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.
For more reading on this topic, see:
- Marissa Higgins’ article this week in the Washington Post Why is it so hard to recognize domestic abuse in same-sex relationships?
- Patrick Strudwick’s BuzzFeed News article This is what domestic violence is like when you’re LGBT.
- JD Glass’s article on Advocate.com 2 studies that prove domestic violence is an LGBT issue.
- Maya Shwayder’s article on TheAtlantic.com website A same-sex domestic violence epidemic is silent.
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.