Women's Experiences of Male-Perpetrated Sexual Assault by Sexual Orientation

By Long, Susan M.; Ullman, Sarah E. et al. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Women's Experiences of Male-Perpetrated Sexual Assault by Sexual Orientation


Long, Susan M., Ullman, Sarah E., Long, LaDonna M., Mason, Gillian E., Starzynski, Laura L., Violence and Victims


This study examined differences in male-perpetrated adult sexual assault experiences among women of various sexual orientations using a large urban convenience sample (N = 1,022). Results showed many similarities in disclosure to others, perceived helpfulness, and attributions of blame, but there were also differences by sexual orientation. Heterosexual women were more likely to experience completed sexual assault than lesbian or bisexual women. Lesbians were more likely to be assaulted by relatives than bisexual or heterosexual women. Finally, bisexual women disclosed the assault to the greatest number of formal support sources, were most likely to tell a romantic partner about the assault, received the fewest positive social reactions overall, and had higher posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology.

Keywords: violence against women; lesbian; bisexual women

National surveys cite sexual assault figures ranging from 20% to as high as 30% among women in the United States (Russell & Bolen, 2000; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Given that research shows many negative consequences of sexual assault, including fear, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, negative social reactions, and revictimization (Basile, 2005), these figures are especially shocking. Although much research has focused on the negative effects of sexual assault on women generally, little research has examined its specific effects on nonheterosexual women (Balsam, Rothblum, & Beauchaine, 2005). The rates of adult sexual assault for sexual minority women range from 15% to 36%, similar to or slightly higher than the rates for heterosexual women (Balsam et al., 2005; Bradford, Ryan, & Rothblum, 1994; Grundlach, 1977; Hughes, Johnson, & Wilsnack, 2001; Morris & Balsam, 2003; Pitt & Dolan-Soto, 2001; Scheer et al., 2003). Possible differences in lesbian and bisexual women's sexual assault experiences and mental health outcomes postassault remain understudied (Descamps, Rothblum, Bradford, & Ryan, 2000; Hughes et al., 2001; Scheer et al., 2003). Therefore, this study examines male-perpetrated sexual assault experiences and outcomes for lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women.

The current study focuses on male-perpetrated assault because men perpetrate most sexual assaults against women in general (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Additionally, studies examining sexual assault by sexual orientation also find that, despite higher rates of assault by women for lesbians and bisexuals than heterosexual women, men still perpetrate a majority of the sexual violence against women of all sexual orientations (Balsam et al., 2005; Bradford et al., 1994; Brand & Kidd, 1986; Moore & Waterman, 1999; Morris & Balsam, 2003). For example, the National Lesbian Health Care Survey consisted of nearly 2,000 lesbians, the majority of whom were White and earned a low income (Bradford et al., 1994). Of the respondents, 15% reported sexual abuse as an adult, with female perpetrators accounting for less than 11% of cases (Bradford et al., 1994). In a sample of predominantly White college students, all of the female survivors of sexual assault in a dating relationship were assaulted by a male dating partner, including four lesbian and two bisexual women (Moore & Waterman, 1999). Finally, a large-scale nationwide convenience sample of lesbian and bisexual women found that most adult sexual assault was perpetrated by men (Morris & Balsam, 2003).

It does appear that lesbians, bisexual, and heterosexual women experience different forms of sexual assault (Balsam et al., 2005; Scheer et al., 2003). Using a community convenience sample of nearly 1,200 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual siblings to compare lifetime physical and sexual victimization, the authors showed that lesbian and bisexual women were significantly more likely to experience nonpenetrating sexual coercion, coerced intercourse, and completed rape than heterosexual women. …

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