You See (UC) Lavender: Assessing Sexual Violence and Harassment Among Sexual and Gender Minority Students at UCLA

You See (UC) Lavender: Assessing Sexual Violence and Harassment Among Sexual and Gender Minority Students at UCLA

Sexual and gender minority students (SGMS) include those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, queer, transgender, gender diverse, or nonbinary (19). Although they make up only approximately 6-10% of college students in the United States (US), SGMS disproportionately experience sexual violence and sexual harassment (SVSH), and intimate partner violence (IPV) compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers (2, 5, 7, 8, 26). Overwhelmingly, SGMS face unique risk factors, including homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, minimal peer and family support, and other social determinants that make them vulnerable to experiencing one-off or ongoing IPV, SVSH, and other forms of gender- and sexual orientation-based discrimination. SGMS who experience these abuses are less likely (than heterosexual and cisgender student-survivors) to access campus-based and/or local community resources for psychosocial support, post-rape physical and mental health care. They are also less likely to formally report incidents of violence, harassment or discrimination, let alone pursue any form of legal justice, either through the civil or criminal justice system or the Title IX Office on their college or university campus (15). Accessing survivor-centered and trauma-informed resources is critical to the post-SVSH/IPV healing process. As such, student-survivors unexposed to such services are at significantly increased risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, chronic disease, and mental illness, and may concurrently endure social isolation, stigma, and shame (16). 

Disconcertingly, SGM student-survivors are also commonly harmed when they DO access and use resources following an incident of SVSH, IPV or other gender- or sexual orientation-based discrimination. Specifically, they are at increased risk for experiencing retraumatization, and ultimately revictimization, due to the large number of counselors, health providers and other post-assault professionals who are not aware of, or competent about, the ways in which gender, sexuality, race, and other social identities intersect to produce disparate experiences with SVSH and IPV (17). Further, and of key relevance to the proposed work, research from the US has found that SGMS are significantly more likely to experience institutional betrayal after experiencing sexual assault, relative to cisgender, heterosexual undergraduate students (20). Institutional betrayal refers to “wrongdoings perpetrated by an institution upon individuals dependent on that institution, including failure to prevent or respond supportively to wrongdoings by individuals (e.g. sexual assault) committed within the context of the institution” (22). As such, poor response following reports of sexual violence against SGMS is common on college and university campuses, which has serious, negative implications for student-survivors who should be able to rely on their institution for support due to trauma. Such institutional betrayal exacerbates the adverse health and social consequences of violence, noted above, and perpetuates or worsens a campus culture that tolerates violence and discrimination against SGMS, staff and faculty (20).

In contrast to institutional betrayal, research has found that strong community engagement and outreach programs that cultivate a supportive environment for SVSH survivors can significantly reduce adverse mental health and increase access to, and engagement with, institutional and social support systems (16). Furthermore, students who perceive higher campus readiness to address SVSH and IPV experience a more positive campus climate and a greater sense of community, overall (7). SGMS who interact with affirming and inclusive providers and counselors additionally report feeling acknowledged, safer, and more welcomed, and students that feel represented and affirmed by the campus community, generally, are more likely to utilize service (16, 7). Where does this leave UCLA? The answer is that we don’t really know.

To respond to gaps in ensuring the safety and well-being of all students and members of the UCLA community, we propose an innovative 12-month mixed methods study to assess SGMS’ experiences of SVSH, including the process of reporting incidents to on-campus services. We will examine the extent to which UCLA provides accessible, gender affirming, and inclusive SVSH resources and services for the SGMS community. Findings will inform recommendations for improved SVSH prevention and response policies and programs that holistically protect and promote the well-being of SGMS students and student-survivors.


Research Questions:

  1. In what ways do UCLA students and recent graduates who identify as SGM experience discrimination and SVSH during their time at UCLA?
  2. To what extent do SGMS know and trust campus reporting services and survivor resources? Do experiences engaging with campus-based services reveal institutional betrayal (e.g. are they perceived to be inclusive, competent, and supportive of SGMS)? 
  3. How does race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, and other social determinants intersect with sexual orientation and gender identity and influence reporting and help-seeking behaviors following an incident of SVSH?
  4. What recommendations do SGMS survivors and allies have for improving prevention education; SVSH health, safety and survivor programs/policies/resources; and Title IX reporting procedures can be improved at UCLA?

Please refer to the concept note, below, for more information regarding UC Lavender, study methodology, and sources. Please check back soon for recruitment information.

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Concept Note: You See Lavender Concept Note


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