‘This is a crisis’: Panel discusses support for gay Black and Latino male sexual assault survivors


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Pitt’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Office held an event on Thursday afternoon titled “Supporting Gay Black and Latino Sexual Assault Survivors,” which focused on male sexual assault survivors of marginalized communities, specifically gay Black and Latino men.

By Allison Radziwon, Staff Writer

Even though over half of all gay and bisexual men are sexually assaulted during their lifetime, Daniel Jacobsen López said gay men of color who experience sexual assault are largely ignored if they choose to report their abuse. For López, sexual assault against gay Black and Latino men is “a crisis” that needs to be acknowledged.

“More than half of gay and bisexual men at some point in their life are being sexually assaulted. This is a crisis. This is a public health crisis,” López, a postdoctoral associate of the Graduate School of Public Health, said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed, and that really isn’t given attention.”

Pitt’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Office held an event on Thursday afternoon titled “Supporting Gay Black and Latino Sexual Assault Survivors,” which focused on male sexual assault survivors of marginalized communities, specifically gay Black and Latino men. The discussion went into detail on the reporting experience of these people and how to support survivors in reporting their abuse. Pitt held the event in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is in April.

López, whose doctoral research mainly focuses on developing trauma-informed services for gay male sexual assault survivors of color, referenced a statistic from last year’s AAU Campus Climate Survey — a report examining the current state of sexual assault and misconduct on 33 university campuses, including Pitt. The survey found that 24.5% of non-heterosexual students had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. Lopez said for gay and bisexual men, there is a 18% to 47% chance of being sexually assaulted during their lifetime.

“Gay male undergraduates here at Pitt are experiencing very high rates of nonconsensual sexual contact. I think that definitely is something that needs to be kept in mind on what the University can do to support gay men undergraduates here,” López said. “Also to be aware of undergraduate gay males, as far as making sure they’re recieving the support that they need as well.”

Carrie Benson, the prevention and education coordinator at Pitt’s Title IX office, also spoke briefly at the event. Benson said it’s important to be “broad” in legal definitions of sexual violence, such as rape, as many survivors could doubt themselves due to specific definitions, when in reality they did indeed experience sexual violence.

“When we overuse definitions, in some ways we’re dictating to folks how they should react to that experience. So that if someone has experienced sexual harassment, we don’t want that person to think … ‘It wasn’t physical, so I shouldn’t feel this way … I should be able to handle it,’” Benson said. “I agree with stripping down the language to look at how the experience was to that individual.”

Pitt’s Title IX office serves to help students suffering from sexual violence, such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape. Students can submit an anonymous report online, email [email protected] or call 412-648-7860. They can also contact the University Counseling Center for 24/7 support by calling 412-648-7930.

López said many male survivors of sexual assault are unaware that resources for women survivors are also available to men. He said women’s shelters, such as Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, offer support for men who have experienced sexual violence.

López said many gay Black and Latino men who seek help often experience both physical assault and dismissive behavior by the police or hospital staff. He said many men of color who request STD and HIV tests are “denied” due to their race or ethnicity and of the 14 sexual assault survivors he was able to talk to, only four ever sought help.

“One man who went forward and reported — he was Latino non-Black — but he went forward to report that he had been sexually assaulted. When he did, at the hospital, they tied him down to a chair with arm restraints,” López said. “They sedated him with a needle because he viewed himself as a threat to himself and/or others, and he was put out and he fell asleep that night because of the sedation … and he knew it was because he was Latino.”

Will McGinnis — a representative of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, a local organization that helps survivors of sexual or relationship violence — said masculinity plays both a protective and a barrier role when it comes to sexual violence. He said because masculinity is seen as “heterosexual” in society, many male survivors with male perpetrators fail to come forward. 

“I was really struck by that quote about … how masculinity is sort of a barrier … I think often when we’re doing masculinity work we often house it within a heterosexual masculinity,” McGinnis said. “Not even thinking outside of that sort of dynamic, and thinking about how masculinity plays across all sexualities as well, as sort of a protective factor and barrier factor in not only reporting sexual violence but connection to community.”

López said many male survivors fear being seen as less manly, so they never report the sexual assault they experienced. 

“There’s the belief that men can’t be raped, so this goes to the masculinities. The belief that men should be strong and tough and muscular, so they should be able to fend off somebody who’s going to attack them or rape them,” López said. “So if a man is raped, there’s that belief that it couldn’t have happened. That it’s not possible, that if you’re a true man, you would’ve been able to prevent being raped.”

López said the best way to help gay Black and Latino sexual assault survivors is to tell them they’re “believed.” He said the survivors he talked to that did come forward were able to find the resources they needed to find closure. 

“One thing that really stood out to me was that for all the men who had negative experiences were able to go to somebody else, whether that was another organization or another social service provider, and they were able to go to them and disclose to somebody else,” López said. “They all had somebody who ultimately did believe them, who did validate them and got the services that they needed.”

A previous version of this story said the event was hosted by the School of Social Work. It was hosted by the Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Office. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Pitt News regrets this error.