LGBTQ+ domestic violence: the silenced issue

Despite statistics showing LGBTQ+ people are just as likely to experience domestic violence the issue has largely been hushed by the community – Stephanie Farnsworth examines why. 


LGBTQ+ people who experience domestic violence, particularly in same gender relationships, often have no outlet of support and nor are they allowed a voice. There is only one dedicated LGBTQ+ domestic violence charity in the UK – and earlier this year it fought off the threat of closure.

The LGBTQ+ community has a long history of starting charity movements and demanding better rights – with or without success – as we’ve had no choice but to fight for ourselves as nobody else was going to, so why then is this issue so ignored?

The LGBTQ+ community has had their identities mocked and threatened for centuries. Any relationship an LGBTQ+ person has often faces abuse and derision. LGBTQ+ people have long been associated with having no impulse control, of being violent and even of being more likely to sexually assault people which is why trans women are still being turned away from women’s shelters. This is complete fallacy and the truth is that LGBTQ+ people (especially trans people of colour) are far more likely to be the victims of assault than the perpetrators. These perpetual myths have provoked a response where the LGBTQ+ community has tried to show all same gender relationships as just as good, if not better, than relationships comprising of a cis man and a cis woman. There’s huge pressure to shrug off any issues within the community and to silence them otherwise there may come the claim that LGBTQ+ people are dangerous and untrustworthy.

These perpetual myths have provoked a response where the LGBTQ+ community has tried to show all same gender relationships as just as good, if not better, than relationships comprising of a cis man and a cis woman

Any person who is from a disempowered group will know this trick well. As soon as one person from a minority community does something criminal or immoral then they are treated as representatives for their group – whether that be race, religion, disability, gender and/or sexuality – and so it becomes so much easier for the community to focus on the violence coming from the outside (which is still a huge issue) rather than any issues within. To focus on any issues within the community will be used by the cis straight world to manipulate the situation to try to strengthen the preconceptions they have about LGBTQ+ people.

This has created a culture of fear where LGBTQ+ organisations and media outlets are reluctant to examine concerns within the community, and this is particularly highlighted when it comes to domestic violence. Smaller LGBTQ+ services are also unwilling to recognise or tackle domestic violence due to pressure to present LGBTQ+ identities in a positive light and also as a result of a lack of resources. The focus of the community has been to provide numerous studies into the happiness of LGBTQ+ family life while domestic and intimate partner violence is ignored. Nuance and critical examination have not been allowed because there is the fear that any look at domestic violence will almost be an admission of guilt about LGBTQ+ identities – which is nonsense. LGBTQ+ people aren’t allowed to just be, nor are they allowed to talk about their experiences for they must be perfect or face attack for being failures. LGBTQ+ organisations are often tricked into cis straight society’s bullying tactic of setting and enforcing impossible standards where inevitable failure to meet them reinforces damaging and untrue ideas based on little more than prejudice. Only when LGBTQ+ people are allowed to be – in failure or success, struggle or contentment, pain or joy – will these identities have been accepted.

Nuance and critical examination have not been allowed because there is the fear that any look at domestic violence will almost be an admission of guilt about LGBTQ+ identities- which is nonsense.

Recent studies are proving that abuse is an issue within same gender relationships and this must be acknowledged. One study found that 21.5% of men and 35.4% of women in same gender relationships experienced intimate – partner physical violence during their lifetimes compared with  only 7.1% of men and 20.4% of women who cohabited with a partner of a different gender. 34. 6% of transgender people (regardless of gender of the partner) experienced intimate partner violence also in a study from 2014.

Another study, conducted by the CDC in 2010*, of over nine thousand women (96.5% were straight, 2.2% bisexual and 1.3% lesbian) found that while 35% of straight women had experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner it was even more common for bisexual and lesbian women. 43.8% of lesbians had experienced one of the three categories, while 61.1% of bisexual women had and this is even with the lower turn out rates of bisexual and lesbian women in the study which is suggestive of a much more serious epidemic of intimate partner violence that LGBTQ+ people experience. Additionally, trans people (particularly non binary trans people) are still often ignored within research and so the true realities for their experiences are being silenced – this is despite the fact that it is widely accepted that trans women are especially at risk of assault in general and so should be considered as an at risk group for experiencing domestic/intimate partner abuse.

This erasure and the limited way we think about domestic violence is dominating the narrative and leaving survivors isolated. As a consequence of the still very narrow and binary gender stereotypes and expectations we have, men are erased as victims of violence and it is believed that women can never be perpetrators. It isn’t uncommon for these stereotypes to be so prevalent that even those experiencing abuse do not see what is happening. Gay and bisexual men have brushed off assaults as just something they assumed that was natural to being in a relationship with a man, and women often do not think that the woman they are with would be capable of committing any form of abuse due to her gender. These ideas are so engrained in society that even domestic violence charities still don’t seem like welcoming or understanding places for many LGBTQ+ people. The 2010 Equality Act also means that trans women can be turned away from women’s shelters despite the fact that logically this is a clear violation of non discrimination legislation (included within the same piece of legislation). Furthermore, intimate partner violence has often been focussed upon by feminist movements in an entirely cis-centric way with the emphasis on patriarchy and (cis) male violence which has exacerbated this issue around one dimensional beliefs about abuse. The focus is generally centred around cis, heterosexual women in monogamous relationships and often with children, yet this approach has completely erased LGBTQ+ victims and this isolation puts them in further harm with little support available in society and very little understanding.

As a consequence of the still very narrow and binary gender stereotypes and expectations we have, men are erased as victims of violence and it is believed that women can never be perpetrators.

Jasna Magić, researcher at Broken Rainbow, noted that while mainstream services were generally  welcoming in attitudes to LGBTQ+ people there was little consideration of the specific experiences and issues they would face. There was often positive will behind support workers but good practice was lacking. She added that this was an issue that charities would struggle to overcome as a result of financial cuts; mainstream organisations would not be able to invest in equality and diversity training for its staff or in resources which helped promote better approaches to LGBTQ+ survivors. Magić also reinforced that abuse within LGBTQ+ people’s relationships was often not recognised either by society or by survivors themselves. Certain aspects of abuse are also routinely dismissed, such as emotional jealousy which is regularly brushed off as being good for a relationship.

Additionally, there are fears that the police will not be willing or able to help people who experience domestic or intimate partner violence due to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and a bad reputation for tackling this issue that lingers within the force. A recent study in the US found that of those who reported an incident to the police 32% said that they were treated with indifference and 14% reported hostility. The same study also found that intimate partner violence was not restricted to acts behind closed doors as transgender people were 1.98 times more likely than cisgender people to experience IPV in public. This then reinforces just how unsafe so many public spaces are for trans people if violence can occur so openly and without fear of justice.**

For many decades, the police were pitted against LGBTQ+ people due to laws criminalising their very identities. It’s been incredibly difficult for trust to be built, particularly when so many LGBTQ+ people often rely upon sex work as their source of income and this is regularly sees them targeted by the police. However, if LGBTQ+ domestic abuse survivors are going to be protected then the police must do all to confront prejudices within their organisation. They need to work for LGBTQ+ people and not against them. Recruiting LGBTQ+ people into the police for is also essential in being able to protect the community. The police has a duty to be representative, not to improve their image, but to show a connection with the community and also to have officers who understand the many issues that people of certain identities face.

Greater Manchester Police have been trying in recent months to reach out to the LGBTQ+ community to tackle intimate partner violence by working with LGBT domestic violence charity, Broken Rainbow, and launching a new awareness campaign at the city’s Pride this year with the line ‘there is no pride in domestic abuse’. More initiatives such as this across the police force would be a welcome start in really focusing on LGBTQ+ experiences of domestic and intimate partner violence.

Domestic violence against an LGBTQ+ person can take many forms no matter how many people are in the relationship or what gender they make up. It can include (but is not limited to) sexual assault, physical abuse, manipulation, emotional abuse, mental torment, racial abuse, abuse targeting a person’s disability, threats to out the person and even homophobic, biphobic and/or transphobic abuse. Intersex people also can face extreme prejudice due to partners not accepting that they are truly their gender and so with partners of any gender or sexuality, intersex people can be at risk of domestic violence. Furthermore, not accepting an intersex person’s gender can mean that they are put under pressure from partners to take medications or even undergo surgery as an attempt to remove their intersex identity. Asexual people can also be particularly at risk of emotional blackmail and abuse by a partner who may try to bargain by asserting that by not engaging in sexual activity is suggestive that the asexual partner does not really love them. It needs to be acknowledged that LGBTQ+ people can experience abuse targeted to their identity as this is often disregarded.

Young LGBTQ+ people, or LGBTQ+ people in poverty may feel forced to put up with such abuse because they have nowhere else to go due to isolation, family rejection and/or due to a lack of financial independence. This isolation can leave many LGBTQ+ people extremely vulnerable to exploitation within a relationship. Disabled LGBTQ+ people can also be dependent on a partner for day to day care and support and so may worry about their future and health if they are able to leave an abusive partner and do decide to.

Young LGBTQ+ people, or LGBTQ+ people in poverty may feel forced to put up with such abuse because they have nowhere else to go due to isolation, family rejection and/or due to a lack of financial independence.

While we are moving into an era where people are more likely to be open about their sexual fluidity, it’s important to provide services which encompass the realities of what it is like to be LGBTQ+. Domestic violence is an issue that sadly many LGBTQ+ people will be confronted with in life and their experiences should not be silenced for fear of harming the reputation of the community after the decades of hard work to shirk the insidious labels that were thrown at LGBTQ+ people. It’s only by acknowledging that LGBTQ+ people’s relationships are just the same as everybody else’s that true acceptance will happen and it’s only by creating good support services and understanding that LGBTQ+ domestic violence will be tackled so that victims won’t have to face abuse alone any more.

*’2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation’, (2013) The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey,  [Online] Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_SOfindings.pdf

**’Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence in 2014′  (2015) National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, New York, [Online] Available at: http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/2014_IPV_Report_Final_w-Bookmarks_10_28.pdf

Follow Stephanie on Twitter (@StephFarnsworth)

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