Many people seeking asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/ or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) have experienced persecution, stigma and/ or discrimination, either personally or through a discriminatory rhetoric in society. They have been forced to flee because of threats to their safety, which is exacerbated in countries where same-sex sexual activity or diverse gender identity are criminalised, and legal protections are unavailable. Distinctively, the persecution experienced by SOGIESC applicants is often personal in its nature; they are at risk of being subject to ‘honour’ crimes, sexual violence, physical assault, and trans and intersex persons are additionally at risk of forced sterilisation.
People seeking asylum on the grounds of diverse SOGIESC are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in their country of origin and during transit, including ‘corrective’ or ‘curative’ rape. ‘Corrective rape’ is a term used to describe the sexual assault of someone with diverse SOGIESC where the perpetrator’s intent is to ‘correct’ or ‘cure’ the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and re-enforce conformity with perceived gender and social norms.
The effect of sexual assault on one’s self-perception and mental health is well-documented; following the incident, survivors of sexual assault often experience feelings of shame, self-blame and are prone to numerous mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder.
For people seeking asylum on the basis of their diverse SOGIESC, the internal feelings of shame that can result from surviving sexual violence is compounded by potential negative emotions around one’s orientation or identity.As many applicants have fled from a country where same-sex sexual relations or ‘imitating the opposite sex’ are criminalised and/or stigmatised, applicants may have had to hide, deny or repress their identity or orientation, potentially for many years.The impact of concealing one’s identity as well as the ‘othering’ through stigma is vast; it can lead to feelings of shame, internalised homophobia, guilt, fear of rejection or threat to one’s pride.
The experience of survivors of sexual violence on account of their diverse SOGIESC exists at an intersection, and they are consequently at risk of facing multiple accumulative layers of negative internal feelings and an interrelation of vulnerabilities. The feelings associated with surviving sexual violence are amplified by the notion that it may have occurred on account of their identity or orientation, of which they may already be feeling shame and stigma for.
The failure to recognise the complexities of the intersections can be detrimental to the applicant’s navigation of the asylum process. For instance, the policy report on ‘[T]he Recognition ofViolence Against Lesbian, Bisexual, Inter and Trans People within the CommonEuropean Asylum System’ found that people with diverse SOGIESC are discriminated against in regards to shelter and service provisions for survivors of sexual violence.
In the context of the asylum application, the intersectional vulnerabilities of the applicant entail various and compounding barriers to articulate their claim and their story during the asylum interview. The effect on the applicant’s mental health risks impacting their memory and the ability to recount the events. The difficulties in recollecting traumatic memories can be intensified by the stressful environment of the asylum interview, as well as the hostile environment stemming from inappropriate and victim-blaming lines of questioning.  This is further complicated by the applicant’s identity or orientation, of which they may not be comfortable to disclose,  yet the identity or orientation may be inseparable from the incident.
Despite the significant overlap and the resultant impact on the applicant’s lived experience, as well as access to appropriate services and a fair asylum procedure, the intersection between sexual violence and diverse SOGIESC in the asylum context is profoundly under-acknowledged and under researched. Consequently, relevant information, such as the correlation between sexual orientation and the likelihood of being subject to violence in the home, community and in government settings, are often ignored.
Although there has recently been some recognition, an intersectional approach needs to be adopted and normalised on a much widerscale. Understanding of the complexities of the intersections are fundamental in ensuring appropriate services are in place and there is the necessaryconsideration within the asylum process, to the standard established in EUDirective 2013/32/EU.
It is therefore recommended that:
- The European Union Agency forAsylum and the Greek Asylum Service issue updated guidelines with a trauma-informed intersectional approach. These guidelines should identify the clear overlap between SOGIESC and survivors of sexual violence, recognise forms of sexual violence specific to SOGIESC, and ensure that the persecution is recognised in its entirety.
- Awareness is raised for staff working with SOGIESC claimants with regards to structural supports.
- Further and specific training for staff working with SOGIESC applicants, including caseworkers, medical actors and psychologists, onthe particularities of these claims.
- Access to legal aid and mental health support is available, to assist the applicant with articulating their story and overcome the above mentioned barriers.
- Further research is developed specifically regarding the impact of sexual violence on asylum applicants with diverse SOGIESC, with a focus on mental health, access to services and the asylum procedure.