Domestic abuse within same sex relationships is a significant issue. Reports show that around 25%-33% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience violent or threatening relationships with partners or ex-partners. This is appropriately at the same level as opposite sex couples, although it is likely that this figure is significantly under-reported due to fear of sexual orientation being ‘outed’ and a fear of the response from the police preventing disclosure.
The experiences of those who do report same sex domestic abuse is concerning. A range of myths prevail within services such as the police – for example that a woman cannot be raped or sexually abused by another woman, or that same sex domestic abuse is not a real issue because it is between two women or two men and therefore ‘more equal’ or even described as ‘mutual’ if a victim retaliates.
There are other myths and gender-based biases too – for instance, that men who experience domestic abuse are weak and not real men, that domestic abuse in same sex couples is easier to escape as they won’t have children and are less likely to be in a legal partnership, and that all LGB people are promiscuous and therefore may deserve it.
These myths are unacceptable and all services offering support and safety to victims of same sex domestic abuse, including the domestic abuse refuges at Hestia, where I am Deputy Director of Operations, need to be attuned to the reality of the situation. Domestic abuse is not solely about physical abuse by any means. Rape and sexual abuse are prevalent and the impact of coercive control between two people of the same sex is as damaging and traumatic as between people of the opposite sex.
LGB people do have families and entwined finances, and the decision to flee domestic abuse is as difficult for LGB people as people in a heterosexual relationship. As a married lesbian with two children, two cats and a mortgage, my entire life is enmeshed with my wife’s, and I know many other same sex couples in the same situation.
Many LGB people have experienced homophobia or biphobia, and have had to fight against prejudice (often from close family) in order to live authentic lives with their partners. Having to disclose domestic abuse in those circumstances may prevent someone doing so, with the consequence that they stay with their abusive partner for longer, experiencing more incidents of escalating domestic abuse.
Survivors of domestic abuse may also have genuine fears of their sexual orientation being ‘outed’ in the process of their engagement with support services. This adds a layer of trauma for survivors of domestic abuse, meaning that they have to contend with the domestic abuse itself as well as consequences that family, friends and their employers may find out that they are gay, bi or trans at the same time. The fear of experiencing rejection at the stage when they need support the most can cause such conflict that it silences survivors from speaking out or fleeing domestic abuse.
However there are a number of specialist services which offer specific information and support for people from the LGB community experiencing domestic abuse. In addition local independent domestic violence advocates are run by a range of providers nationwide and offer support and guidance in high risk situations.
Hestia – Deputy Director of Operations
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