October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While domestic violence affects people of every race, class and age, it disproportionately affects members of the LGBTQIA community. Members of this community often have less access to safety nets like shelters and tend to be more afraid of turning to law enforcement for help.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lesbians and gay men experience equal or higher levels of intimate partner violence (IPV) as heterosexuals, with bisexual women suffering much higher rates of IPV in comparison to lesbians, gay men and heterosexual women. Recent studies show that:
- As many as 40% of LGBTQIA college students in relationships have experienced intimate partner violence.
- 61% of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 44% of lesbians and 35% of heterosexual women.
- Among women who reported living with a female partner at some point in their lifetime, 39.2% had experienced rape, physical assault or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 21.7% of women who had cohabited with men only.
- Among men who had lived with same sex partners, 23.1% had experienced rape, physical assault or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 7.4% of men who had cohabited with women only.
- Transgender women are 3 times more likely to report experiencing sexual violence and financial violence (controlling all the money).
- LGBTQIA people with disabilities are twice as likely to be isolated by their abusive partner and four times more likely to experience financial violence.
What is Domestic Violence?
IPV is defined as a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner. It includes behaviors that physically harm, scare, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. It includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse, and controlling of one’s money.
What Does IPV Look Like?
One common method for abusers in LGBTQIA relationships is to threaten “outing” a partner to friends, families or co-workers. If one partner is not out to everyone in their life, an abusive partner can threaten to disclose their sexual orientation. This can lead the victim to agree to their partner’s demands.
Some of the signs of an abusive relationship include a partner who:
- tells you that you can never do anything right, insults you.
- shows extreme jealousy of your friends, doesn’t like you to see friends or family.
- controls every penny spent in the household.
- looks at you or acts in ways that scare you.
- controls what you wear and where you go.
- tells you that you are a bad parent or threatens to harm or take away your children.
- prevents you from working or attending school.
- destroys your property or threatens to hurt or kill your pets.
- intimidates you with guns, knives or other weapons.
- pressures you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with.
- pressures you to use drugs or alcohol.
What if you suspect a friend, coworker, relative, or neighbor might be in an abusive relationship? Here are some signs to watch for:
- Bruises or injuries that look like they came from choking, punching, or being thrown down. Black eyes, red or purple marks at the neck, and sprained wrists are common injuries
- Attempts to hide injuries with makeup or clothing (i.e., is your friend wearing a long-sleeved turtleneck in hot weather)
- Excuses like tripping or being accident-prone or clumsy
- Isolation from friends, relatives and coworkers
- Person must ask permission to meet, talk with, or do things with other people
- Little to no access to resources like cash, credit cards or transportation
How Can We Prevent It?
The best thing we can do is teach ourselves and our youth and young adults what a healthy relationship looks like. A healthy LGBTQIA relationship includes a partner who:
- respects your chosen gender pronoun or name.
- respects your boundaries.
- gives you space to hang out with friends and family without thinking you’re cheating.
- doesn’t take your money or tell you what to buy.
- never threatens to ‘out’ you to people.
- never tells you that you’re not a real lesbian, gay man, trans person or whatever you identify as, because you don’t have sex the way they want you to.
How Can I Get Help?
It’s common for victims of any domestic violence situation to feel shame and, therefore, not seek help. Internalized shame about sexuality or gender and external homophobia are also large barriers to speaking about surviving abuse and manipulation. This leads many LGBTQIA victims to suffer in silence and isolation.
The best thing that anyone in an abusive relationship can do is leave their abuser. But that comes with its own problems and dangers. Leaving your abuser can be the most dangerous time of your relationship because your abuser feels ‘out of control’ – by leaving you’ve taken away his or her power. Additionally, it can be difficult for LGBTQIA victims of IPV to find help from known women’s or men’s shelters. A recent National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) report found that of the LGBTQIA IPV survivors who attempted to access emergency shelter, 44% were denied, with 71% reporting being denied for reasons relating to gender identity.
If you or someone you know is in a violent relationship, make a plan to leave at a time the abuser is not around and find a safe place to stay. Do not tell the abuser where you are. Go to the police and file a temporary restraining order. Behavioral health is also incredibly important and ACCESS offers a wide range of behavioral health services and programs to help you or someone you know who may be a victim of IPV. Our providers are clinically trained to connect you to the right specialists at the right time, so please contact us right away.