The Hidden #MeToo Epidemic: Sexual Assault Against Bisexual Women

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The #MeToo movement is invaluable to sexual assault and rape survivors. It’s created an unparalleled site of solidarity and potential for dialogue.

Part of that dialogue means noting the gaps. The silences #MeToo leaves behind are as important as the voices it encourages.

For me, this meant remembering, “What? How can a woman rape you?” and “Oh. I didn’t know you had a girlfriend,” as the primary reactions to my sexual assault narrative.

#MeToo and its discursive aftermath have also exposed our societal assumptions about rape and other forms of sexual violence — assumptions that aren’t all true. Often, I see rape and sexual violence, including harassment, framed by media outlets as a cishet male/cishet female problem: A heterosexual man harasses, rapes, or sexually assaults a heterosexual woman.

While this framework overlooks many realities about sexual assault, the one I’m focusing on here surprised me, in part precisely because I’m part of the demographic in question.

Bisexual women are three times likelier to be raped than heterosexual women, and are also likelier to be raped than lesbians, according to the 2010 CDC report on intimate partner/sexual violence according to sexual orientation.

The stats are grim.

The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35 percent of heterosexual women and 44 percent of lesbians.

46 percent of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 13 percent of lesbians and 17 percent of heterosexual women. This means that the rate of forcible rape experienced by bisexual women is about 2.6 times higher than that of straight women and 3.5 times higher than that of lesbian women.

22 percent of bisexual women have been raped by a romantic partner, in comparison to 9 percent of heterosexual women.

Overall, 75% of bisexual women report experiencing some form of sexual violence, in comparison to 43% of heterosexual women and 46% of lesbian-identified women, and 49.3% of bisexual women are victims of severe physical intimate partner violence.

The data is overwhelming. But why are bisexual women so vulnerable to sexual assault? Nicole L. Johnson and MaryBeth Grove identify some possible reasons in the September 2017 issue of the Journal of Bisexuality.

#1: Hypersexualization and Objectification

There is little question that biphobic stereotypes contribute to our victimization. Bisexual women are often seen as hypersexual, as sexual objects, or as readily available for others’ sexual pleasure (i.e., the threesomes initiated by cis heterosexual couples looking to “spice things up”) before their own. These stereotypes are dehumanizing and reduce bisexual women to pornographic fantasies, in addition to potentially exacerbating our vulnerability to sexual predation.

#2: Substance Abuse, Trauma, and Mental Illness

Almost half (48.2%) of bisexual women and over a quarter of heterosexual women (28.3%) were first raped between the ages of 11 and 17.

Trauma begets trauma, and this increased incidence of childhood sexual assault is partly to blame for bisexual women’s higher rates of mental illness. 45.4% of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide, in comparison to 29.5% of lesbian women and 9.6% of straight women.

The prevalence of childhood abuse, sexual and otherwise, experienced by bisexual women both catalyzes and exacerbates their experiences of sexual trauma in adolescence and adulthood. Bisexual women are likelier to suffer from substance abuse problems and PTSD than are their gay and straight counterparts, both of which exacerbate the long-term effects of rape and sexual assault.

#3: Stigmatization and Lack of Social Support

In addition to initial incidences of sexual assault, bisexual women are likelier than gay or straight women to experience revictimization afterward. Revictimization includes anything that exacerbates or perpetuates the trauma of sexual assault (or any trauma), including victim-blaming, a lack of accessible community and/or professional resources, and further sexual assault after the initial incident(s).

Bisexual women are disproportionately vulnerable to all of these forms of revictimization. Because of their (false) reputation as hypersexual, bisexual women are often painted as attention-seeking or as “deserving” of sexual assault or harassment, and are thus blamed for their trauma.

Because of their exclusion from both “straight” and LGBT communities, bisexual women often don’t report their experiences of sexual assault, fearing judgment, shaming, or misunderstanding from mental health professionals, law enforcement, and community members. Like other members of the LGBT community, many bisexual women are ostracized from their families, but they’re also often left out of “mainstream” gay communities as well.

#4: Intersectionality

Bisexual people of all genders are statistically likely to occupy multiple marginalized identities. They are more likely than gay or straight-identified people to be people of color and to identify as disabled or trans.

This means that the majority of bisexual individuals are dealing with multiple forms of marginalization, all of which increase one’s vulnerability to sexual assault and to subsequent revictimization.

It’s strange to belong to a vulnerable part of the community, and to know that in effect, you’re a statistic. But movements like #MeToo can catalyze dialogues about the underexplored areas of sexual violence and rape — as long as we’re willing to look at the facts.

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