Center for Homicide Research staff administered a homicide prevention survey at the Twin Cities Pride Festival, June 23-24, 2012. Thank you to everyone who participated in the survey. It was a great opportunity for our summer internship staff, many who were attending their first Pride Festival ever.
The survey focused on the topic of intimate-relations. In particular, questions were asked about intimate-partner violence, social support networks, and power and control in intimate relationships. Some questions focused on risky behaviors that one might engage in. Risk proneness has been linked with homicide victimization. There is no base-line of information on some of these topics, especially that focus on LGBT people. A third segment of the questions focused on the concept of edge-play. Edge-play is recreational activity that toys with danger or death. While some risk-taking activity involving LGBT people has previously been investigated, it mostly involved questions about about sexually-transmitted disease.
RESULTS of the SURVEY
The Center for Homicide research gathered 669 surveys at the twin cities gay pride festival on the 23rd and 24th of June, 2012. The survey was designed to provide greater insights into the nature of violence and risky behaviors in intimate relationships, as well as the willingness and ability of individuals to seek help from various social support channels. Respondents were also asked to include demographic information.
Group at highest risk of being victims in a violent relationship
Sixty five percent of the respondents answered “no” to whether they were ever sexually excited by the imagination of being tied up by somebody else. However, out of the respondents who had answered “no,” 11.4% of them answered that they had fantasized about bondage but had never engaged in it. Sadomasochism refers to the receiving of sexual pleasure or arousal from acts involving either the infliction (sadism) or reception of pain (masochism). These respondents who had indicated a lack of sexual arousal at the imagination of being tied up, but had at the same time fantasized about bondage, could then be reasonably inferred as belonging to the former group – people who were sexually aroused through inflicting the act of bondage rather than receiving it. However, it is acknowledged that the question pertains to whether respondents have been sexually aroused by the imagination instead of the actual physical act of being tied up. There is a possibility that certain respondents who have answered “no” are instead sexually aroused by the physical act itself, and thus labeling these people as masochists would have been inaccurate.
Thirteen percent of respondents who had answered “no” to whether they were ever sexually excited by the imagination of being tied up by somebody else had engaged in bondage. These figures suggest two possibilities – they were either involuntarily subjected to bondage, or that they played the role of the sadist and tie their partners up. In order to differentiate between these two groups we look at how this particular group of people perceive their partners in their relationships. Respondents who do not prefer their partner to be controlling in their sexual activity but indicated their partner as controlling in sexual activity are more likely to be dominated sexually. It is more likely, thus, that people whose partners are controlling in sexual activity but do not prefer their partner to be as such, and had engaged in bondage but do not enjoy being tied up by somebody else, are involuntarily subjected to bondage. It is this group of people that are most at risk of being abused or subjected to violence in intimate relationship.
Perception of risky behaviors
Respondents were asked if they had engaged in any form of edge play, which is defined as risky sexual play that could potentially lead to physical injury or emotional harm. Fourteen percent of respondents answered that they have engaged in risky sexual play, eighty three percent answered that they had not engaged in risky sexual play, and three percent indicated that they were unsure.
However, some of the respondents who had indicated that they had participated in at least one type of edge play did not think that they were involved in risky sexual play. For instance, 60.9% of respondents who had engaged in bondage did not think they were involved in edge play. Similarly, 41.0% of respondents who had indicated that they had engaged in forced-sex-role-play did not think they were involved in edge play. Likewise, 41.7% of respondents who had indicated that they had engaged in age play did not think they were involved in edge play.
These data raises the interesting question of how people generally perceive the degree of risk in the types of sexual acts they engage in. It appears that some people do not consider the edge play activities risky at all. The aforementioned edge plays are the three types of edge play where the gap between perceived risk and actual risk is the greatest. However, the explicit definition/labeling of the activities as “edge play” might have prejudiced the response and hence limited our understanding of the true gap between perceived and actual risk, since respondents will indicate that they are involved in edge play simply by virtue of the listed activities being defined as such, even though they might not perceive these activities as risky in any way.
Social support and personal wellbeing
One of the main aims of the survey was to examine the accessibility of family, friends, significant others, social support groups and organizations as channels of help during times of difficulties. Respondents were asked to rate their response on a scale of one to five for each question, with one indicating strongly disagree and five strongly agree. Hence, a higher point on the scale would indicate a greater awareness of and/or access to channels of help. Respondents who had indicated “not applicable” were excluded from the sample for each question.
Twenty two percent of respondents who had indicated that they were aware of at least one social support organization did not seek help from one when they had encountered violence in an intimate relationship. Hence, it seems that most respondents indicated some awareness of social organizations (84.4%) that they can approach to seek help, but the majority of these respondents had not sought help from organizations despite being aware of them. Likewise, 19.7% of respondents who had indicated that they were aware of at least one social support group did not seek help from one when they had encountered violence in an intimate relationships. First, there is generally a strong awareness of social institutions (84.4%) and support groups (78.1 %.) However, this does not translate into people seeking help from these social institutions and support groups when they have encountered violence in intimate relationships. Hence, there are still inhibiting factors that prevent people from approaching social support group and institutions when they need help.
The same discrepancy occurs when respondents were asked about their perception of social support from their biological families and whether they had sought help from their biological families. The average score for each question is recorded. On average, respondents were inclined towards agreeing that they seek help and emotional support from biological families (3.80/5.00,) agree that their biological family is there for them (4.05/5.00.) but do not seek help from their biological family when they have encountered violence in intimate relationship (2.99/5.00.) These data indicate two important things. First, a significant proportion (288 out of 667 respondents or 43.2%) had encountered violence in intimate relationships. Second, 56.3% of these respondents had not sought help from their biological families when they had encountered violence in intimate relationship. The same pattern continues when examining accessibility of friends in times of difficulties. On the average, respondents agree when asked if they were comfortable approaching their friends for help (4.28/5.00) and if they had perceived strong social support from them (4.26/5.00.) However, on average respondents were midway between neutral and agreeable (3.53/5.00) when asked if they had sought help from friends when they had encountered violence in intimate relationships. Fifty one percent indicated that they had not sought help from friends when they had encountered violence in intimate relationships. Out of the respondents who had indicated that they could count on their friends for support, only 28.6% had indicated that they had sought help from friends when they had encountered violence in an intimate relationship. Hence, there are still inhibiting factors that prevent people from seeking help from their friends when encountering violence in intimate relationships. Fifty eight percent indicated that they had sought help from friends when they had encountered violence in intimate relationship. Compared to social support groups (40.7 %,) social institutions (35.7 %,) and biological family (49.4 %,) victims of violence in intimate relationship are more likely to approach their friends for help.
Accessibility of social support is traditionally thought to be an important factor for members of the LGBT community to disclose their sexual orientation publicly. However, it seems that having a strong awareness of and/or access to channels of help do not significantly influence a person’s decision to publicly disclose his or her sexual orientation. There is a weak correlation between the extent to which the respondent’s biological family is there for them, and their decision to disclose their sexual identity. Ninety six percent, ninety percent and ninety one percent of respondents who have responded “neutral,” “disagree” and “strongly disagree” to availability of familial support have made their sexual orientation known to others. Similarly, there is a weak correlation between availability of support from friends and respondent’s decision to disclose their sexual orientation, with 96.5% and 93.6% of those who have indicated that they can count on their friends for support having made their sexual orientation known to others, and 94.3%, 90.0% and 90.0% of those who had indicated “neutral” or that they could not count on their friends for support respectively have disclosed their sexual orientation. There is again a weak correlation between awareness of social support institutions, and the respondent’s decision to disclose their sexual orientation publicly. Ninety six percent and ninety four percent of respondents who had strong awareness of public support institutions respectively had made their sexual orientation known to others, while 93.3% of those who had responded “neutral” and 100% and 90.9% respectively of those who had responded “disagree” or “strongly disagree” had disclosed their sexual identity. The overall trend seems to be that there is a weak correlation between awareness of and/or access to social channels of help and decision to make one’s sexual orientation known to others.
Risk and victimhood
Risk can be classified as the potential that a chosen activity or action (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss. Respondents were asked a series of questions that assess their propensity for risk-taking, which then further raise the question of whether individuals who are less risk-averse are more likely to be victims of violence in intimate relationships. Risk-taking and propensity towards risk have been identified as an important correlation to the likelihood of being victimized. According to the lifestyle theory, people may become crime victims because their lifestyle increases their exposure to criminal offenders. Similarly, people are more likely to be victims of crime and abuse when they are exposed to dangerous places, according to the deviant place theory. Hence, the questions are specifically designed to assess both respondent’s risk-taking propensity and their engagement in risky behaviors/lifestyles. The former might shape or influence one’s reaction to violence in intimate relationships and one’s willingness and ability to seek help, while the latter might, according to the lifestyle theory and the deviant place theory, place the respondent in situations that make them more likely to become victims of violence in intimate relationships.
It seems that there is no correlation between binge-drinking and a person’s willingness to seek channels of help. Thirty four percent of respondents who have never binge-drink responded that they had sought help from social organization when encountering violence in an intimate relationship, 40.6% of respondents who seldom binged drink responded that they had sought help from social organization when encountering violence in an intimate relationship, 40.0% who frequently binge-drink and 38.5% who regularly binge-drink respectively had sought help from social organizations when encountering violence in an intimate relationship. Similarly, there is no correlation between binge-drinking and a person’s willingness to seek help from their biological family when they encounter violence in an intimate relationship. Forty-four percent of respondents who have never binge-drink had sought help from their biological family upon encountering violence in intimate relationship, 54.0% of respondents who have seldom binge-drink had sought help from their biological family upon encountering violence in intimate relationship, followed by 70.6% and 69.2% respectively for respondents who have often binge-drink and regularly binge-drink.
Risk factors for violence in intimate relationship
Violence is an extremely complex phenomenon that has its roots in the interaction of many factors – biological, social, cultural, economic and political. The World Report on Violence and Health uses an ecological model to try to understand the multi-faceted nature of violence and to assist in examining factors that influence behavior – or which increase the risk of committing or being victims of violence – by dividing them into four levels. Here we are primarily concerned with the second level, which looks specifically at close relationships such as those with friends, family or intimate partners, and explores how these relationships can increase the risk of being victims or perpetrators of violence. In particular, we are interested in finding out how being involved in certain sexual activities that carry some amount of risk, in the form of physical injury or emotional harm, could pre-dispose individuals to greater risk of violence in intimate relationships.
Respondents who did not indicate “N/A” to questions two, four, seven and ten could be inferred as having experienced violence in intimate relationship. The total number of respondents who had responded “N/A” might fluctuate across these questions, as there are individuals – who have experienced violence in intimate relationships – that are not aware of existing social support groups or organizations, or did not grow up with their biological family, and hence would have indicated “N/A” in one or more of these four questions but not all. However, the numbers turn out to be rather consistent, and for the purpose of coherence and simplicity we will use question ten as a measure of the number of respondents who have encountered violence in intimate relationships.
Out of the respondents who indicated that they had encountered violence in intimate relationships, 17.7% indicated that they had participated in some form of edge play, 77.4% indicated that they had not participated in some form of edge play, and 4.9% indicated that they were unsure. Hence, it seems that there is no correlation between an individual’s participation in some form of edge play, and the likelihood of their being subjected to violence in intimate relationships. This runs counter to popular preconception that engagement in some form of risky sexual play increases the risk of being subjected to violence in intimate relationships.
Demographics and edgeplay
Out of all respondents, 19.4% identified themselves as a gay man, 21.8% identified themselves as a lesbian female, 40.1% identified themselves as heterosexual, 12.8% identified themselves as bisexual, .6% identified themselves as asexual, 2.2% preferred not to answer and 3.1% listed “others.” Twenty one respondents did not provide their sexual orientation and hence are precluded from the total sample size.
Bondage is the most popular form of edge play amongst respondents, according to the participation rate. Twenty seven percent of total respondents indicated that they had engaged in bondage, significantly higher than forced-sex role play at 9.1% and age play at 7.2%, the next two most popular types of edge plays amongst respondents. Bisexuals indicated the highest participation rate consistently across all listed types of edge play. For example, 47.5% of bisexuals reported that they had engaged in bondage, compared to 20.8% of gay men, 29.8% of lesbian women, and 22.9% of heterosexuals. Similarly, 19.0% of bisexual respondents reported having participated in forced-sex role play, compared to 10.3% of heterosexuals, 6.7% of gay men, and 5% of lesbian women. Again, bisexuals had the highest participation rate for age play at 12.5%, compared to 4.2% for gay men, 2.8% for heterosexuals and 2.1% for lesbian women. In their work, prominent sex researchers and psychologists Fritz Klein and Jim Weinrich had argued that both male and female bisexuals appeared to be more adventurous in their erotic desires. In their study, it was found that bisexuals had a higher desire to participate in one-night stands, threesomes, and orgies as compared to both the heterosexuals and gays/lesbians. By putting this study in conversation with the survey results, we can perhaps gain an insight into the bisexual community and their greater rate of participation in activities that might reasonably be construed as being more risky.
Amongst the respondents who identified themselves as bisexual, 75.9% identified themselves as female, 18.1% identified themselves as male, 1.2% identified themselves as trans-female living as a male, 1.2% identified themselves as trans-male living as a female, and 3.6% identified themselves as “others.” Fifty nine percent of total respondents were female and 34.6% were male, hence the 57.8% difference in proportion of females and males amongst bisexual respondents is perhaps due to more than just reasons of greater female turnout. This data strongly suggests that female bisexuals are more willing to indicate their sexual orientation, which could be due to the more favorable perception society has of female bisexuality compared to male bisexuality. There is perhaps less social stigma attached to being a female bisexual compared to being a male bisexual.
Even though the survey was designed with the intention of examining the relationship between social support, risky activities, and violence in intimate relationship, it also yielded some very interesting and surprising findings. Some of these data have challenged our assumptions, while others have reinforced our beliefs based on past research, experience and theoretical understanding of the subject matter. For example, some respondents raised the question of whether certain activities labeled as “edge play” in the survey were truly risky. These questions, coupled with the findings that respondents who had indicated participation in at least one type of edge play but did not believe they were engaged in risky sexual activities, precisely represented the core of our concern – the discrepancy between perceived and actual risk. Violence and risk in intimate relationship are characterized by information imperfection, where either party does not fully comprehend the risk of the activities or situation. This is important in helping us understand why people continue to subject themselves to risky situations. For example, individuals routinely assess risk in everyday situations based on controllability, degree of voluntariness, and catastrophic potential. An act such as bondage, conducted under mutual consent, could be perceived as seemingly harmless and risk-free. However, participants might underestimate the degree of controllability, especially when so many factors could influence the outcome of the act and hence render it dangerous. Also, participants might over-rely on their partners in situations where trust could not possibly serve as an effective mechanism against disastrous outcomes, especially when their partners have less than desirable intentions. For examples, there are cases where victims consent to being tied up and are subsequently murdered. There are also cases where acts of bondage have gone horribly wrong, because participants overestimate the amount of control they have over the act or fail to take reasonable care while carrying out the act, resulting in the death of themselves or their partners. The findings highlight the importance of educating the public on the risk level of such activities, and the proper steps that they should undertake to minimize these risks while engaged in such activities.
On matters of personal well being and social support, a large proportion of respondents indicated awareness of different channels of support. However, their awareness does not translate into them seeking active help through these channels when they encounter violence in intimate relationships. Similarly, a large proportion of respondents indicated that they do and had approached either their friends and biological family for help when facing general difficulties, but only a small fraction of them actually sought help from their family or friends when facing violence in intimate relationships. These findings reveal that increasing awareness is not adequate in improving accessibility of social support, as there are inhibiting factors that prevent victims of violence in intimate relationships from seeking help even if they are aware of the various channels of support. It also shows that even respondents who had reported strong support from families and friends do not seek help when encountering violence in intimate relationships. The nature of such encounters makes approaching friends and family for help particularly difficult. We should examine the reasons why people do not approach social organizations even though they are aware of them, and how understanding these reasons could help encourage victims of violence in intimate relationships to seek help from these organizations. This is important as perhaps victims of violence in intimate relationships would be more inclined to seek help from social organizations due to the veil of anonymity. Finally, the survey found no relationship between social support infrastructure, and an individual’s decision to publicly disclose his or her sexual orientation.
A series of proxy questions were asked to assess respondent’s risk-taking propensity and the extent to which they place themselves in risky situations, which is then used to find out what relationship, if any, exists between risk and the likelihood of being subjected to violence in intimate relationships, amongst others. It was found that there is no correlation between risk-taking propensity and the likelihood of being subjected to violence in intimate relationships. Likewise, there is no relationship between participation in edge play (or risky sexual play) and the likelihood of being subjected to violence in intimate relationships. This runs counter to expectations given that the lifestyle theory and deviant places theory postulates that individuals who place themselves in proximity to risky activities, places, individuals and lifestyle are at higher risk of being crime victims.
 Restricting the movement of limbs during sexual activity.
 Pretending to be raped or to rape your partner
 Role-playing in sexual activity when either partner acts or treats each other as if they were of a different age
 World Health Organization, World Report on Violence and Health: Summary (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2002) 9.
 World Health Organization, World Report on Violence and Health: Summary (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2002) 9.
 Refer to survey.
 Fritz Klein, “Psychology of Sexual Orientation,” in Conversations about Psychology and Sexual Orientation, ed. Janis S. Bohan and Glenda M. Russell (New York University Press: 1999) 136.