survivor, but it does happen when this is not the case. This can be very distressing, as the partner feels that she should be focusing on the survivor, and yet has her own issues to deal with.

If another woman rapes a lesbian or bisexual woman, this can create a great deal of distrust in other women. A sense of betrayal only complicates what is often a socially isolated experience for lesbians and bisexual women. If lesbian or bisexual woman experiences activity she has never known before, such as certain types of penetration or an encounter with a male, this can be additionally traumatic.

For many survivors, finding supportive and non-judgmental support can be challenging. However, those challenges can be compounded by a general lack of supportive and nurturing people in the lives of lesbian and bisexual women.


*Rape Victim Advocates serves on the Joint Management Team of The Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline, a program of the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago-Loop Women's Services, along with the YWCA of Chicago-Harris Women's Services, Community Counseling Centers of Chicago's Quetzal Center, Pillars Community Services' Midway Sexual Assault Victim Services, and Mujeres Latinas en Accion."

** This is a national hotline available 24/7 that will connect a caller to the nearest rape crisis hotline or rape crisis center all over the US.