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Survey reveals NZ's rainbow community more than twice as likely to experience sexual violence, family harm

People who are lesbian, gay or bisexual are more than twice as likely to experience sexual violence or be harmed by family members than the national average, a new survey finds. 

Rainbow flag (file photo). Source: Associated Press

Figures released today by the Ministry of Justice from the Crime and Victims Survey found people in rainbow communities are less likely to tell police about offending, despite reporting they are more likely to experience harm. 

Ministry of Justice deputy secretary Tim Hampton said he hoped the survey’s findings would raise awareness about the issue. He said it showed, for the first time, “the disproportionate level of victimisation for the LGB+ community”.

“There are many vulnerable communities that need our focus and support when it comes to crime and victimisation, and the LGB+ community is certainly one of them,” he said.

The survey, based on data from 16,000 adults collected in the 12 months to March 2018 and September 2019, found 41 per cent of lesbian or gay adults and 47 per cent of bisexual adults experienced crime in a 12 month period. That compares to the national figure of 30 per cent. 

For bisexual adults, the survey finds 68 per cent will experience intimate sexual violence or sexual violence. The national average is 29 per cent. 

Compared to the national average of 2.1 per cent, lesbian, gay and bisexual adults are also more than twice as likely (5.1 per cent) to experience offences by family members.

However, only about 14 per cent of incidents toward bisexual adults and 23 per cent towards lesbian or gay adults are reported to police, compared to the national average of 24 per cent. 

People in rainbow communities are also “much more likely” to feel the crime they’ve experienced is motivated by others’ attitudes towards their sexual orientation, the report finds.

Findings of the survey are shared across the justice sector, including with police, Corrections and Oranga Tamariki.

‘Unfortunately, I’m not surprised’  

Tabby Besley, the managing director of rainbow support group InsideOUT, said it was good to see data on a national level about the issue. In the past, data for New Zealand on the issue had only been available from small studies, she said.

“Unfortunately, I’m not surprised,” Besley said of the survey results. 

“Working in rainbow communities, unfortunately we do hear people’s experiences in this area, and many of us have our own experiences.”

She said the reasons behind the statistics found by the survey were varied and complex, and more research was needed.

“One idea I had around that is there are these narratives still out there that you can change someone’s sexuality … So, unfortunately, sometimes sexual violence can be motivated by this idea,” she said.

“Another part, I think, is because people are experiencing so much discrimination … Many people have been brought up with a sense of internal homophobia or transphobia.”

She said this can sometimes then play out within close relationships. 

Bisexuality, at times, was also hypersexualised in the media, she added.

Besley said the issue of violence also needs to be considered within the wider context of what rainbow communities face. 

“The issue isn’t just around violence. Rainbow communities are also often experiencing really difficult mental health challenges due to the discrimination that we face, and that leads to other things like poverty, marginalisation and really high substance abuse, which we know often correlates to incidents of sexual violence or violence in general.”

Besley said it was also common to hear about the challenges people in Rainbow communities faced when trying to get support or when reporting an incident to police. For example, people who were gender diverse may face uncertainty about going to a women’s refuge, she said. 

“A big part of it is, I think, a fear that it won’t be treated the same as if they were heterosexual.” she said.

“Word of mouth is very powerful in our communities. So, if you know someone's had a bad experience, you're probably not going to take the chance yourself. 

“I think, as a marginalised population, we get so used to experiencing that kind of homophobia, transphobia with people that are meant to protect us and support us in those situations.”

She said there is “a lot of work to be done” to ensure sexual and family violence agencies, as well as police, are safe places for rainbow communities to go to. 

‘It’s up to the Government to partner with the Rainbow community’

The independent Chief Victims Adviser to the Government, Dr Kim McGregor, said she is “particularly pleased” to see that research into the issue of family harm and sexual violence in the rainbow community is being conducted by a Government department.

McGregor said the data would give the Government the evidence it needs to be able to target its response, and form policy and create social services that can cater to the needs of the rainbow community.

“Now, it's up to Government to partner with the rainbow community to come up with tailored responses and strategies to co-design solutions,” McGregor said.

“We’ve needed this research for a long time, because we’ve heard from the rainbow community over decades that they have been aware of intimate partner violence, sexual violence at very high levels. 

“Now we have the evidence so that the Government can target their responses to the violence that we have heard about.”

McGregor, who is also the director of specialist sexual violence prevention and intervention service company Tiaki Consultants, said abuse is “largely based on the use of power and control”.

“Those who choose to use power and control often use existing power imbalances in society to control and to harm others. 

“Those who choose to use power and control against those in the rainbow community will often use heterosexism and existing homophobia to control and to harm. 

“So, when any group is marginalised, it’s really difficult and complex for them to reach out for help.”