In the second article for the LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Group's blog takeover to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Elly Savva discusses the abuse and barriers to support bisexual people face.
While the erasure of bisexuality is being discussed more widely, there is a darker side to the bi experience that we need to talk about. As well as being more likely to suffer from mental illness and substance addiction, it is painfully common for bisexual people to experience abuse. Compared to both heterosexual and homosexual people, the bi community experience disproportionately high rates of intimate partner violence and sexual violence. If you look behind closed doors, a worrying picture emerges.
A 2018 United Nations report found that the number of bisexual people who experience abuse globally was “shocking”, citing the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey which found that 37% of bisexual men and 61% of bisexual women had experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking. For those who experience multiple oppressions, these rates are even higher. For example, evidence from America suggests that bi trans women are the demographic most at risk. These statistics suggest that over half of bi women are survivors. This means that if you’re a bisexual woman, you’re more likely than not to have experienced abuse. Why is this happening?
Quoted in the Independent, intimate partner violence researcher Dr Nicole Johnson explained there are three areas of vulnerability that heighten bisexual womens’ risk. Firstly, the perpetration of biphobia may have normalised violence, as the reinforcement of the stereotype that bisexuals are ‘not to be trusted’ has been linked to their mistreatment. Fetishised media representations (particularly in pornography) may also have led to the normalisation of violence, as persistent hypersexualisation has fuelled distrust and dehumanisation. Additionally, propensity to substance misuse means bisexuals are also more likely to end up in ‘high risk’ situations (although Dr Johnson emphasised that no matter the circumstance, it is never the fault of the victim).
These three vulnerabilities also illustrate why bi survivors often struggle to be believed. As biphobic stereotypes portray bisexuals as promiscuous and untrustworthy, and if substance misuse is a factor, this ties neatly into the victim-blaming narrative. If you don’t fit the archetype of a ‘perfect victim’, the questions are often turned on you. A famous example of this can be seen by the public treatment of Amber Heard. Despite the legal ruling which found Johnny Depp to be guilty of 12 counts of violence against her, crowds flocked outside the courtroom in his support and displayed the statement “ditch the witch”. Heard has always been public about her sexuality, which led media outlets to speculate on her loyalty and suggest her “bisexual tendencies” fuelled Depp’s jealousy. Although his mistrust of her sexuality may have been one of the causes of his violence, it is something that is routinely weaponised against her as it feeds into the idea that she shouldn’t be believed.
On top of being more likely to experience abuse and less likely to be believed, it is difficult for bisexual survivors to get the right support. While personal barriers affect the community’s perceptions of abuse, systemic barriers mean that most services are not designed for them. Although there are multiple LGBT+ specific charities and organisations for survivors, the alienation that bisexual people often experience from the queer community makes them less likely to reach out to these places for help. They also struggle in mainstream settings, with Stonewall research finding that 21% of bi respondents felt that healthcare professionals didn’t understand their specific problems, and 22% reported experiencing inappropriate questioning when trying to access support.
Currently, many bi survivors feel ostracised from both mainstream and LGBT+ organisations, while also dealing with the weight of experiences of violence. As abuse is such a prevalent issue within the bisexual community, there needs to be more of an emphasis on providing specific help. Although such services are currently few and far between, the Bi Survivors Network provides a space for survivors to find solidarity and feel less alone.
Elly Savva is an undergraduate student at Cardiff University, Deputy Editor of Quench Magazine, and Secretary of the Young Fabians LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Group. She tweets at @Ellllsc.