LGBT domestic abuse We don’t generally think of domestic violence in same-sex relationships. Society views the stereotypic domestic violence victim as a passive small woman being assaulted by a large overbearing man. But, domestic violence occurs in same-sex relationships too, and LGBT domestic abuse  victims are generally more isolated than victims in other walks of life.

What does LGBT domestic abuse look like?

As with heterosexual relationships, a gay couple may start their relationship happy and loving. Over time, one partner may become emotionally manipulative, which leads to physical aggression. Behaviors like wrist-twisting while holding hands, pinching an arm during a fight, or hitting are all forms of domestic violence that a person in a same-sex relationship may suffer the same as a person in a heterosexual relationship.

One victim stated, “How do you say to your friends, ‘My girlfriend rapes me’ when their only mental definition of rape is a man forcing his penis inside a woman’s vaina? How do you say you were assaulted when it comes back to the idea of ‘that doesn’t count’? Well, it does count.” (See This is what domestic violence is like when you’re LGBT by Patrick Strudwick, BuzzFeed News.)

A 2010 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released again in 2013 with new analysis discovered that the lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner was 43.8% for lesbians and 61.1% for bisexual women. For gay men, the statistics showed 26% for gay men and 37.3% for bisexual men. In the same study, the CDC determined that lesbians and gay men experience rates of domestic violence and sexual violence equal to or higher than those in heterosexual relationships.

Hurdles to getting help for LGBT domestic abuse victims?

The abuse is hard to spot, says May Krukiel, director of residential services for domestic violence shelter Hope’s Door in New York, because with same-sex couples, the partners frequently have the same social network, which can lead to the abuser alienating the victim from the social supports. A gay person may also feel isolation and vulnerability from social support and from mainstream society in general, making it hard to seek help. Also, Krukiel says, many gay and lesbian people feel pressure to have their relationships appear perfect to avoid criticism from outside the community.

Coming out is also a key issue. “How do you tell anyone you are living in fear from your partner if no one knows you’re gay?” questions Jo Harvey Barringer, CEO of Broken Rainbow, formerly a national LGBT domestic abuse charity, which recently closed due to lack of funding. “About 85% of callers to our [domestic abuse] helpline have a partner that will use the threat of outing them to colleagues, family, or kids as a form of control,” says Barringer. And, to make it more difficult, to seek services in the mainstream, the victim must also come out.

One area of domestic abuse unique to the LGBT community is the trend of threatening to reveal HIV status or withhold HIV medication between gay male partners or withholding of hormone treatment in transsexual couples.

What can we do to help LGBT domestic abuse victims?

Local police departments need to be trained to handle such reports of domestic violence, as they are often the first responders that victims meet. Also domestic violence awareness campaigns and service providers could expand their reach to be more inclusive of victims that do not match the stereotype by refocusing educational and outreach campaigns away from linking masculinity with violence and acknowledging that violence crosses all gender, sexual orientation, and economic lines.

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UPDATE: The LexBlog Network gave this post a Top 10 blog post of the day award! Thanks LXBN for the recognition! Check out their post Top 10 in Law Blogs: Brexit, Online Accounts, Labor Union.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.