Two years ago, Andre Faria ’21 arrived on campus from the small town of Paintsville, Kentucky. Beginning a new chapter at Yale, far away from his conservative hometown, Faria — after many nights of questioning his sexuality and its validity — came out as gay..
Two weeks later, soon after Camp Yale, he was sexually assaulted by a fellow first year, a man he considered a new friend.
Faria said that, at the time, he downplayed the experience, choosing not to report it because it did not seem like “a big enough deal.” He was insecure and self-conscious about his sexual orientation, suddenly living on a campus with both a robust queer community and an often-heternormative culture. He recalled thinking to himself, “Clearly you shouldn’t have come out, clearly this wasn’t a good choice or this wouldn’t have happened to me.”
The sexual climate for students with marginalized sexualities and gender identities is fraught on two fronts. For one, queer people face inordinate rates of prejudice and sexual violence for the simple fact of their identities and desires. And when sexual violence occurs within queer communities, as it did in Faria’s case, stigma, underrepresentation and a fear of isolation can obstruct justice and the healing process.
The 2015 AAU Campus Climate Survey — which interviewed over 6,500 then-students at Yale — found that over 20 percent of transgender, genderqueer and gender non-conforming students had been victims of nonconsensual penetration, which was higher than the rates for either cis men or cis women. In addition, non-heterosexual students reported higher rates of sexual misconduct — including sexual harassment, intimate partner violence and stalking — than heterosexual students.
The survey aligns with trends documented outside of Yale: LGBTQ individuals face a greater risk of sexual violence than the rest of the American population, according to survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bisexual and gay men face a rate of sexual violence twice that of their heterosexual counterparts, and over 45 percent of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 17 percent of heterosexual women. Nearly 50 percent of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.
However, Yale’s semiannual Title IX reports — which document all informal and formal complaints of sexual misconduct reported to the University — paint a different picture. Between January 2015 and June 2018, just 56 of 663 total complaints reported to Yale — fewer than 9 percent — involved two men, two women or a person with another gender identity.
In the most recent report of 160 complaints, comprising those filed between July 1, 2018 and Dec. 31, 2018, only three involved two women, 12 involved two men and two complaints involved someone of another gender identity.
Gabe Murchison ’14, a Ph.D student at Harvard and former researcher at the Human Rights Campaign who has conducted extensive research on sexual violence in LGBTQ communities, said he suspects that AAU survey better reflects reality. Most perpetrators of sexual violence are men, Murchison said, so sexual misconduct is most likely to affect populations that would be more often sexually active with men, such as gay and bisexual men, bisexual women and heterosexual women. However, because sexual orientation is not included in Yale’s Title IX reports, Murchison emphasized that inferring the full scope of sexual assault in the queer community solely from these reports is impossible.
Yale’s Title IX reports are intentionally vague when it comes to people’s gender identities in order to protect the confidentiality of those involved, according to Boyd. Prior to 2015, Yale’s reports included the genders of complainants and respondents in complaint summaries, but eliminated gendered language from the reports in response to requests from Title IX student advisory boards and faculty advisors. Murchison said he and other members of the Title IX student advisory board were concerned that using gender pronouns in the reports created privacy concerns, especially since complainants and respondents who use they/them pronouns would likely be easily identifiable. The reports now present the gender of complainants and respondents in aggregate form, and complaint summaries contain gender-neutral language.
Language isn’t the only obstruction. While a handful of students end up filing complaints to the University, many queer students who experience sexual misconduct face unique barriers to reporting their experiences, according to several students, administrators and experts interviewed by the News. For some students, fear that their identities will not be recognized or respected during the process and a lack of trust in University procedures keep them from notifying University officials of their sexual assaults.
Sky Gavis-Hughson ’19, last year’s head peer liaison for the Office of LGBTQ Resources and former member of Trans@Yale, said in an interview last year that queer students may feel like Yale does not provide them with adequate mental health services and that Yale lacks transparency around medical resources available for trans students. As a result, these students are less likely to trust the University’s other resources and processes, such as Title IX reporting.
“As you move toward more marginalized communities, people become increasingly distrustful of Yale,” Gavis-Hughson said. “They feel like Yale isn’t providing for them in other ways, so why would they provide for them in this way? I think I would be nervous if I were going through a [University Wide Committee] process that not everyone in that process would know or use my pronouns correctly even if I told them. And to be putting yourself in such a vulnerable position and not have basic parts of your identity respected would be pretty upsetting.”
Naming one’s experience as sexual misconduct can be challenging for any survivor, according to Director of Office of Gender & Campus Culture Melanie Boyd, but queer students can find this act even harder.
“Usually, the violation is by someone the person trusts and sometimes even loves — there are a lot of cognitive processes that kick in to excuse the behavior and make it tolerable, even if it doesn’t feel okay,” Boyd said. “Queer people, who so often have to struggle against our heterosexist culture to affirm their own self-worth, can find it even harder to name those betrayals, especially if they are by someone from within the community.”
Queer students who are not publicly out are also more likely to keep experiences of sexual assault secret out of fear that reporting will out them or their perpetrators. Queer students may want to “protect other members of their community from harm — even members who have hurt them,” Boyd added. And according to Murchison and Gavis-Hughson, since queer communities tend to be smaller and more tight-knit, students are less likely to feel comfortable reporting sexual misconduct if they share a community with their perpetrator.
“I think the way queer social circles are set up makes it more likely that a queer person will have to continue to be in spaces with someone who has perpetrated sexual misconduct against them, which I see as a major issue. Either they will have to exist in those communities or make a choice about either reporting or leaving the community,” Gavis-Hughson said. “I think that certainly affects straight people but probably disproportionately affects queer people.”
As sexual assault has become a prominent topic of conversation at Yale with the #MeToo movement, making space for LGBTQ students’ experiences has proven complicated.
Some students expressed frustration that campus discourse and workshops tend to focus on heterosexual assault perpetrated by men against women at the expense of queer visibility.
For instance, the video shown in the mandatory bystander intervention workshop for sophomores, which are administered by CCEs, perpetuates the prevailing narrative of man-on-woman sexual assault. Faria said that depicting non-heterosexual scenarios in these workshops would reinforce to queer students that sexual assault can also happen to them.
While Boyd acknowledged the implicit bias of the video, she said it was preferable to the alternative.
“At this point, I wouldn’t want to show a video of a same-sex assault,” Boyd said. “I would worry that would reinforce harmful stereotypes.”
Faria, too, described insisting his assault was a “fringe case” as something of a defense against the historical conflation of gay men and sexual predators.
But according to Faria, choosing not to show a same-sex couple for that reason only discourages students who are gay from reporting as they will question whether they are also contributing to that stereotype. He emphasized the importance of teaching students that anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of sexual misconduct. Gavis-Hughson echoed this sentiment, saying that while members of the LGBTQ community do not necessarily need to feel fearful of potential sexual misconduct, they “need to have a healthy understanding of the fact that our community is not immune to sexual misconduct.”
Several student-led initiatives from the Office of LGBTQ Resources are working to encourage the de-sexualisation of queer spaces.
CCEs regularly host “queer speed friending” events to allow queer students to “find interpersonal connections and broader their base of potential support,” according to Boyd. And beyond the University support network, student groups host events that allow queer students to interact in low-pressure spaces. For instance, student wellness group Beyond the Binary hosts crafts and cookies social events on a regular basis.
Students and administrators expressed adamantly that survivors of sexual misconduct should not feel pressured to report their experiences to the University. Gavis-Hughson emphasized that “data cannot come before individual needs” and reporting is not always necessary for a survivor of sexual misconduct to heal. Still, Faria said Yale can take steps to address unique challenges that queer students face in reporting sexual misconduct and build trust in the University’s procedures for reporting sexual misconduct.
Boyd reiterated that she hopes queer students dealing with sexual violence know that they can find help in Yale’s resources, including SHARE, Title IX and the UWC.
“At the same time, we know that many students — especially students in marginalized communities — will not choose to make a report,” Boyd wrote in an email to the News. “But we hope that every student gets support somewhere. No one should have to go through this alone.”