Report finds one fifth of queer college women experience intimate partner violence

This week, the Association of American Universities released a massive report with data on sexual and gender-based violence from 27 American universities. This is huge. 

This is huge because basically, people have been using the same one-in-four or five statistic about women’s incidence of sexual assault on college campuses from the same study for at least as long as I’ve been paying attention (okay, 2011; I’m young) — and sadly, though unsurprisingly, this statistic remains the case. 

But this is also extra super huge because of what it tells us about queer and trans students’ experiences of sexual and intimate partner violence. Spoiler alert: We experience a lot of it. And when you take into account factors like disability, these numbers get all sorts of depressing in lots of intersectional ways.

For example: According to this report, queer college women are almost twice as likely as their straight counterparts to experience intimate partner violence. Holy shit.

Holy shit because, if we weren’t reading the report for this statistic, we would probably miss it entirely.

I’ve written before about how the myth of the perfect victim of sexual violence hurts us all, and I think we can see that especially in the lack of attention given to queer people’s experiences of sexual and intimate partner violence. As feminists, we’ve tried so hard for so long to convince people that yes, things for women are really that bad that sometimes we fail to take into account the full range of how violence works, and how multiple forms of marginality render some of us particularly vulnerable. Too often, when we say “women,” we assume “heterosexual” and “cisgender.” And while hetero and cis women do experience more violence than their male counterparts — scarily more — queer and trans women, queer and trans men, and gender non-binary people are just as, if not more likely, to be victimized.

Let’s start with the one-in-four statistic — which is plenty alarming in and of itself. On average, across all 27 universities, 23 percent of undergraduate cis women reported having been the victim of nonconsensual sexual contact, ranging from penetration to sexual touching, since enrollment in college, while 5 percent of men reported the same. In addition, 9 percent of undergraduates and 12.8 percent of cis women – reported having experienced intimate partner violence. 

chartBut as this chart shows, students who identify as transgender women or men, genderqueer, non-conforming, questioning, and as anything else not listed (TGQN) — who were all lumped into one category for the purposes of this study —  face even higher rates of gendered violence. For example, 12.4 percent of TGQN undergraduates reported having been sexually assaulted with penetration by force or incapacitation, compared to 10.8 percent of undergraduate cis women. A heartbreaking 22.8 percent of TGQN students also reported experiences of intimate partner violence.

If we break these numbers down further, we find that queer students of all genders are also scarily likely to be victimized. 22.2 percent of lesbian and 21.3 percent of bisexual undergraduate women, respectively, reported experiencing intimate partner violence, as compared to 11.9 percent of undergraduate heterosexual women. At the same time, 13.1 and 17.2 percent of undergraduate gay or bisexual men, respectively, experienced intimate partner.

Yup: According to this report, queer women are almost double as likely to experience intimate partner violence than heterosexual women. Queer men are slightly more likely. And as past studies have revealed, the group most likely to experience “nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation” (eek) is bisexual women: A staggering 31.7 percent of us reported having been victimized. Guys. THIRTY ONE POINT SEVEN PERCENT. That’s almost a third of us. That’s terrifying.

Finally, when we take into account other factors — particularly disability — we find that the picture is even worse. For example, while a depressing 18.4 percent of female undergraduates without a disability reported “nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation,” an even more depressing 31.6 percent of female undergraduates with a disability reported the same.

I was a senior in college at the time the survey was administered last spring, and I happened to be randomly called into a focus group asked to comment on the report, its clarity of questions, and its applicability to my campus. (Which is a damn lucky random sampling if I do say so myself.) It was almost a year since my own experience of intimate partner violence on that campus had ended, and I spent the morning furiously marking the sample survey, writing detailed tracts in the comments section, wanting them to get it right, wanting the instrument to be big enough to measure our pain, and sensitive enough to map its contours.

Wanting it to include us.

Now that the report’s come out, I keep thinking, yes, I was there, I was counted, we were there, we were counted

But for us to really count, for us to really matter, we can’t just have data: We need to read the data correctly. If we go into reading this report, and extrapolating information from this report, with our blinkers on — with the assumption that only cis straight girls get abused — we let injustice slip by right under our noses. And we continue to alienate those among us who remain most vulnerable.

So: As we assimilate this new information in the ongoing fight against sexual violence on college campuses and everywhere, let’s all remember to read not only for what’s most obvious, but for who’s most vulnerable. We’re here, and we hurt, and it happens, and we need you to pay attention.

You can read a summary of the report, or if you’re brave, the entire report.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

Read more about Reina

Join the Conversation