Friday, March 17, 2017

Training Law Enforcement on Working with LGBTQIA+ Victims

The St. Louis Anti-Violence Project (AVP) and CVAC are in the process of training every officer in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department on working with victims who identify as LGBTQIA+. The LGBTQIA+ acronym covers individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, and the "+" denotes other sexual orientations and gender identities other than cisgender and straight.

Board members of AVP, two of whom are also CVAC employees, have been developing this training for two years with input from law enforcement and the LGBTQIA+ community. The impetus for this training came from observations of AVP and CVAC and statistics that show LGBTQIA+ victims were not reporting their victimizations to law enforcement and not seeking out social service assistance despite their higher likelihood of being victims of crime. With CVAC staff's experience in developing and administering curricula for law enforcement and AVP's expertise in the impact of victimization on and barriers to services in the LGBTQIA+ community, it is an ideal partnership.

According to SLMPD, there has not been training on this topic in recent memory. AVP and CVAC train officers to improve the way they treat LGBTQIA+ victims, while also giving a baseline of knowledge that all officers should acquire. Therefore, if there is a problem with the way an LGBTQIA+ victim is treated in the future, this training acts as an accountability measure and their CVAC advocate can intervene on behalf of that victim.

The topics in this training are the basics that any officer needs to know in order to respectfully address and individual who identifies as LGBTQIA+, to render services considerately, and to understand the unique concerns of LGBTQIA+ victims. Topics include:

Basic Terminology for LGBTQ identity: It’s best when presenting to a large group to not assume that everyone starts with the same knowledge base. Therefore, this training and all others that CVAC offers start with a review of basic language. While gay, straight, bisexual might not be new, some individuals have never heard the word cisgender. For those who haven’t seen it before I used it in the introduction or who have but never learned its meaning, this means that one’s biological sex assigned at birth matches the individual’s gender identity. 

Privilege, Oppression, & Intersectionality: It is one thing to look at another person and realize their life is more difficult because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is another to then realize that those who do not identify as LGBTQIA+ are privileged. For example, straight people do not have to worry about being asked how old they were when they "decided they were straight." Cisgender individuals can use the restroom of their gender identity without worry about being victimized. Furthermore, multiple aspects of a person’s identity (e.g. race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability) are interconnected and influence their life experiences. For example, a white gay man’s experience is different from a white lesbian’s experience and those are different from a lesbian woman of color.

Barriers to Service Provision: History of difficulties between the LGBTQIA+ community and law enforcement are highlighted. This includes a discussion of a study by Wolf Smith, AVP Board Chair, in which ze found that only a small percentage of LGBTQIA+ victims of domestic violence sought assistance from police or social services.

Victimization of LGBTQIA+ Individuals: Statistics show that LGBTQIA+ individuals are more at risk for many victimizations including sexual assault and domestic violence. Two thirds of trans women report experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime. Gay men are twice as likely as straight men to experience sexual assault. LGBTQIA+ individuals are more likely to be victimized, but less likely to reach out to law enforcement and social services.

Helpful Tips & Inclusive Resources: This section shows officers how they can support their fellow law enforcement officers who identify as LGBTQIA+, how they can more positively interact with the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as respectfully addressing individual members. Inclusive resources including CVAC, Safe Connections, ALIVE, and the St. Louis City Circuit Attorney’s Office Victim Service Unit are presented.

While AVP and CVAC are starting with training the SLMPD officers, this training is available to any other law enforcement departments, social service providers, LGBTQIA+ community groups, and any other groups who want to learn more about the needs of LGBTQIA+ victims of violence. The training is constantly being updated with feedback from participants and the community and this process will continue with each iteration of the presentation.

For more information on this training, check out the Pulse of St. Louis this Saturday, March 18 at 7pm on Channel 11.

Comments by Jessica M., Director of Community Engagement