Violence and Abuse
I kept it to myself because it was an embarrassing thing: I was bigger than she was....When people hear about rape, they think of a man raping a woman. It's hard to envision one woman raping another.
Although the majority of rapes are committed by men, women can and do rape.1 As with sexual assaults committed by men, the perpetrator may be a partner, an acquaintance, or a stranger, and it can happen to any woman, regardless of her sexual orientation.
|last summer i was raped by a butch i met from a website. we had been talking online for months…i went to see hym….one thing led to another, and i ended up in the hospital having surgery to repair a 3 inch tear inside my vagina. hy fisted me, with no glove and no lube, the way one would put their hand through a wall.|
The experiences of women who are sexually assaulted by other women are not widely enough known or discussed. This silence makes it harder for those of us who are sexually assaulted by women to get appropriate health care and support. Service providers, media, educators, and assault survivors can help end this silence by talking more openly about this abuse.
Legally, definitions of rape and sexual assault differ from state to state. Some states define rape as an act perpetrated by a man against a woman. Others use an inclusive definition of sexual assault that does not state the sex of the victim or perpetrator and that lists a range of behaviors such as penetration by object, fingers, or penis.
Because of the widespread ignorance and denial surrounding sexual assault of women by women, those of us who are abused by other women may experience a different sort of shock than women who are raped by men. We also may feel that no one will believe us, and therefore be reluctant to seek help.
|The next summer I reread my journal, and still remembered the parts that I had erased, hoping it would go away. It hit me that what had happened was rape. I was furious as all hell.|
If we are raped by a woman and are not lesbian or bisexual, we may fear that people will assume we are gay. Those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) and are raped by a partner or acquaintance are often even more reluctant to use the court system. Fear of homophobia and transphobia, having to be “out” in court, and a history of bad relations with police keep many LGBT individuals away from seeking legal redress.
Women who are sexually assaulted by women experience the same short-term and long-term emotional consequences of the assault as women who are assaulted by men. These may include post-traumatic stress symptoms of fear, trouble sleeping, nightmares, dissociation, anxiety, and sexual problems. Sexual violence may also lead to difficulty trusting others, needing time off from work, inability to concentrate, and a host of other stress-related consequences.
Because society does not widely recognize female-perpetrated sexual assault, women who experience it are less likely to call crisis lines or go to therapists immediately after the assault.
| I had never heard of women doing that, so it just didn't fit into my reality. |
If the sexual violence occurs within the context of an abusive relationship, the other forms of abuse may be acknowledged long before the sexual abuse is. The reluctance to talk about it and the difficulty framing this abuse as rape buries this form of abuse. If a woman gets a restraining order against her female partner, it will usually be for other forms of violence, not the sexual violence.
Denial that we have experienced rape also can mean that women do not seek medical treatment when we need it after an assault. Some women may not be honest about how we sustained our injuries. Transwomen are especially unlikely to seek medical care due to concerns about how we will be treated by health care providers.
Being sexually assaulted by another woman, whether a partner, acquaintance, or stranger, often causes feelings of betrayal, confusion, isolation, and self-doubt. This form of abuse must be acknowledged so that we can get the support and assistance we deserve and need.
If You Are Sexually Assaulted by a Woman: What You Need to Know
- Get the support you need. Reach out immediately to a trusted friend or family member, or call a hotline listed in the Resource section for help. Having this support will be critical if you encounter homophobia or insensitivity in the process of reporting the crime or getting medical attention, which can be a stressful experience. Some rape crisis centers provide an escort to the hospital or to report the crime.
- If you are not lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and you have been sexually assaulted by a woman, organizations supporting LGBT people will also be supportive of you, so do not hesitate to contact them.
- Seek medical attention: Sexual assault may put you at risk for STIs and infections. If you have injuries, you will also need treatment. Even if you are unsure if you will report the crime, you should have a Rape Kit exam. Consider going to an LGBT health center for this exam, if there is one in your community, even if you are not gay, since they will likely be most sensitive to your experience. It is important not to shower before going to the doctor.
- Report the rape to the authorities. Laws vary according to each state in terms of what constitutes rape or sexual assault. A rape crisis center in your area should be able to advise you on your options and the laws where you live.
- If you experience ignorance, transphobia, or homophobia during this process, do not give up. Continue to seek the support you need: It is out there.
- As time goes by, continue to have a support system in place. Talk about your experience; find a therapist or support group. You are not alone.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
- The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA)
This national organization has a thorough website that includes a listing of LGBT health centers and a health care referral system for finding an LGBT-friendly health provider in your area.
- The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP)
A coalition of more than 20 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victim advocacy and documentation programs located throughout the United States. Can provide referral to programs across the country.
- The Network/LaRed
(617) 423-7233 v/TTY
English- and Spanish-language services for lesbian, bisexual women, transgender folks, MTF & FTM transexuals, intersexed folks, and women involved with other women.
- Fenway Violence Recovery Program
Toll-free: (800) 834-3242
Hours: 9-5 EST
The Violence Recovery Program provides counseling, support groups, advocacy, and referral services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) victims of bias crime, domestic violence, sexual assault, and police misconduct.
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
Toll-free: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
The nation's largest anti–sexual assault organization. RAINN operates the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline and carries out programs to prevent sexual assault, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice. If you call the toll-free number, you will be connected to a rape crisis center in your area.
Girshick, Lori B. Woman-to Woman Sexual Violence: Does She Call It Rape? Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002.
Leventhal, Beth and Sandra Lundy. Same-Sex Domestic Violence: Strategies for Change. Thousand Oaks California and London: Sage Publications, 1999.
Renzetti, Claire M. and Charles Harvey Miley. Violence in Gay and Lesbian Domestic Partnerships. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press, 1996
Renzetti, Claire M. Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships. Thousand Oaks California and London: Sage Publications, 1996.
1 This article deals with sexual assault committed by women against other women. If you are a man who has been sexually assaulted by a woman, please see: http://www.malesurvivor.org/default.html.
Written by: Lori B. Girshick and Shannon Berning. Special thanks to Trina Jackson.
Last revised: April 2005
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