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Same-Sex Domestic and Sexual Violence

Similarities with Opposite-Sex Relationship Violence:

  • No one deserves to be abused.
  • Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, and involve verbal behavior used to coerce, threaten or humiliate.
  • Abuse often occurs in a cyclical fashion.
  • Abuse worsens when one partner in a relationship seeks to leave.
  • The purpose of the abuse is to maintain control and power over one’s partner.
  • The abused partner feels alone, isolated and afraid, and is usually convinced that the abuse is somehow her or his fault, or could have been avoided if she or he knew what to do.
  • A pattern of violence or behaviors exists where one seeks to control the thoughts, beliefs, or conduct of their intimate partner, or to punish their partner for resisting their control. This may been seen as physical or sexual violence, or emotional and verbal abuse.

What Makes Same-Sex Violence Unique:

  • Emotional abuse for someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or intersex may be to out them at work or to family or friends.
  • Local resources for domestic violence in the LGBTQI community are sometimes scarce and some traditional domestic violence services lack the training, sensitivity, and expertise to adequately recognize and address abusive LGBTQI relationships. A Queer individual who is being battered must overcome homophobia and denial of the issue of battering. Lesbians, bisexuals and gay men who have been abused have much more difficulty in finding sources of support than heterosexual women who are battered by their male partners.
  • It is frequently incorrectly assumed that lesbian, bi and gay abuse must be “mutual.” It is not often seen as being mutual in heterosexual battering.
  • Victims often believe that in order to use existing services (such as a shelter, attending support groups or calling a crisis line) they must lie or hide the gender of the batterer to be perceived (and thus accepted) as a heterosexual. Or it can mean “coming out”, which is a major life decision. If lesbians, bisexuals and gays come out to service providers who are not discreet with this information, it could lead to the victim losing their home, job, custody of children, etc. This may also precipitate local and/or statewide laws to affect some of these changes, depending on the area.
  • LGBTQI victims and their partner’s lives are financially intertwined, such as each paying a rent or mortgage and having “built a home together”, they have no legal process to assist in making sure assets are evenly divided if they decide to split, a process which exists for their married, heterosexual counterparts.
  • Telling heterosexuals about battering in a LGBTQI relationship can reinforce the myth many believe that lesbian, bisexual and gay relationships are dysfunctional. This can further cause the victim to feel isolated and unsupported. The LGBTQI community itself is often not supportive of victims of battering because many want to maintain the myth that there are no problems (such as child abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, etc.) in these relationships. As long as the community continues to put priority in pretending gays and lesbians don’t experience abuse, resources will remain scarce, and outreach will continue to suffer.
  •  LGBTQI may face other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, and homophobia which can make it more difficult for these groups to get the support needed (legal, financial, social, housing, medical, etc.) to escape and live freely from an abusive relationship.
  • The LGBTQI community within the area may be small, and in all likelihood everyone the survivor knows will soon know of their abuse. Sides will be taken and support may be difficult to find. Anonymity is not an option, a characteristic many heterosexual survivors can draw upon in “starting a new life” for themselves within the same city.

Myths Around Same-Sex Abuse

MYTH #1: Only straight women get battered. Men are not victims of domestic violence, and women never batter.
REALITY: Such myths ignore and deny the realities of same-sex relationships. Men can be and are victims of domestic violence. Women can be and are batterers. Domestic violence is fundamentally a power issue. Even when two people are of the same gender, power differences exist and can be abused.

MYTH #2: Domestic violence is more common in straight relationships than it is in same-sex relationships.
REALITY: There is no reason whatsoever to assume that lesbian, gay, bisexual,  transgender, questioning, or intersex (LGBTQI) people are less violent than heterosexual men and women. Research on same-sex domestic violence can be difficult, given the fact that many of us are not comfortable being open about our relationships, let alone abusive ones. Research that has been done indicates that battering in same-sex relationships is about as common as in heterosexual relationships. It is increasingly agreed that battering presents one of the most significant health risks to LGBTQI communities today.

MYTH #3: It really isn’t violence when a same-sex couple fights. It’s just a lover’s quarrel, a fair fight between equals.
REALITY: This is based on the false assumption that two people of the same gender have no power differences. It also ignores that fact that in domestic violence relationships it is the choice of one partner to take advantage of her or his power in abusive ways. There is nothing fair about being knocked against a wall, being threatened, or enduring endless criticism from an angry lover. Dismissing domestic violence as a lover’s quarrel trivializes and excuses violence that is just as real, and dangerous, as any in a heterosexual relationship.

MYTH #4: It really isn’t violence when gay men fight. It’s boys being boys. A man should be able to defend himself.
REALITY: These ideas grow out of a larger societal attitude and the primitive notion that it is acceptable for men to be violent; that it is normal or even appropriately masculine. There is nothing normal or appropriate about domestic violence. The vast majority of men and women are not violent, and the majority of same-sex relationships are free of abuse. ‘Boys being boys’ may have been harmless (or was it?) on the playground at age six, but when you are adult with injuries inflicted by your lover, it is neither normal nor acceptable.

MYTH #5: The batterer is always bigger, stronger, more ‘butch’. Victims will always be smaller, weaker, more feminine.
REALITY: Experience with heterosexual battering and attitudes about traditional sex roles lead many to fall into stereotypes of how batterers and victims, respectively, should look and act. Unfortunately, such stereotypes are of little actual use in helping us to identify who the batterer is in a same-sex relationship. A person who is small, but prone to violence and rage can do a lot of damage to someone who may be taller, heavier, stronger, and non-violent. Size, weight, ‘masculinity’, ‘femininity’ or any other physical attribute or role is not a good indicator of whether a person will be a victim or a batterer. A batterer does not need to be 6’1″ and built like a rugby player to use a weapon against you, to smash your compact discs, to cut up your clothing, or tell everyone at work that you really are ‘queer’.

MYTH #6: Lesbian and Gay domestic violence is sexual behavior, a version of S and M. The victim actually likes it.
REALITY: This myth persists because many people try to define and understand LGBTQI people exclusively through sexual behavior – AND because they mistakenly assume that the majority of LGBTQI relationships are based on or include sadomasochistic behaviors (do we assume that anyone who wears a leather jacket owns a Harley and is a member of the Hells Angels?).

Confusing sadomasochism with battering, in either straight or homosexual relationships, keeps us from facing the reality that domestic violence occurs in ALL kinds of relationships, and is not the victim’s fault. In consensual sadomasochism or domination scenario, any violence, coercion or domination occurs within the context of a mutually pleasurable ‘scene’, within which there is trust and/or an agreement between parties about the limits and boundaries of behavior. In contrast, domestic violence takes place without any mutual trust or agreement, and is not consensual or pleasurable for the victim, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. A batterer’s violent and coercive behaviors don’t just affect the sexual relationship, but pervade other aspects of the relationship as well.

MYTH #7: The law does not and will not protect victims of same sex domestic violence.

First, we must remember that there is a difference between codified laws and the enforcement of those laws. Without a law in place that specifically defines what actions constitute a crime and exactly who can be considered a victim, there is no law in place to BE enforced. In many U.S. states, including Montana, heterosexuality is not a requirement for protection under abuse prevention laws. Within the last ten years, many states have altered laws to be more gender neutral, affording additional protection to anyone who has been abused or threatened by someone they’ve lived with or had an intimate dating relationship with, regardless of the gender of either party. Similarly, some very conservative states have gone to great lengths to define that only opposite gendered persons who have been married, lived together or had a child together can be considered “domestic violence victims”. Some states fall somewhere in the middle with vast grey areas that don’t concretely define one way or the other if victims in homosexual relationships can be protected under domestic violence statues – meaning that it falls to the discretion of law enforcement to take the report, the prosecutor to file the charges and the judge to consider the case under domestic violence statutes. From the “law” side then, unless your state statutes clearly provide guidance for law and court personnel, even the most issue-conscious and well-meaning police officers, prosecutors and judges don’t have statutory ability to take action on behalf of same sex victims of domestic violence under the umbrella of “domestic violence laws”.

In more and more cases today, the application of these laws goes smoothly and fairly for victims of same-sex domestic violence. Unfortunately, because of myths detailed here and intolerance among some personnel in the criminal justice system, this is not always true. Some police officers still fail to determine the nature of the relationship between same-sex parties to an assault, and therefore don’t even consider applying abuse prevention laws. Others remain hostile or unwilling to recognize the rights of LGBTQI people. One may also still encounter court personnel or judges who are uncomfortable, unhelpful, or unfair in their treatment of same-sex case. Because of this reality individual victims must make personal decisions, within the context of an overall safety plan, about how and when they will make use of police and court services. This does NOT mean that action cannot be taken – charges and arrests can and do take place, but for individualized crimes such as assault and battery which typically carry lesser sentences and are easier for an abuser to plead out of or have charges dropped altogether.

Make sure to check the wording of the domestic violence statutes in your state and/or contact your local Gay and Lesbian Community program for further information and legal referrals.

MYTH #8: It is easier for lesbian or gay victims of domestic violence to leave the abusive relationship than it is for heterosexual battered women who are married.
REALITY: Same-sex couples are as intertwined and involved in each other’s lives as are heterosexual couples. There is no evidence that the absence of children makes leaving a violent partner easier, and same-sex couples can have children as well. The invisibility and relatively limited supports available to victims of same-sex domestic violence may compound barriers to leaving. Many LGBTQI people lack support from their families and communities, and may not be able to rely on them for help. Victims may also be threatened by their batterers with ‘outing’ if they attempt to leave an abusive relationship, or convinced that potential helpers will be homophobic and unhelpful.