Adult lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to report childhood abuse and adult sexual assault than their heterosexual counterparts, according to a new study.
Furthermore, the study by Dr. Keren Lehavot from the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, USA and her collaborators revealed that women who are more butch report more abuse in childhood, particularly physical and emotional neglect, while women who identify as femme, and have a more feminine appearance, report more adult sexual assaults.
It is yet not fully understood why sexual minority women are at greater risk of being abused both as children and adults compared to heterosexual women.
Using data from the Rainbow Women’s Project in the US, a national, web-based survey of adult women who identify as lesbian/gay and bisexual, the researchers examined whether reported experiences of childhood abuse and adult sexual assault differed among sexual minority women of varying gender identity (butch, femme, androgynous, or other) and gender expression (more butch/masculine vs. more femme/feminine).
A total of 1,243 adult sexual minority women completed an anonymous Internet survey posted on various listservs and website groups. Regarding gender identity, 40 percent of participants identified with the term ‘femme’ and 15 percent with the term ‘butch’.
“The sexual minority women in our sample reported high rates of childhood abuse and neglect and adult sexual assault. Women who described themselves as more butch reported significantly greater childhood emotional and physical neglect. Those who identified themselves as more femme reported significantly more forced adult sex,” Dr. Lehavot said.
Dr. Lehavot pointed out the identifying the most vulnerable among this group is critical.
The researcher also suggested that clinicians and providers working with sexual minorities should consider the role of gender identity and expression in targeted assessments and interventions.
The work has published online in Springer’s journal, Sex Roles.