When we frame domestic violence as an issue that only occurs in heterosexual relationships, we erase the very real issue of intimate partner violence within LGBT communities.
Seventeen-year-old Julia has been with her girlfriend, Audrey, for over a year. Recently, they’ve hit a rough patch in their relationship—Audrey gets jealous whenever Julia goes out with her friends and constantly accuses her of cheating. Whenever they get into an argument, Audrey threatens to tell Julia’s family that she’s a lesbian, which could mean that Julia would be disowned and left homeless.
When Julia confides in a friend about her relationship problems, her friend explains that she’s not experiencing abuse because Audrey is a woman and there’s never been any physical violence.
Does this sound familiar? Probably not: this is not the typical narrative of domestic violence that we hear. However, abuse is just as prevalent in same-gender relationships as in heterosexual ones. Studies show that somewhere between one in four to one in three people in same-gender relationships have experienced domestic violence. These alarmingly high rates of violence are largely due to lack of resources available to queer survivors and to fear of discrimination, which prevents queer people from speaking out about abuse.
Because queerness is so heavily stigmatized to begin with, intimate partner violence (IPV) in same-gender relationships is rarely discussed, which perpetuates the culture of shame and silence that queer abuse victims face.
Queer people often feel as though they must maintain the façade of a perfect relationship in order to ensure that the LGBT community has a good image. In a 2012 article titled “Domestic Violence in Same-Gender Relationships,” Dr. Joanna Bunker Rohrbaugh writes, “Many lesbian and gay victims do not tell anyone about the abuse because they feel that their relationship must appear ‘perfect’ to compensate for the stigma of being homosexual.”
Additionally, many queer abuse survivors also report feeling more isolated than their heterosexual counterparts, especially if they are not “out of the closet” to their friends or family. Without a strong support system, they might not have anywhere to turn after they leave their partner.
Another reason why queer victims of IPV might not come forward is that there are very few resources available to them. Most domestic violence shelters don’t accept lesbian women and gay men and many LGBT people do not feel comfortable turning to law enforcement because they are more likely to be targets of police harassment, misconduct and violence. A 2012 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that 48 percent of queer IPV victims who reported violence to the police experienced police misconduct and that transgender people were 3.32 times more likely to experience police violence than cisgender people.
Another report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that in one-third of the cases in which queer IPV victims went to the police, the victim was arrested instead of the perpetrator. Queer people of color (especially transgender women) are even more susceptible to violence at the hands of the police than white people, as they are marginalized on multiple axes.
Queer teenagers are even more vulnerable to abuse. Jai Dulani, in a zine about domestic violence in activist communities, said it best:
“I reflect on my experiences and think about how vulnerable queer teenagers are to abusive relationships. Not being out leads to a secret relationship, which can easily lead to secret abuse. I think about the power of language. Naming a relationship—acknowledging an existence—helps to identify real violence in a real relationship.”
Often, the way in which we talk about domestic violence undermines the legitimacy of same-gender relationships and fails to acknowledge the existence of abuse in these relationships.
So much of the discourse around sexual assault & domestic violence also does work to remind queer & trans women that we aren’t women.
— jacqui shine (@DearSplenda) February 7, 2015
We cannot create a world in which women are able to achieve equity and economic security without protecting the rights of queer women as well. We must work to combat intimate partner violence in queer communities by strengthening resources for survivors and by eradicating homophobia in our communities.