Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate against the LGBT community

By : Sandra Ketcham
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After living together for just a few months, David’s boyfriend started to change.

“He became very controlling, losing his temper over stupid things and … physically getting in my face when we’d argue,” says David, who lives in Port Orange. “I figured it was some sort of stress or it was because he’d had a few beers, but instead it got worse over the next few months until one day he snapped and threw me against the wall. When I told him I was leaving, he called me a faggot and said he’d tell my parents I was gay. I was only out to my sister and a couple of friends at that point.”

Over the next several months, David’s boyfriend became increasingly demanding and abusive, but David was scared of being outed and didn’t have anywhere else to go. In need of information and support, he called a domestic violence shelter in Daytona.

“I just wanted to know if there was help with moving out and I wanted to know if I had any legal rights to our furniture and art and dog,” David says. “They didn’t seem to know what to do with a man needing help. They gave me another number to call, but I don’t think I bothered. I just dealt with it until my boyfriend found someone else and moved out.”

David believes he was lucky, even though he still suffers from occasional nightmares and has had trouble trusting men since his relationship ended almost seven years ago. He’s known others who’ve gone through worse, and he believes at least half his LGBT friends have been abused in some way by a partner.

Statistics support his estimate. Same-sex domestic violence is at least as common as heterosexual domestic violence, according to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey. As many as 61 percent of bisexual women and 44 percent of lesbians report rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner compared to 35 percent of heterosexual women. The numbers are a little closer for men, with 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men reporting violence versus 29 percent of heterosexual men.

Despite its prevalence, same-sex domestic violence doesn’t get as much attention as heterosexual domestic violence, and many social, medical and legal agencies don’t have the training or resources to provide for the unique needs of the LGBT community, notes the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP).

There’s also a lack of understanding when it comes to violence in LGBT relationships; it’s not uncommon for same-sex violence to be deemed a “fair fight” or for victims to be accused of overreacting. And, when LGBT victims finally work up the courage to reach out, they are often dismissed or treated with homophobic responses.

Accusations of “whining” and “being dramatic” were obstacles 26-year-old Amanda J. faced when searching for a way out of her abusive 14-month relationship.

“My brother told me to grow up, fight back and get over it,” Amanda recalls. “He had me convinced that my girlfriend couldn’t be abusing me because she was a girl and she was smaller than me. It took me a long time to realize he was wrong and that I deserved someone who treated me well.”

Amanda says she thought the abuse was normal.

“I was shamed into thinking I did something to deserve it and had no right to complain about it,” she says. “It was probably worse in my case because my girlfriend was careful not to leave marks on me. She’d pull my hair or slap me or scream at me. Mostly it was the constant name-calling and being told I was fat and slow that hurt the most. I believed her. I actually thought I was lucky to have her.

“It’s hard to leave when no one else thinks there’s a problem. It actually makes you wonder if you’re crazy.”

Struggle to break free
Breaking free and getting help can be extremely challenging for the LGBT community. In fact, Heather Wilkie, the COO of Harbor House, a domestic violence shelter and advocacy center in Orlando, says there are many barriers to LGBT victims in need of assistance.

“Fear and threats of being outed if they are not out to their families or communities, failure to recognize they are victims of domestic violence, denial and isolation in the LGBT community, lack of accessible and sensitive services, fear of losing custody of children, and homophobia, heterosexism, and/or lack of training within law enforcement and justice systems” are all challenges the LGBT community faces, explaines Wilkie.

“Peaches,” who lives in Sanford, had to overcome many issues common to victims of intimate partner violence, and leaving wasn’t easy. But after hearing her 4-year-old daughter yell, “get off my mama,” she decided to end her abusive relationship.

“Going back home to parents that disowned me, hated me for loving women, prevented me from leaving. I felt I was better off, not being a burden,” explaines Peaches. Getting legal help was even harder than finding social support. “Police look at us like weirdos, and there is no domestic violence help for same sex partners. Nobody cares if we kill each other.”

An unsettling 14.3 percent of LGBT victims were denied help from domestic violence shelters, according to a 2012 report by the NCAVP, and nearly 30 percent of LGBT victims reporting an abusive incident to police were arrested instead of their abusive partner.

Beyond physical abuse
Without proper training to identify and address LGBT domestic violence, law enforcement and other criminal justice personnel tend to underestimate the risk of physical violence in same-sex relationships or arrest both the victim and the abuser because they are unable to identify the primary aggressor. Recognizing intimate partner violence is even more difficult when the abuse is sexual, emotional or otherwise hidden.

It’s important to remember that domestic violence isn’t always physical; verbal abuse, emotional and psychological intimidation, threats against family or pets, sexual assault, financial control, and other methods of humiliation and manipulation trap victims, making it extremely difficult to leave. Unfortunately, these behaviors often go on for months or years, inducing fear, helplessness and isolation that can lead to lasting psychological and emotional trauma.

So what are victims of same-sex domestic violence supposed to do with limited social and legal support?

The Spring of Tampa Bay, a domestic violence center in Hillsborough County, recommends contacting a local domestic violence advocate to develop a safety plan before leaving and calling 911 in the event of a crisis. Documenting abuse through photos and medical examinations will help with legal issues down the road, and reaching out to a trusted friend, therapist or family member can provide much-needed emotional support.

As society becomes more aware of same-sex domestic violence, services to the LGBT community should improve. Harbor House has partnered with The Center and the Zebra Coalition in Orlando to offer support and prevention groups specific to the LGBT community, and domestic violence shelters and organizations in Tampa Bay and around the state are increasing efforts to educate the public and criminal justice professionals.

Of course, there are still roadblocks and a lot of ignorance. The hope is that increasing outreach efforts will help correct misconceptions about same-sex domestic violence and provide victims with greater social support and improved access to emergency shelter, childcare, medical treatment and legal representation.

Support Resources:

Harbor House of Central Florida
HarborHouseFl.com
407-886-2856

The Spring of Tampa Bay
TheSpring.org
813-247-SAFE (7233)

Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence
FCADV.org/
(800) 621-4202

The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Safety Planning Information
TheHotline.org/Help/Path-To-Safety

Victim Service Center of Central Florida, Inc.
VictimServiceCenter.com
407-497-6701

 

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