When picturing domestic violence, the common image features abuse between heterosexual partners, at the hands of a male perpetrator. Left out of common discourse is a comprehensive understanding of domestic violence between same-sex partners. Emotional, mental, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse is experienced by same-sex couples at comparable, if not higher, rates to heterosexual couples.
According to the CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 43.8 percent of lesbians, 61.1 percent of bisexual women, and 35 percent of heterosexual women, along with 26 percent of gay men, 37.3 percent of bisexual men, and 29 percent of heterosexual men report having been a victim of intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
While the rates of domestic violence are similar, same-sex couples face unique circumstances, contributing to the lower reporting rates among LGBTQ victims in comparison to heterosexual victims. These factors include the threat of being ‘outed’ by their abuser to family, friends, and co-workers as a tactic of control. Many victims fear disclosing their gender or sexual orientation to criminal justice personnel, due to a history of law enforcement mistreatment directed at the LGBTQ community. Additionally, the LGBTQ community has long fought for positive recognition and access to equal rights. Many victims fear speaking of their abuse will paint the community in a negative light, retracting from the national progress that has been made.
Myths and misconceptions of the LGBTQ community on the whole, further the shame and silence experienced by same-sex intimate partner violence victims. In the case of lesbian relationships, the stereotype that there is one masculine partner and one feminine partner, embodying a dominate/submissive image of a socially accepted couple, leads to misconceptions and assumptions by law enforcement. Overall, criminal justice personnel commonly downplay “the physical danger involved in same-sex relationships or fail to identify a primary aggressor and instead arrest both victim and perpetrator.”
In 2013, The Violence against Women Act included provisions that made strides in addressing domestic violence between same-sex partners. In response to discrimination against LGBTQ victims, the VAWA provisions prohibit such discrimination, working to ensure all victims have equal access to services and get the support they deserve. Many more initiatives need to be taken, including an increase in LGBTQ representation in domestic violence resources, trainings and education programs that include information about LGBTQ domestic abuse, and an expansion of services directly working with victims and perpetrators of LGBTQ domestic violence.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This month, advocates and survivors come together to bring the issues surrounding domestic violence to the forefront of national conversation. We must ensure this narrative and understanding includes LGBTQ victims of domestic abuse. Domestic violence is a LGBTQ issue, domestic violence is a feminist issue and domestic violence is a community issue that we are all responsible for stopping.
If you or someone you know is undergoing domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-7233. http://www.thehotline.org/2012/06/lgbtq-relationships-and-abuse/ offers specific resources and information for LGBTQ victims of domestic violence.