Victimization Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Individuals: A Meta-Analysis

Article excerpt

On October 28, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the hate crimes bill into law, making it a federal crime to assault an individual based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the General Social Survey, in the past few decades, attitudes toward sexual minorities have improved, and there has been an increase in support for legal rights (Davis, Smith, & Marsden, 2010; Loftus, 2001). Nonetheless, hate crimes based on sexual orientation--such as threats of violence, verbal harassment, and physical and sexual assault--are widespread. Collection of hate crime statistics, as well as research on other types of victimization, has increased over time, following the passage of the Hate Crime Statistics Act on April 23, 1990 (United States Congress, 1990). In 2008, law enforcement agencies in the United States reported that there were 9,691 victims of hate crimes, 17.6% of whom were targeted because of a bias against a particular sexual orientation (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009). Of course, these statistics represent only the tip of the iceberg because they count only the incidents reported to law enforcement. Being victimized based on sexual orientation not only results in poor physical health if the individual is injured, but is also linked to other negative outcomes for the victim, such as poor mental health (Meyer, 2003). This meta-analysis quantitatively compiled the results of relevant studies to examine the prevalence and types of victimization experienced by lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals.

Definitions and Theories of Sexual Orientation-Based Victimization

The Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 requires the U.S. Attorney General to collect data "about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity" (U.S. Department of Justice, 1999, p. 1). A hate crime has additionally been defined as "an illegal act involving intentional selection of a victim based on a perpetrator's bias or prejudice against the actual or perceived status of the victim," and has both symbolic and instrumental functions (Craig, 2002, p. 2). To the perpetrator, the victim symbolizes the despised social group, such that victimization represents the perpetrator's bias against that group. The victim's symbolization of a particular group is not related to identification with the group but, rather, to whether the perpetrator views the victim as being representative of the group. Instrumentally, hate crimes against an individual may change the behavior of the social group in reaction to the victimization (e.g., moving away from a specific neighborhood), thus rewarding the perpetrator's actions. Some studies distinguish between victimization based on the perpetrators' perceptions of sexual orientation and victimization based on the perpetrators' knowledge of actual sexual orientation; other studies do not make this distinction. This meta-analysis included all three types of studies.

Victimization has been defined as "harms that occur to individuals because of other human actors behaving in ways that violate social norms" (Finkelhor & Kendall-Tackett, 1997, p. 2). In most nations around the world, victimization based on sexual orientation takes place within the context of heterosexism and heteronormativity in which heterosexuality is considered the norm. Heterosexism has been defined as "the ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigmatizes any non-heterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship or community" (Herek, 1994, p. 91). In this context, mainstream society consists of heterosexual men and women, and anyone whose sexual orientation falls outside of these two categories is considered a sexual minority. Both institutional and interpersonal heterosexisms, which are often manifested in sexual-orientation-based discrimination, harassment, and violence, create a hostile climate for sexual minorities (Fernald, 1995). …