LGBTQI+: How to deal with violence against queer people?

Verbal and physical attacks against queer people are alarmingly common. Expert Iris Hannig explains the consequences of trans* and homophobic violence, where those affected can find help and what is most likely to help in an emergency situation

GEO WISSEN: Ms. Hannig, it happens over and over again that queer people are insulted, harassed, threatened, or even physically attacked. What makes such experiences of violence particularly stressful?

Iris Haning: Hate violence is directed against the identity of those affected, against the fact that they are who they are. Experiencing rejection in this way is extremely depressing to one’s self-esteem. And it can leave deep emotional scars.
Also: Attacks on individual gay, lesbian or trans* people always have an effect on the community and are ultimately an attack on the whole group. Hence, the fear of living one’s being in public spreads, for example, exchanging tenderness in front of others. Some are so intimidated that they avoid certain places or prefer to ride a bike instead of public transport because they fear: I’m not safe here.

How common are such hate-motivated attacks?

A large-scale representative survey of queer people from 2020 showed that more than 60 percent of 16,000 respondents in Germany had experienced verbal violence in the past year, been insulted or threatened. 13 percent were even victims of a physical attack over a five-year period, such as being kicked or punched – more than one in ten! Those are staggering numbers.

Are they gaining weight?

Crime statistics have shown an increase in hate crimes against members of the LGBTQIA+ communities for several years, but this is due in part to the fact that more cases are now being recorded in a more targeted way. At the same time, the number of unreported cases is huge: only 13 percent of victims of physical violence report it to the police, and some fear discrimination there too. In addition, there are all the crimes that do not constitute a criminal offense and that, however, can have massive effects on the health of the people affected. Especially when they occur repeatedly, they add up. It’s not uncommon for queer people to experience these types of microattacks (constant bullying, insults, taunts) at a young age.

Iris Hannig is a specialist in psychiatry, psychotherapy and trauma therapy and heads the Hamburg Victim Support Service.  As a consultant, she and her team support those affected by acts of violence and accidents

Iris Hannig is a specialist in psychiatry, psychotherapy and trauma therapy and heads the Hamburg Victim Support Service. As a consultant, she and her team support those affected by acts of violence and accidents

© Iris Haning

Don’t you get stuck at some point?

Rather the opposite may occur. I remember a gay man who was horribly attacked by hooligans: Out of nowhere, the perpetrators pushed and spat on him in a subway station, ripped his shirt off, insulted him and pushed him. The man had already experienced harassment and exclusion in his youth. Now the attack has added the disturbing feeling: My biography continues to reach me, I am condemned to be a victim. That bothered him a lot.

How do you help people who have experienced something so traumatic?

A first step is to stick together: That was a terrible, terrifying, difficult and dangerous situation, whatever vocabulary fits those affected at the time. It’s not uncommon for friends or family to react reassuringly because they want to calm things down: Oh, it wasn’t so bad after all. An attitude that also wears you down. During the attack, many suffered an embarrassing loss of control, they would have liked to defend themselves and speak, but they were frozen, speechless. Then we clarify: This is a typical reflexive stress response of the body, a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Hardly anyone can act freely when threatened.

So the incomprehensible becomes a little more understandable?

Exactly. Last but not least, it is always about giving back to those affected as much autonomy and decision-making authority as possible: Do they want to talk to others about what they have experienced? IT’S OKAY. Just want to share it in a protected space? Also is okay. Do you want to go to the press, to the police, to confront a perpetrator? Whatever it is, we support and support you, you are in control. We carry this message.

What do you recommend if you’re thinking of going to the police?

In any case, before taking this step, you should contact a counseling center if possible, such as a victim assistance center or a specific LGBTQIA+ center. Although police authorities sometimes have specially trained contact persons, asking for them at a police station can be very difficult as a first step. In an acute emergency situation, of course, the following always applies: emergency call 110.

What happens to someone who files a complaint?

In the case of a criminally relevant crime, you have to be able to give a very detailed statement, to report down to the last detail: Where was the hand at what time? What have I done? What was he wearing? In the case of sexualized violence in particular, these types of surveys can be very stressful, and shame and feelings of powerlessness resurface. Therefore, we try to practice certain techniques to calm ourselves down in advance. Also to discuss: How stable am I? Do I want to take this road? If there is a court case, it can also trigger very strong feelings, for example when you are confronted with a perpetrator again.

What helps at times like this?

At least it can be valuable to know about these triggering stimuli, about what they are capable of triggering. Then it may be easier to classify stressful emotions. Typically, the location of the crime is also a trigger: if a victim returns, the mental theater can start all over again, the panic. To prepare for this, we often work with imagination in trauma therapy. For example, I encourage you to imagine exactly what it would be like to meet the torturer again: What do I want to think then? A client told me recently: Then I can’t think at all anymore. Even. Therefore, it is helpful to have these thoughts in advance. Maybe I’d like to say, “Never do that again!” or “I’m done with you! I fight back!” Big thoughts.

Victims of hate violence have often experienced an embarrassing loss of control.  Restoring your autonomy is an objective of therapeutic support

Victims of hate violence have often experienced an embarrassing loss of control. Restoring your autonomy is an objective of therapeutic support

© Inga Israel

How can a queer person prepare for possible attacks?

Anything that makes me more defensive as a potential victim is helpful: a self-defense course, for example, regardless of whether I can apply what I’ve learned in an emergency situation or not. Because often the mental attitude also changes: if I feel more defensive myself, I act differently, I assert myself better. From my many years of experience, I can tell you: Perpetrators are sorry. Those who have internalized that they can and do stand up for themselves, whether verbally or physically, are less likely to be victims. This also includes being aware of certain dangers.

For example?

There may also be risk situations within the community, for example. It is quite possible that young people, especially if they are inexperienced, are simply exploited, even raped, by older people when seeking sexual contacts. Possibly isolated cases, but they give reason to be vigilant: Who am I meeting? How well do I know my sexual partners? What scenario are we in? While violence in this context is not motivated by hate, it can of course have similar traumatic consequences.

How should I behave if I witness a trans or homophobic attack?

The most important thing is not to put yourself in danger. Also admit that you are also under stress, that you may feel overwhelmed. I recommend positioning yourself clearly, within the framework of your own options for action. Approaching a bully on the subway loudly and unequivocally: “Hey, don’t do that! I’ll take the emergency brake if you don’t stop!” As a witness and as a victim, it can be very effective to engage bystanders in the most concrete way possible: “You, the one in the red jacket with the blue cap, help me! As you can see, that’s not right!” It is also a support to film an act with a mobile phone, if only because then there is evidence.

Can violence against queer people be stopped?

The fact is that there are a certain number of everyday racists who see minorities as the target of their attacks. Certain perpetrators with predominantly right-wing extremist sentiments consider queer people to be outlaws, just seeing a drag queen or trans* woman can motivate them to viciously attack.
We cannot oppose this with sufficient determination: with institutions and authorities duly sensitized to this type of crime. With a wide audience, which – whenever possible – express: In our society there is no tolerance for hatred and violence!

Where can I find help?

The following selection of counseling services offer anonymous and free support. There, trained people can be contacted who, together with those affected, consider which measures could best help in an individual situation or which experts are still available.

  • The “Sexual Abuse Hotline” is the national, free and anonymous point of contact for victims of sexual violence, family members and people from the social environment
  • The “Rosa Strippe” Crisis and Information Hotline team offers quick and hassle-free support for LGBTQIA+ people and their families. Contact and advice are also possible by email:
  • The counseling center “Basis Praevent” specializes in supporting boys, men and trans* people who have been victims of sexual violence:
  • The “Living without violence” counseling center is aimed primarily at lesbians, trans* people and queer people of all ages
  • The “Magnus Hirschfeld Centrum” in Hamburg has been offering a wide range of advice for decades, even under specific telephone numbers:
  • The “100% human” service collects detailed information and an overview of police contact persons for LGBTQIA+ in all federal states:

Posted in GEO WISSEN Extra “I know who you are!” (2022)

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