March 26, 2021
Poverty, stigma, and marginalization put the LGBTQ community at greater risk for sexual assault, yet often survivors are hesitant to seek help from police, hospitals, shelters, or rape crisis centers because of discrimination the LGBTQ community has faced in the past. It’s important to Legal Aid of West Virginia and our partners to promote inclusivity in our services, whether that means participating in community-wide, multi-disciplinary trainings on the intersections of domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy and allyship to the LGBTQ community or in participating in the movement for equality here locally.
Branches Domestic Violence Shelter often partners with Legal Aid of West Virginia to assist the LGBTQ community in navigating the unique challenges they face as domestic violence survivors. In direct service advocacy, Branches strives to be mindful and responsive to the entirety of a survivor’s identity, recognizing that their trauma history, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, socioeconomic status, etc. are all relevant to who they are and, accordingly, what will keep them safe. In regard, to day to day practices, Branches houses residents within the shelter in alignment with their gender identity and try to be mindful of individualized needs. For instance, they are planning a drive for pride month to collect things like men’s/non-binary underwear and socks and binding garments to have on hand.
Legal Aid of West Virginia also partners with the CONTACT Rape Crisis Center to support the needs of sexual assault victims within the LGBTQ community. CONTACT and LAWV understand that perpetrators of sexual assault can be of any gender, just as the victims can be of any gender. Sexual assault is not defined by the biological sex or gender of the person offending or the sex or gender of the victim. CONTACT’s victim advocates are specifically trained to meet the needs of sexual assault victims within the LGBTQ community. Advocates can speak with survivors 24/7 via their helpline, provide short and/or long-term crisis counseling, and meet with the loved ones of LGBTQ sexual assault survivors to provide them with secondary victim/survivor services. CONTACT also provides information to connect survivors with LGBTQ friendly medical providers in the area who are best positioned and trained to address the specific medical needs of LGBTQ sexual assault survivors.
Through Legal Aid of West Virginia’s partnerships with organizations such as Branches Domestic Violence Shelter and CONTACT Rape Crisis center, we are able to form a unified support system to victims within the LGBTQ community and provide assurance that LGBTQ survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault will be treated with dignity and respect and will receive the best services possible from the advocates within each organization.