By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Gay people in the United States are just as likely as heterosexuals to experience domestic violence, sexual violence or stalking, and bisexual women are more likely than other women to be abused, federal health experts said on Friday.
Until now, little had been known about how often violence occurred among gays and bisexuals in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said of its findings. The CDC said its report offered the first national data on the issue.
"We know that violence affects everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. This report suggests that lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in this country suffer a heavy toll of sexual violence and stalking committed by an intimate partner," CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement.
For example, domestic violence against a woman was reported by nearly 44 percent of lesbians and about 61 percent by bisexuals compared to 35 percent of heterosexuals. Among men, 26 percent of gays and about 37 percent of bisexuals reported partner violence compared to 29 percent of heterosexuals.
"Bisexual woman had significantly higher prevalence of virtually all types of sexual violence," the CDC said in its report.
Additionally, CDC found the majority of women who experienced violence, regardless of their sexual orientation, faced male perpetrators.
It also looked at rape, and among female victims found that 48 percent of bisexual women and 28 percent of straight women experienced their first rape between the ages of 11 and 17 years.
The agency's findings come as Democrats push to renew the Violence Against Women Act, a bipartisan 1994 law that has been reauthorized several times but officially expired in 2011. The law aims to protect domestic violence victims by easing access to legal protection orders and preventing a victim's sexual history from being cited at trial, among other steps.
Democrats, who control the Senate, reintroduced the measure this week in both chambers of Congress. It has bipartisan support in the Senate, but it is unclear how the bill will progress in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said CDC's finding support the need for his version of the bill's reintroduction, which also includes strong protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"A victim is a victim is a victim, and no victim of these crimes should be denied access to these crucial services," he said in a statement.
CDC's study, which reviewed 2010 data from its National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey of more than 16,000 U.S. adults, is critical for prevention programs and policies in hopes of reducing such incidents, the agency said.
It also called for more research on the issue, and said it would work with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, communities to bring more attention to the problem.
"This information is critical to informing prevention programs and policies aimed at reducing these types of victimization," it said.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Ros Krasny and Jackie Frank)