The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded a $50,000, year-long grant to Bethany (bee) Coston, Ph.D., assistant professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at VCU.
The grant is funded through the foundation’s New Connections project, a career development program designed to support research on health equity by scholars from diverse, historically disadvantaged or underrepresented backgrounds.
Dr. Coston’s research focuses on bisexual and non-monosexual women at the intersections of other marginalized identities, their experiences of intimate partner, dating, and sexual violence, and their access to culturally competent health care. They identify as a non-binary, queer, and bisexual, and say that their interest in health equity is informed by their experiences as a member of those marginalized communities.
“When you experience inequality in your life, whether it be based on your age, your race/ethnicity, your income, your sexual orientation, you probably want to know more about why. Why is this happening? Where does it come from? What can I do about it? How can I make it so that the people in my community thrive? Not just survive day-to-day, but really flourish and have the best life possible?” said Coston.
Compared to both lesbian and heterosexual women, bisexual women experience significantly higher rates of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by intimate partners. According to a 2010 national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), and analyzed by Dr. Coston, 83 percent of bisexual women and 78 percent of non-monosexual women experience violence at the hands of an intimate or dating partner in their lifetime, compared to 55 percent of heterosexual women and 67 percent of lesbian women.
Coston is interested in studying why bisexual and non monosexual women experience disproportionately higher rates of intimate partner and sexual violence, what resources they use and what resources they are denied after victimization.
“We know that the rates of health consequences [among bisexual women] are higher, rates of violence are higher, but actually, healthcare seeking is lower,” said Coston.
To try and explain why bisexual survivors don’t always seek healthcare services after experiencing violence, Coston is further analyzing the 2010 CDC data–along with it’s 2011 updated collection–to study the barriers that exist to healthcare utilization for bisexual and non monosexual women. They plan to use a social-ecological model to study these disparities, which considers the various intersecting identities such as age, race, nativity, immigration status, education level, and income, that affect the likelihood that a bisexual woman will access health care. A specific focus will be on the differing experiences with traditional, institutionalized health care providers–such as emergency room doctors and psychiatrists–and community-based organizations, that may or may not be explicitly medically trained, but often have expertise in LGBTQ+ specific needs.
“I think it’s important to highlight where inequalities exist, where we can get better, and a large part of that, I think, is in partnering with, or increasing funding to, these local organizations that already know how to do it,” Coston said.
Hopefully, Coston says, this research will help inform policymakers in their efforts to support survivors, regardless of how they identify.
“I want to make the world a place where there is no violence; but in the meantime, I want to make sure everyone has equitable access to healthcare that is rooted in anti-oppression frameworks, so that survivors don’t have to suffer the negative physical and mental health outcomes of victimization or the revictimization that often occurs when seeking help,” Coston said.
Written by Megan Schiffres