One in three LGBTQIA+ people in Flanders and Brussels has experienced physical aggression in the past two years, a new survey reports.
UZ Gent (Ghent University Hospital) and Transgender Infopunt (Transgender Infomation Point) conducted two years of research into the violence experiences of LGBTQIA+ people. The researchers surveyed 936 LGBTQIA+ people who were at least 15 years old and had lived and/or worked in Flanders and Brussels for at least two years. In addition, a qualitative component was linked to the research through focus groups and interviews. The survey was commissioned by the self styled Flemish Minister of Society Bart Somers (Open Vld). Officially, he is Flemish Minister of Domestic Administration, Administrative Affairs, Civic Integration and Equal Opportunities.
Somers: “It is extremely important to gain insight into the precise experiences of violence of LGBT people, transgender people and intersex people. This way we can know where and how we can intervene better, and what we should focus on with policy. To work towards a more tolerant society, but first and foremost, of course, a safer society. Because fear limits freedom.
Violence is still an everyday and widespread reality for LGBTQIA+ people:
- More than 9 out of 10 respondents indicate that they have experienced at least one form of verbal or psychological violence.
- 36.5 % indicate that they have experienced at least one form of physical violence.
- 64.5% indicate that they have experienced at least one form of sexual violence.
- More than a quarter of the respondents indicate that they have experienced at least one form of material violence.
“I had eggs thrown at me on Halloween 2020 and then I was chased by a group of young people who laughed at me, asked me if I was male or female, thus making it clear that they had a problem with my gender expression”, BGP (24), a bi + gender diverse person, testifies.
At the same time, government officials and LGBTQIA+ activists know that there is a major under-reporting and that victims do not or do not take the step to the police, victim support or other assistance.
- Most respondents indicated that they were stunned and unable to respond. In the case of sexual violence, more than three in ten respondents indicate that they acted as if nothing had happened.
- It seems that the victims undergo the violence passively, but the interviews show that the main reaction to verbal/psychological and physical violence is to bring oneself to safety by creating distance between oneself and the perpetrator(s).
- Less than 15% of the respondents indicate that they have contacted the police after experiencing a violent incident.
- Physical and material violence are most frequently assessed as a crime and therefore a criminal offence, while verbal or psychological and sexual violence are more likely to be regarded as a fault but not a crime.
In addition to mapping the prevalence and experiences, a questionnaire was also designed so that evolutions over time can be observed in a subsequent measurement.
Matter of urgency
“New figures for violence research among LGBTQIA+ people are disappointing. Safety and well-being of LGBTQIA+ people must be taken seriously as a matter of urgency”, LGBTQIA+ umbrella organisation çavaria responds to the survey.
“The figures are staggering and confirm what we have known for some time: LGBTQIA+ people in Flanders are confronted with a lot of verbal, psychological, physical, sexual and material violence. This has a major effect on their physical and mental well-being. Almost 70% of the participants in the study say they have seriously considered suicide at some point. That is too much, it urgently needs to change.”
“Belgium is doing well in terms of legal acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people. Unfortunately, there is still much work to be done in terms of social acceptance. This in the welfare sector, in education, in the workplace, and in the social environment of LGBTQIA+ people.”
“The numbers from the survey all point to one thing: there is urgent work to be done for policymakers at all levels”, says Eef Heylighen, spokesperson for cavaria.
More to be done
“There are promising projects that actively work towards a safer society for LGBTQIA+ people, but it is not enough. The safety and well-being of LGBTQIA+ people must be taken seriously. Our policymakers must urgently take (more) action in their field of work. If they fail to do so, it is negligence. We are always willing to give advice and work together for this.”
The last Flemish figures on violence in the community were published about 10 years ago. Those numbers were also far from okay.
“And although the studies cannot be compared exactly, one thing is clear: there is little positive evolution.”
Lower well-being than average
The research shows that the average life satisfaction among LGBTQIA+ people is 6.5 out of 10.
26% even give a score below 5 out of 10. For the general Belgian population, this is 7.4 out of 10 (Study Sciensano 2018).
In addition, 69.1% have seriously thought about ending their life at some point and 52% even thought about it more than once.
What does çavaria expect?
- A specific well-being policy for LGBTQIA+ people that recognizes that they are at greater risk of lower well-being and thoughts and/or suicide attempts.
- Structural funding from the Welfare department for target group-oriented initiatives that work on the mental well-being of LGBTQIA+ people, such as our Lumi information and listening line and other suicide prevention projects.
- Furthermore, continue to work in places where LGBTQIA+ people can be safe, find the support they need and are not abused or worse. An example of this is the ‘Safe(r) Familiar Environments‘ project that we are currently carrying out together with LGBTQIA+ organization for young people Wel Jong and with the support of Equal Opportunities Flanders.
Perpetrators in close proximity
More than 4 in 10 of the participants in the study knew the perpetrator of their worst experience of violence.
In the case of sexual violence 5% by (plus) parents, 46% by acquaintances or friends. Victims also indicated that they need someone in their immediate environment to share their experience with. This need was often not met.
What does çavaria expect on these aspects? Attention to the social equality of LGBTQIA+ people by sensitizing and informing their (plus) parents, brothers & sisters, friends… This way they can become more aware of their impact on the well-being of the LGBTQIA+ people in their network.
An unsafe workplace
In the study, among other things, 14.3% of victims of sexual violence indicated that the perpetrator was a colleague or superior at work.
What does çavaria expect? A structural and overarching approach for the workplace that focuses on the safety and protection of the (physical and mental) health of LGBTQIA+ employees. Because everyone has the right to work under safe conditions.
Bullying behavior at school
Violence and/or bullying behavior between students at school is often expected. The research also shows that some teachers and management are partly responsible for violence, sometimes unconsciously. In the case of verbal/psychological violence, 17.5% of LGBTQIA+ people indicate this.
Teachers and management should ensure the safety of all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
What does çavaria expect? Extra effort by the Department of Education to launch and support additional initiatives in addition to the current initiatives. This so that we can train and sensitize even more teachers, management, CLB employees… about the impact of their words and actions.
The survey called ‘Genoeg-Enough-Assez‘ is an initiative of Equal Opportunities Flanders.
The research was carried out by Aisa Burgwal, Jara Van Wiele and dr. Joz Motmans of UZ Gent and Transgender Infopunt. With this research they sought an answer to the question “What experiences do LGBTQIA+ people have with violence in the past two years?”.
The aim of the research was twofold: to gain insight into the number and nature of the violence experiences of LGBTQIA+ people and to also draw up a questionnaire that can be repeated in a number of years. In the future, we will have concrete figures with which we can compare and analyze what works and what doesn’t.
Summery of the study
The qualitative and quantitative data that were collected show that:
- 93.1% of all respondents indicated that they had experienced at least one form of verbal or psychological violence during the two years prior to the study.
- Nine out of ten respondents (92.6%) who report having experienced this type of violence report that at least one of the incidents happened because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or intersex experience.
- When it comes to physical violence, 36.5% say they have experienced at least one form of physical violence.
- Of the respondents who have experienced this type of violence, 53.8% indicate that they have had at least one experience of physical violence because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or intersex experience.
- Furthermore, 64.5% indicate to have experienced at least one form of sexual violence.
- 67.4% of those who report having experienced sexual violence indicate to have experienced at least one experience of sexual violence because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or intersex experience .
- When it comes to equipment violence, 27.2% of the respondents indicate that they have experienced at least one form of this type of violence.
- Of these respondents, 31.9% report having experienced at least one experience of material violence because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or intersex experience.
Age, economic vulnerability, and avoidance behavior are important variables associated with violence in general. For example, it appears that younger respondents, economically vulnerable respondents and respondents who adjust their clothing and physical appearance to prevent violence more often experience verbal and/or psychological, physical and sexual violence.
In the case of material violence in general, there appears to be only a significant connection with economic vulnerability. This is how respondents report it more difficult to make ends meet material violence significantly more often.
Furthermore, it appears that homosexual, bi+, and queer persons report significantly more often that they have experienced physical violence in general in the two years prior to the study.
With regard to LGBTQIA+ specific violence, the adjustment of clothing and physical appearance appears to be an important variable in predicting verbal and/or psychological violence and physical violence.
For example, respondents who often to always avoid being openly themselves for fear of negative reactions report more LGBTQIA+ specific verbal and/or psychological and physical violence.
The interviews and focus groups show that the direction of this relationship is probably reversed: experiencing violence leads to hiding one’s own identity by adjusting one’s appearance in such a way that it conforms more to what society expects.
In LGBTQIA+ specific physical violence, belonging to an ethnic group also plays a role. For example, LGBTQIA+ persons belonging to an ethno-cultural minority generally report significantly more experiences with this kind of violence.
Furthermore, age appears to have an influence on LGBTQIA+ specific violence. For example, older respondents report significantly more often LGBTQIA+ specifically physical and material violence than younger respondents.
In LGBTQIA+ specific material violence, there is a significant connection with religion. Respondents who indicate that they are religious report significantly more experiences with LGBTQIA+ specific material violence. For LGBTQIA+ specific sexual violence, no variables emerge from the analyzes related to differences in sexual violence experiences.
The impact of COVID-19 on all forms of violence is ambiguous. The largest group always indicates that their experiences of violence have not changed during the lockdown periods, a smaller share indicates that experiences of violence have started/improved/exacerbated.
High impact event
With regard to the context of violence, most respondents indicate that the worst experience of verbal and/or psychological or physical violence is during the day occurred and/or on a weekday. Most respondents also indicated that the verbal and/or psychological violence or the physical violence occurred on a public road or a place accessible to the public.
This is not the case with sexual violence. Most respondents indicate that the high-impact event occurred in the evening or at night (34.4%). Most respondents also indicate that sexual violence in places of entertainment (dance hall, party, discotheque) or takes place in the hospitality industry (19.9%).
In the case of material violence, the picture is unclear, because a considerable amount large group always indicates that they do not know when, by whom, etc. this type of violence was committed, because they themselves were not present during the incident.
When asked about the reaction during the most impactful incident of verbal/psychological or physical violence, most respondents indicated that they were stunned and unable to respond.
It therefore seems that the victims undergo the violence passively, but the interviews show that the main reaction to verbal/psychological and physica violence is that one brings oneself to safety by creating distance between oneself and the perpetrator(s).
In the case of sexual violence, more than three in ten respondents indicate that they acted as if nothing had happened (31.3%) or that they were stunned and not could respond (28.6%).
When it comes to the response to material violence, people indicate that they did not have time to respond (22.6%) and/or were stunned and unable to respond (20.3%). Also 27.8% indicate that they have a different response, of which eight respondents indicate that they have not responded at the moment because they weren’t there.
In at least half of the most impactful violent incidents, the perpetrator’s behavior does not change as a result of the response of the respondent. This is to be expected since a large number of respondents do not respond or are unable to respond. The interviews and focus groups show that people are afraid to react as this could lead to the situation escalating.
The profile of the perpetrator remains fairly stable regardless of the type of violence. The largest group of respondents indicated that only one perpetrator was involved in the incident with the greatest impact (from 29.9% for material violence to 73.5% for sexual violence).
In more than four out of ten cases, the respondent knew the perpetrator when the most impactful incident was questioned. For example, one’s own parents (or step/parents-in-law) were frequently mentioned (from 5.0% for sexual violence to 29.3% for material violence), an acquaintance/friend (from 14.7% for physical violence to 46% for sexual violence), and peers, teachers and school management (from 15.8% for physical abuse to 17.5% for verbal abuse).
In more than eight out of ten cases of verbal or psychological, physical and sexual violence, the perpetrators were men (from 83% for verbal abuse to 86.5% for sexual violence).
A smaller percentage indicated that the perpetrator of the impactful incident was a woman (from 10.8% for sexual assault to 27.1% for verbal assault).
In the case of material violence, the largest group did not know the gender of the perpetrator, as they were not present when the material violence was committed (45.6%).
When asked whether the perpetrator had one or more characteristics that set him apart from the majority in Belgium, the largest group again and again that this was not the case (from 25.4% for material violence to 40% for verbal abuse).
A smaller proportion of the respondents indicate that the perpetrator belongs to an ethnic-cultural minority (from 10% for material violence to 25.5% for verbal abuse), of which an even smaller share indicates that this perpetrator has a non-white skin colour (from 6.2% for material violence to 21% for verbal abuse).
The reasons for violence (the underlying motives) in the incidents with the greatest impact were also queried for each of the respondents. In verbal abuse, sexual orientation is most often emphasized by gay, lesbian, bi+, and gender diverse individuals (from 52.6% for bi+ individuals to 79.5% for homosexual persons).
Gender expression, on the other hand, is mentioned more often in trans (49.3%) and gender diverse people (54.7%). Physical violence becomes sexual orientation is still most emphasized among homosexual persons as a motive for violence (77.8%), while lesbian and gender diverse persons are more likely to report their emphasize gender/femininity (43.2% of lesbians and 44.7% of gender diverse people).
Gender identity and gender expression are most emphasized by trans people (54.9% and 38.8%). The same is found in sexual violence for homosexual persons (75.9% for sexual orientation) and trans persons (54.9% for gender identity and 35.3% for gender expression).
Again, women are the most likely to emphasize their gender (or perceived gender/femininity) as a reason for sexual violence (45.5% of the lesbian women & 52.4% of bi+ women).
After the incident with the most impact, the majority of respondents reported feeling angry (from 41% for sexual violence to 70.2% for material violence), feeling sad (from 27.1% for sexual assault to 51.9% for verbal abuse), fear (63.5%), and/or disgust (45.6%).
Depending on the type of violence, certain emotions come to the fore.
In terms of needs, most respondents indicated that just after the incident, they mainly needed someone in the immediate vicinity to tell (of 45.4% for material violence to 71.4% for verbal abuse), regardless of type of violence. A large number of respondents indicate that this need is not fulfilled (from 21.9% for material violence to 39% for physical violence).
With regard to the impact of the violence, all respondents indicate that the most impactful experiences mainly continue to have an emotional impact on daily life (69.7% for material violence, up to 79.4% for sexual violence).
Whether the high-impact incident is assessed as a crime (and therefore offense) or as foul (not a crime) depends on the type of violence. Physical and material violence are most frequently assessed as a crime and thus a criminal offense (48.7% and 60.9%), while verbal or psychological and sexual violence are more likely to be seen as a fault but not a crime (47.3% and 37.9%).
The high percentage that only judges sexual violence as a mistake has more to do with the hands-off/hands-on nature of sexual violence.
When only looking at hands-on sexual violence, the largest group indicates that the incident is a crime, a criminal offense (44.1%). For hands-off violence, only 33.2% indicate that the act is a crime, 38% rate it as an error.
Reporting behaviour and support from the environment
Only 14.4% of the respondents indicate that they have contacted the police after experiencing a violent incident. A high reporting intention among respondents did not necessarily translate into reporting behaviour, but other variables turned out to be important in reporting behaviour.
For example, it turned out that LGBTQIA+ respondents in the Brussels-Capital Region reported significantly more often their experiences of violence. Experiencing physical and/or material violence also significantly predicts the chance that people have reported experiencing violence.
This is not illogical, since physical and material violence were also more often judged as a crime. Respondents who said they had not experienced any incident reported, were asked for their reasons (n = 441).
The most common reasons given were ‘I didn’t think the incident was bad enough’ (57.6%), ‘I mainly wanted to put it behind me, close it down’ (36.7%), and ‘I was afraid that the police would not take my case seriously’ ( 31.7%).
The interviews show that this fear can arise from what a participant experienced himself, but also from media reports about how the police handled cases or from the stories people hear from their environment. Besides the fear of not being taken seriously, there is a fear that they will end up with someone who has no knowledge of the subject, who will not reassure them or show empathy.
An additional barrier is the fear that nothing will happen as a result of the report.
The majority of respondents do seek support from LGBTQIA+ friends (65.1%), other friends (68.7%), and/or current partner (51.6%) after experiencing violence. One in ten respondents indicates that there is not to have spoken to anyone about it (10.6%).
Impact of violence on mental well-being
Experiences of violence are also associated with the mental well-being of LGBTQIA+ people.
For example, respondents who have experienced physical violence in the past two years report significantly lower life satisfaction than respondents who have not experienced physical violence.
LGBTQIA+ respondents who have experienced verbal and/or sexual violence also report suicidal thoughts significantly more often, while only sexual violence is significantly associated with the risk of a suicide attempt.
Also the mental well-being was measured with the GHQ-12, which showed that LGBTQIA+ respondents who had experienced material violence in the past two years, report significantly lower mental well-being.
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