The catastrophic levels of violence against bi/pan/fluid people in the US

March is Bisexual Health Awareness Month. As a bi person myself, I’m going to do a couple of posts about bi/pan/fluid/omni/etc issues, which I will be referring to as bi+ issues because “bi/pan/fluid/omni/etc” is a bit cumbersome to type and read.

There’s this very widespread perception out there, including among bi+ people who aren’t aware of the facts, that the main issues facing bi+ people are 1) queer communities and the media not acknowledging bi+ people, and 2) when and only when bi+ people are in same-sex or similar-gender relationships, the same issues that face gays and lesbians. To be clear, these are both really important issues and worth discussing (and the former, I suspect, contributes to some of the issues that I’m going to be talking about). But there’s so many other bi+ issues that aren’t discussed enough in general and rarely ever discussed outside of bi+ circles.

Guess what? Bi+ is NOT “gay/lesbian-lite.” While it’s true that some bi+ people can sometimes pass as straight and that can allow them to access certain aspects of straight privilege, bi+ is not the special privileged-ish subcategory of LGBTQ. There are issues that affect bi+ people worse than they affect either straight or gay/lesbian people. And they don’t just affect bi+ people with similar-gender or same-sex partners (in fact, some of them, as you will see, are more likely to affect bi+ people with different-gender/different-sex partners).

Today I’m going to talk about bi+ people and violence in the United States (if any readers have info on how this plays out in other countries, please feel free to tell me in comments!). I apologize for the binary-gendered nature of a lot of the numbers that I’ll be throwing out, but the institutions that tend to do the research, with the exception of the NCAVP, also tend not to understand that nonbinary people exist.
There’s a lot of shocking numbers in this post. When I’ve quoted any of these stats to people in the past, usually what I hear is “But WHY would these issues affect bisexuals more than either straight people or gays and lesbians?” and the answer is that we don’t really know. Until recently almost no researchers even bothered to separate bi+ people as a category. I could make some decent guesses (e.g. high rates of sexual violence being related to how bi+ people are hypersexualized by society, high rates of intimate partner violence being about both straight and gay/lesbian partners feeling threatened by their bi+ partner’s sexuality), but they are just that, guesses based on my knowledge of biphobic stereotypes.

Sexual Violence and Stalking, Except by Police/Corrections

Bi+ women are 2.65 times more likely than straight women and 3.52 times more likely than lesbians to experience attempted or completed rape*, with a lifetime rate of nearly 1 in 2 (CDC NISVS 2010).

Bi+ women are 1.73 times more likely than straight women and 1.61 times more likely than lesbians to experience some form of sexual violence, for a total of about three quarters of bi+ women. Bi+ men are 2.28 times more likely than straight men and 1.18 times more likely than gay men to experience some form of sexual violence, for a total of nearly half of bi+ men (CDC NISVS 2010).

Bi+ women are 2.36 times more likely than straight women (number not reported for lesbians) to be stalked (CDC NISVS 2010).

Bi+ women who are incarcerated in state prisons are 1.38 times more likely than straight women and 1.41 times more likely than lesbians to be sexually assaulted by fellow inmates. Bi+ men in state prisons are 9.63 times more likely than straight men, though less likely than gay men, to be sexually assaulted by fellow inmates (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008).

Intimate Partner Physical Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking

Bi+ women are 1.75 times more likely than straight women and 1.39 times more likely than lesbians to experience physical violence, rape, or stalking from an intimate partner, with more than 3 in 5 bi+ women having experienced this. Bi+ men 1.29 times more likely to experience it than straight men and 1.43 times more likely than gay men. Bi+ women were much more likely to experience this from men, and bi+ men from women (NISVS 2010).

Bi+ women are 2.09 times more likely than straight women and 1.68 times more likely than lesbians to experience what the CDC characterizes as “severe” physical violence from an intimate partner. To pull out a couple of examples, a full 15% of all bi+ women have had a partner attack them with a knife or gun, and more than a quarter have been choked or suffocated by a partner. Unsurprisingly given all this, bi+ women were the most likely group of women to have ever been phyically injured by partner violence (more than a quarter of all bi+ women) or had PTSD symptoms because of partner violence (nearly half of all bi+ women) (NISVS 2010). These stats are backed up by the NCAVP, a coalition of LGBTQ-serving anti-violence programs across the US, which reported in 2013 that their bi+ clients who reported partner abuse (including all genders) were 1.6 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by a partner, 2.2 times more likely to experience physical violence from a partner, and 2.6 times more likely to be injured by a partner, than their entire sample of LGBTQ clients who reported partner abuse (NCAVP 2013).

Bi+ women are 3.31 times more likely than straight women to have a partner who tried to get them pregnant when they did not want to become pregnant (NISVS 2010). Just throwing this out there, I wonder if the stereotypes of bi+ people, and especially female-presenting bi+ people, as promiscuous cheaters who will inevitably leave their partners, have anything to do with this – if the partners are trying to use pregnancy to anchor the bi+ person to the relationship.

Police and Corrections Violence

Bi+ people who reported hate or police violence to NCAVP member programs were 3 times more likely to experience police violence than the overall LGBTQ/HIV+ sample reporting hate or police violence to NCAVP member programs in 2013 (NCAVP 2013). And LGBTQ people in general are already, according to Amnesty International, at particular risk for police violence.

Bi+ men who are incarcerated in state prisons are 3.37 times more likely than straight men and 1.48 times more likely than gay men to be sexually assaulted by prison staff. Bi+ women in state prisons are 2.02 times more likely than straight women, and statistically equally as likely as lesbians, to be sexually assaulted by prison staff (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2008).

The Aftereffects

Given these horrifying numbers, it should perhaps not be surprising that the lifetime prevalence of PTSD for bi+ people, using DSM-IV criteria, is 17.4%, 1.76 times higher than for gays and lesbians and 2.2 times higher than for straight people.

As I already described above, nearly half of bi+ women had PTSD symptoms (note that having some PTSD symptoms is not the same as having PTSD, you need a specific number and combination of symptoms for that) from intimate partner violence alone.

Conclusion

Folks, these are appalling numbers. One in two bi+ women raped, more than one in seven attacked with a knife or a gun by a partner, three in four bi+ women and one in two bi+ men sexually assaulted, and on and on? More than one in six bi+ people with PTSD? These should be prominent LGBTQ issues, but they’re rarely seen as such, because bi+ people are widely seen as a privileged-ish subgroup that only sort of/conditionally counts. LGBTQ funding for bi+ issues and organizations is minimal when it exists at all. That’s why I’m writing this post. To spread awareness.

References for this post

NISVS 2010 full report and breakdown by sexual orientation
Bureau of Justice Statistics: Sexual Victimization Reported by Former State Prisoners 2008
NCAVP Intimate Partner Violence Report 2013
NCAVP Hate/Police Violence Report 2013

*The CDC defines rape as rape by penetration only, and includes rape by enclosure/being forced to penetrate as part of non-rape sexual violence.

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