Domestic violence among GLBT people
In recent years, GLBT survivors of domestic violence have begun speaking out about their experience in increasing numbers. New organizations have been created to address the issue and provide support to survivors.
Historically, though, there has been an overwhelming silence about same-sex domestic violence. Many people still don't believe that same-sex domestic violence really exists, and people who are victims are often ashamed to tell their communities or families. In fact, numerous studies have shown that violence in heterosexual and same-sex relationships occurs at approximately the same rate (one in four).
Domestic violence in lesbian or gay couples is largely the same as it is in heterosexual couples. One partner maintains control over the other person and limits his or her freedom to socialize. The abused partner becomes isolated and confused. The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, economic, and verbal. The abuse doesn't happen all of the time-there are sweet and close periods that are interrupted by unpredictable violence.
After the violence the abuser may be apologetic, asking forgiveness. Many survivors find that when they move to end the relationship, their partner may increase the threats and manipulation. The abuse often gets worse over time. If there are children living in the home, they are terrorized by the violence even if they are not hit themselves.
Myths about same-sex domestic violence
|MYTH: "Violence between two men or two women is a 'fight' between equals."
||Truth: Domestic violence is not the same as a consensual fight, no matter who is involved. Loving, healthy relationships do not include physical fighting. Domestic violence is about control and domination of one person by another; either person could be male, either person could be female. Batterers do not have to be bigger or stronger than the person they abuse.
|MYTH: "If you fight back, then it's not abuse."
||Truth: Fighting back is not abuse, nor does it make the relationship "mutually abusive." Survivors have used violence for many reasons, including self-defense, desperation, anger, and to try to stop the abuse. When survivors use violence the results can be complicated. Police are often confused by same-sex domestic violence and may arrest the wrong or both parties. Friends may disbelieve the survivor. Using violence to survive is a sign that something is wrong -- making a plan to get support is important.
|MYTH: "Women are not violent."
||Truth: There is ample evidence that both genders have capacity for violence. Some women abuse other women, men, and children. Abusers and their victims come from all genders, races, classes, religions, and regions.
|MYTH: "Lesbian relationships are based on equality - lesbians have ideal, loving relationships."
||Truth: Lesbian relationships are just as good and as bad as all other relationships and have most of the same problems. The myth that lesbian relationships are perfect leads to silence among lesbians who are abused.
|MYTH: "Domestic violence primarily occurs among GLBT people who hang out at bars, are poor or are people of color."
||Truth: Abusers and their victims come from all genders, races, classes, religions, and regions. Racist and classist stereotypes around domestic violence are common not just in the GLBT community, but also in the dominant heterosexual culture.
|MYTH: "The law does not and will not protect victims of same-sex domestic violence."
||Truth: Although many law enforcement professionals and court systems are still confused about same-sex domestic violence, there have been many constructive changes in recent years. In many jurisdictions, mandatory arrest policies require the police to intervene and arrest the person they perceive to be the batterer. Although many police remain confused when attempting to sort out incidents involving same gender couples and may end up arresting the wrong or both parties in a battering situation, opportunities to educate and train the police and courts about the realities of domestic violence in same-sex relationships are increasing.
Differences between same-sex and opposite-sex domestic violence
Although domestic violence is largely the same in heterosexual and homosexual relationships, gay, lesbian and bisexual victims of domestic violence have some additional problems.
To get help you have to come out. There aren't very many services to help lesbians, and women who have been abused by another woman are sometimes treated with ignorance or homophobia by the domestic violence service agencies and shelters that are supposed to help them. There are few or no shelters and services for male victims of domestic violence, gay or straight.
There are some domestic violence services specifically for GLBT people such as:
The isolation that accompanies domestic violence can be compounded by being GLBT in a homophobic society. Silence about domestic violence within the LGBT community further isolates the victim, giving more power to the batterer.
Protecting the community
GLBT people feel understandably protective of their relationships in the face of widespread discrimination and negative stereotypes among the wider population. Many GLBT people don't want to admit openly that their relationship-which is already seen as "sick" - has this problem.
One of the weapons that batterers in same-sex relationships may use involve "heterosexist control." This means that the batterer takes advantage of the homophobic and heterosexist nature of the larger society - as well as our own internalized heterosexism - to further dominate and control their partner. Heterosexist control can take a variety of forms, including:
- Threats to "out" the victim -- A batterer may threaten to tell friends, family, co-workers, bosses or the landlord about the victim's sexual orientation as an additional threat.
- Increased risk of losing children -- The risk of losing children to third parties (the birth mother or father, grandparents, the State) is greater for GLBT couples when domestic violence is involved. A batterer can threaten disclosing the sexual orientation of a parent to the courts or foster care authorities.
- Threats of deportation -- For individuals who may not be document residents of this country, abusive partners may threaten to report their partner to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Questions to ask yourself about your relationship
- Has your partner ever pushed, choked, hit or thrown things at you or threatened to hurt you?
- Has your partner ever threatened to "out" you to your family, your friends, your school, or your job?
- Has your partner ever put you down or told you to "shut up" in front of other people?
- Has your partner ever gotten drunk or high and used it as an excuse for sex or to hurt you?
- Do you feel like it's easier to just go along with what your partner wants, rather than make your own decisions?
- Has your partner ever started sex with you while you were sleeping without permission?
- Has your partner refused to practice safer sex when you asked him or her to?
- Has your partner ever left you someplace that wasn't safe or insisted you go somewhere unsafe?
- Have you stopped seeing your friends or family to avoid your partner's jealousy?
- Do you watch what you say to make sure your partner approves?
If you answered "yes" - even once - your partner may be abusive.
What you can do if you are scared or concerned:
- If it's an emergency, call 911 for assistance.
- If it isn't an emergency right now, start planning. You can protect your safety by:
- Making a plan in case you have to leave quickly.
- Putting together an "emergency kit" (link to info at bottom of page) of things you would really need if you had to leave suddenly.
- Establishing contacts with friends and family so you have a place to go in an emergency.
- Considering obtaining a restraining order to protect yourself.
You have the right to file a police report if you have been physically abused. Call your local police department to have a police officer sent out to you or go into any police station to make a report.
Remember that you didn't cause your abuse. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Don't let your partner control or mistreat you. Help is available.
Sample emergency kit:
- Money - store some cash in a secret place where you can easily get to it. Be sure to include some coins for phone calls.
- Keys - an extra set if keys should be kept in a safe place (at a friend's or neighbor's) in case you need to leave quickly.
- Important papers for you and your children - birth certificates, passports, health insurance documents, photo ID/driver's license, immunization records, checkbook, medication, food stamps, social security cards, etc. (or copies of them) should be kept in a safe place.
- Basic items - keep a small bag with your medicines, copies of your legal papers, an extra pair of glasses, and a set of clothes.