Supporting survivors in the LBGTI+ community

background information

  • Good Practice Guidelines for ‘Mainstream’ Sexual Violence Crisis Services - Doing our best for LGBTIQ Survivors (Dickson, 2016) 
  •  Te Hohou Te Rongo Kahukura – Outing Violence report (Dickson, 2016)
  • Building Rainbow Communities Free of Partner and Sexual Violence (Dickson, 2016) 
  • Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement (Patterson, 2016)   


Essential Learning - What we need to know

Assess your agency’s capacity to respond healthily to LGBTI+ survivors prior to reaching out to LGBTI+ communities. Remember that the first response a LGBTI+ survivor receives will have a significant impact on whether they will continue to engage, and on how that survivor recovers over time. Be aware that many LGBTI+ people will have little trust of the Police or healthcare agencies, and this may impact on their willingness to engage.  Be aware that people’s ethnicity and cultural identity will be critical to their understanding and lived experience of being part of the LGBTI+ community. 

LGBTI+ cultural competence is: 

  • An ongoing commitment to understanding and relationship with LGBTI+ communities and individuals, including those from Māori, Pacifica and Asian communities.   
  • Not a checklist but a process, that will change over time as LGBTI+ culture changes.  It’s important not to over-promise. 
  • Be clear and honest about who can access your service.  If you only serve lesbians and bisexual women but not trans women, gender non-conforming people or male survivors of any kind, say that, rather than describing yourself as LGBTI+ friendly.   
  • All staff understanding their assumptions about LGBTI+ people, and engaging in ongoing reflection about homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.    
  • Assessment not assumption, an understanding that everyone who comes to your service has the right to self-define their own gender identity and sexuality. 
  • Staff training in using language which does not assume gender, gender roles, sexual preferences or that there is anything called ‘normal’. 

Essential Practice - What we need to do

On the frontline

Confidentiality and language – Survivors are the experts of their own experience. 

  • Ask and mirror the language LGBTI+ survivors use for their bodies and body parts - trans people will often use non-traditional language for their genitals and other sex-linked body parts.  Mirroring this language is particularly important to respect gender identities which may have been undermined by sexual violence. 
  • Ask and mirror the following: 
    • The language LGBTI+ survivors use for their bodies 
    • The language LGBTI+ survivors use for their partners and relationships 
    • The names, pronouns and identities.  Do not assume partner’s gender and avoid heteronormative language or pronouns.  Do not assume someone with a same sex partner is lesbian or gay, ask them how they identify to avoid biphobia. In reference to relationships, do not assume that the survivor operates within a monogamous framework as they may have multiple partners/relationships.  Judgements around polyamory will not be useful to the survivor. 
  • Ask and mirror the names and pronouns LGBTI+ survivors wish to use, whether they are present or not. 
  • Do not make assumptions about the gender of the perpetrator – ask open questions if the information is needed. 
  • Explain confidentiality policies and respect LGBTI+ survivor’s rights to direct who knows about their sexuality and gender identity – inside and outside your service.  Disclosing someone’s sexuality or gender without their consent mirrors patterns of power which may have been part of sexual abuse. 


  • Use the resources listed here, and: 
    • Talk to people you work with about their knowledge  
    • Avoid asking a lot of questions. While the survivor may seem ok, they may not be and as you’re in a position of power, they may not feel comfortable to say so. 
  • Do not make assumptions about, or pathologise LGBTI+ identities.  Do not assume sexual violence caused someone’s sexuality or gender identity. 
  • Do not make assumptions about homophobia, biphobia or transphobia being more common in some cultures – listen to survivors’ experience of their families and communities. 
  • Recognise that trans people have unique relationships with mental health services as they have to navigate these in order to access transition related healthcare, which may create lack of trust.  Recognise fears around disclosing sexual violence and the impact this may have on accessing transition related healthcare.  
  • Acknowledge experiences of discrimination and stigma, and check in about what this means for resilience.  Be aware that if someone discloses their sexuality or gender identity to you, it is a sign of trust. 
  • If you get someone’s pronoun or sexuality wrong, apologise and move on.  Don’t make it a big deal, just try and get it right next time. 
  • Explain why you are asking questions about bodies or sexual contact as LGBTI+ people, especially trans people, may have experienced being asked invasive questions to satisfy curiosity.  
  • Take care and time when supporting LGBTI+ people with forensic examinations after sexual violence, as sexual violence may have involved parts of their bodies people would rather not think about which may create additional trauma.  It may also “out” people as trans, so survivors will need you to demonstrate respect for their preferred gender identity. Explain what is going to happen and why, and ask for permission at every stage.  Use the words the trans person uses for their bodies. 

Using the language LGBTI+ survivors use for themselves, their bodies, partners, names and pronouns is validating and will help LGBTI+ survivors feel safe in your service.  This is important after the trauma of sexual violence. 

Offer a range of more and less gendered clothing and underwear, allowing people to select for themselves. 


Crisis Support Services 

  • Relationships with LGBTI+ Community  
  • Develop relationships with local LGBTI+ services to increase cultural competency and find out how your service is perceived in your community – do LGBTI+ survivors know what you do? 
  • Collaborate on creating resources for your websites, posters and pamphlets which are LGBTI+ appropriate and name specific ways sexual violence happens for LGBTI+ people. 
  • Create websites, posters and promotional material which feature diverse images of LGBTI+ people, including similar gender couples. 
  • Attend LGBTI+ events, advertise in LGBTI+ media and ensure outreach reaches LGBTI+ individuals. 
  • Consider partnerships or supervision with gender diversity experts to inform relationships with and services for the transgender community.  
  • Name not just homophobia but transphobia and biphobia too in your websites, posters and promotional material to send a message that your service is open to LGBTI+ survivors, not just gay and lesbian survivors. 
  • Use Māori identity terms like takatāpui and Pacifica identity terms like Fa’afafine (Samoa, America Samoa and Tokelau), Fakaleiti or Leiti (Tonga), Fakafifine (Niue), Aka’vaine (Cook Islands), Mahu (Tahiti and Hawaii), Vakasalewalewa (Fiji)  

Staff and Volunteers  

  • Advertise paid and voluntary roles in LGBTI+ media. 
  • Include sexuality and gender identity in discrimination policies which protect staff and survivors. 
  • Train all staff and volunteers in sexuality and gender diversity and update regularly, as the language is fluid and evolving, and ensure this training includes non-Pākehā identities.   
  • Include LGBTI+ issues as a regular item on staff meeting agendas and peer supervision sessions. 
  • Ensure all staff follow discrimination policies which interrupt and address LGBTI+ phobias with other agencies, staff members or survivors.   

Physical Environment  

  • Because help-seeking for LGBTI+ survivors may be more difficult, make sure they feel welcome in your agency.  First impressions count.   
  • Communicate that your service celebrates, not just tolerates, LGBTI+ individuals and communities from all cultural backgrounds through positive images, posters and signs in your public spaces. 
  • Create an environment which celebrates gender and sexuality diversity and also understand that this may still not feel safe enough for some survivors to disclose in.   
  • Ensure at least one bathroom is private and gender neutral, to allow all survivors somewhere safe to change and go to the toilet. 

Intake Forms and Processes  

  • If your service is sex-segregated, stated identity should be enough to access – if someone identifies as a woman, they should be able to access your service.  If this is not the case, make it explicit in your outreach materials, so trans women (or trans men) survivors do not face the humiliation of not having their gender identity respected when they try to get help after sexual violence. 
  • Do not ask gate-keeping questions about people’s body, genitals, hormones or surgery or require extra “proof” for trans people as this is discrimination. 
  • Create inclusive intake forms, client history forms and body maps which allow people to self-identify their sexuality and gender and are appropriate for LGBTI+ people. 
  • Be aware that coming out for LGBTI+ people may take time, as survivors test whether this is a safe space in which to talk about themselves.  This is not a sign of dishonesty. 

Enhancing cultural competence 

Assessment: How Inclusive is your agency to LGBTQ survivors?, The Network/La Red,  

Creating a Trans-Welcoming Environment: Tips Sheet for Sexual Assault Service Providers, FORGE, USA. 

Creating Inclusive Agencies: Sexual Violence and Individuals who Identify as LGBTQ, (2012), National Sexual Violence Resource Center and Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, USA. 

Culturally Competent Service Provision to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Survivors of Sexual Violence, (2009), National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, USA. 

‘I am local’ (Rainbow Youth) 

Queer and Trans 101 (Rainbow Youth)

Takatāpui: Part of the Whānau 

Strengthening Solutions for Pasefika Rainbow

Patterson, J (ed) (2016). Queering Sexual Violence: Radical voices from within the anti-violence movement. NY: Riverdale Ave Books. 

Other research: 

Clark, T. C., Lucassen, M. F.G., Bullen, P., Denny, S. J., Fleming, T. M., Robinson, E. M., & Rossen, F. V. (2014). The health and well-being of transgender high school students: results from the New Zealand Adolescent Health Survey (Youth'12). Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(1), 93-99. 

Fenaughty, J., Braun, V., Gavey, N., Aspin, C., Reynolds, P. & Schmidt, J. (2006). Sexual coercion among gay men, bisexual men and takatāpui tāne in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Department of Psychology, The University of Auckland. 

Fileborn, B., (2012), Sexual violence and gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer communities, Australian Center for the Study of Sexual Assault. 

Fleming, T.M., Watson, P.D., Robinson, E., Ameratunga, S., Dixon, R., Clark, T.C., Crengle, S. (2007) Violence and New Zealand Young People: Findings of Youth2000 - A National Secondary School Youth Health and Wellbeing Survey, The University of Auckland. 

Hohou Te Rongo Kahukura – Outing Violence (2015), Statistics: Partner and Sexual Violence is a Rainbow Problem, Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Hohou Te Rongo Kahukura – Outing Violence (2015), Hooking up, having fun, asking for and giving consent, Aotearoa New Zealand.  

Hohou Te Rongo Kahukura – Outing Violence (2015), Bisexual Survivors, Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Hohou Te Rongo Kahukura – Outing Violence (2015), Gay Survivors, Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Hohou Te Rongo Kahukura – Outing Violence (2015), Lesbian Survivors, Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Hohou Te Rongo Kahukura – Outing Violence (2015), Trans and Intersex Survivors, Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Intersex Fact Sheet, Free and Equal United Nations for LGBT Equality. 

Is your “T” Written in Disappearing Ink? A Checklist for Transgender Inclusion, FORGE, USA. 

Lavender Islands: The New Zealand Study, (2007), Journal of Homosexuality. 

Le Brun, C., Robinson, E., Warren, H. and Watson, P., (2005), Non-heterosexual Youth: A Profile of Their Health and Wellbeing; Data from Youth2000, The University of Auckland. 

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV Affected Hate Violence in 2014, (2015), National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, USA. 

Let’s Talk About It! A transgender survivor’s guide to accessing therapy, (2015), FORGE, USA. 

Lucassen, M. F. G., Clark, T. C., Moselen, E., Robinson, E. M., & Adolescent Health Research Group. (2014). Youth’12 the health and wellbeing of secondary school students in New Zealand: Results for young people attracted to the same sex or both sexes.  Auckland: The University of Auckland. 

National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Findings on Victimisation by Sexual Orientation, (2010), Center for Disease Control, USA.  

Practical Tips for Working with Transgender Survivors of Sexual Violence, (2008), FORGE, USA. 

Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of GLBT Australians(2012), La Trobe University, Australia. 

Pronouns and Trans People: Victim Service Providers Fact Sheet #1, (2012), FORGE, USA. 

Quick Organizational Audit: LGBT Visibility and Inclusion, (2001), The Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse. 

Quick Tips: Trans Inclusion – A guide for LGB(T) organizations and businesses, FORGE, USA. 

Quick Tips: Trans Inclusion – A guide for service providers, FORGE, USA. 

Responding to Transgender Victims of Sexual Assault, (2014), Office for Victims of Crime, USA. 

Roberts, A., Rosario, M., Corliss, H., Koenen, K., and Bryn Austin, S., (2012), Childhood Gender Nonconformity: A Risk Indicator for Childhood Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress in Youth, Pediatrics, USA. 

Setting the Stage: Strategies for Supporting LGBTIQ Survivors, (2010), Connections Volume XIII, Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, USA. 

Sheltering Transgender Women: Providing Welcoming Services, (2014), National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and FORGE, USA. 

Some Do’s and Don’ts for working with GLBT Folks, The Network/La Red

Takatāpui: Part of the Whanau, (2015), Tiwhanawhana Trust and Mental Health Foundation.  

Terms Paradox: Victim Service Providers Fact Sheet #2, (2012), FORGE, USA.  

The Impact on Individuals and Communities: Sexual Violence and Individuals who Identify as LGBTQ, (2012), National Sexual Violence Resource Center and Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, USA. 

Thinking About the Unthinkable: Transgender in an Immutable Binary World, (2010), FORGE, USA. 

To Be Who I Am: Report of the Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People, (2008), Human Rights Commission, New Zealand.  

Tranzform: What we wish our GPs, Nurses and Specialists knew, (2015),  

Transgender Rates of Violence: Victim Service Providers Fact Sheet #8, (2012), FORGE, USA.  

Why It Matters: Rethinking Victim Assistance for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Victims of Hate Violence and Intimate Partner Violence, (2010), National Center of Victims of Crime and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, USA.  

Working therapeutically with LGBTI clients: a practice wisdom resource (2014), National LGBTI Health Alliance, Australia. 


Relevant References - other related research