Domestic Violence in Same-Sex Couples

woman crying on floor in bathrobeOctober is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. At this time, it is appropriate to remember that domestic violence (DV) can and does happen in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. In fact, DV occurs in same-sex couples with a frequency equal to that of heterosexual couples.

How do we define domestic violence? According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: DV is a behavior used to establish power and control over another. It is associated with all marginalized groups, including women, children, the elderly, those with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTQ, people of color, religious minorities, and so on. Heterosexual males may also be victims of domestic violence as perpetrated by their female partners. DV occurs not only among intimate partners, but can also include grandparents, children, or anyone else living in the household. It occurs across all socioeconomic statuses, cultures, religions, physical abilities, and educational levels.

We associate DV with physical attacks on someone, but it can also include punching walls, intimidation, isolation from family and friends, criticism, manipulation, sexist comments, screaming, jealousy, withholding of finances, violence to pets, public humiliation, and much more. Many people blame the person who is experiencing the domestic violence, thinking that he or she could have just left the partner.

The truth is that, in general, people are most in danger when they attempt to leave. Perpetrators don’t like losing control, and they may go to great lengths to prove they still have power. Also, many people don’t have their own income, or are forced to leave their jobs because the ex knows where they work. The batterer may also know who their family and friends are and where they live, which is a further threat. Indeed, it is not easy to leave.

There are several misconceptions that apply specifically to DV in same-sex couples. According to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center website these are: the belief that women are not violent, that men are not commonly victims, that LGBT domestic violence is mutual, and that there are no significant differences between heterosexual domestic violence and same-sex domestic violence. They further state that DV in same-sex couples “…always occurs within the context of anti-LGBT bias.”

People in same-sex relationships may not even realize they are in an abusive relationship because they view DV as a heterosexual issue. Individuals in each role may experience a level of homophobia due to growing up in an anti-gay society. For this reason, people may easily succumb to the criticism and accusations of the partner who is being abusive, while that partner may have internalized some of the social bias against gay people. In addition, marginalized populations tend to be close-knit, and therefore it is hard to know which of your mutual friends it is safe to share with.

If you are not sure whether you are in an abusive relationship, read through this checklist and see how many apply to your situation:

  1. Are you frequently criticized, degraded, or yelled at? Do you feel as if nothing you do is ever good enough?
  2. Are you kept away from family and friends?
  3. Does your partner control all the money? Prevent you from working?
  4. Does he/she check your mail, your email, and your phone?
  5. Does he/she fly into rages, threaten to harm children or pets, or break things?
  6. Have you been pushed, kicked, smacked, choked, tripped, or had your arm twisted?
  7. Has she/he forced sex on you? Demanded that you dress a certain way? Called you by sexual epithets?
  8. Are you blamed for her/his violence?

This list is only a sampling, but if it sounds like your life, there is a good chance that you are in an abusive relationship. Here are some things you can do:

  1. Make copies of all your important papers—birth certificate, driver’s license, citizenship papers, social security card, etc. If there are children involved, make copies of their documents as well. Make copies of keys to your car, your safe deposit box, etc.
  2. Keep a packed bag at a trusted person’s home or office.  It should contain all of the above, plus a few changes of clothes, any items that are special to you, such as photographs or jewelry, and any cash you can safely obtain. A prepaid disposable cell phone is also helpful.
  3. Memorize the number of the local shelter or DV hotline. (Even if the shelter isn’t set up for same-sex situations, they can tell you who is.)
  4. Keep a record of every abusive act, including date and time.

In extreme cases, if the partner who is committing DV finds out about any of the above, you could be in danger. In these cases, calls should be made from pay phones, the police station, or some other safe place. Records and diaries should not be kept anywhere in the home. Instead of using your own computer to get information, go to a library, a school, or other resource.

Haven Hills, Inc., Domestic Violence Shelter, San Fernando Valley. Crisis line: 818-886-6589

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

STOP Program, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center: 323-860-5806

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233(SAFE)

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • lisa o

    October 3rd, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    Anyone can be a part of an abusive relationship, same sex or herterosexual, and any one can be harmed by this. The ebst advice that one could take would be to seek help immediately if you find yourself in a situation like this. Most abusive situations are not going to get better over time; as a matter of fact most of the time they are going to worsen as time goes on, and if you are not careful you could end up getting seriously harmed as a result. I know that you may love your partner, but if he or she is not willing to make serious changes for you then you should probably begin looking for ways out of the relstionship for good.

  • DEanne

    October 4th, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    I guess I am a big ole dummy because to be honest I have never really thought about domestic violence being a part of any relationship landscape other than those that are heterosexual. I am not sure why it never occured to me that same sex couples could get engaged in this type of behavior too but I guess that it just didn’t because I don’t really have any gay friends or family members. I bet that couples in this situation unless they are in a larger city would have a hard time finding help because there is such a taboo already associated with their partnership to begin with for a lot of people and then tp have to admit that this is something additional that they are struggling with could make things even more difficult for them.

  • XZ

    October 4th, 2013 at 7:10 AM

    Well domestic violence ccan happen in any home-I have seen it happen with heterosexual couples and with same-sex couples.We just cannot generalize the spread of domestic violence.

    The measures mentioned may sound like preparing for an apocalypso.But sadly it is the only way to prepare when you live with someone who victimizes you.having support outside the relationship,with a few good friends can be more than helpful I would say.

  • Martine

    October 5th, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    I know way more gay couples that have a history of violence than hetero couples, and this is mainly with lesbian couples. Yeah, women can be real violent with each other. I was kind of surprised too, cause you would think that ok, they have found a relationship where they can be themselves and be with a partner that they care about and respect a lot but there seems to be something real volatile about this female/female relationship that you just don’t see with all male couples or even couples of different sex. I don’t mean to stereotype, it has just been my own experience.

  • Susan Leviton, MA, LMFT

    October 6th, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    It is human nature to put a separation between ourselves and those who are different from us. And those who are different are not given priority in our day-to-day thinking. That is why we need “Awareness” months!

    Yes, DV occurs in same-sex couples and, as pointed out by the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, a component of that may be internalized homophobia. That is, gay people grow up in a society that demonizes them and some of that hatred may turn inward. Or outward to a partner.

    As Lisa O. points out, the situation will NOT improve on its own and the best thing one can do is seek help immediately.

  • betsy pace

    October 7th, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    people in general don’t even want us to get married, why would we even think that they cared about our other domestic situations?

  • Jake

    October 9th, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    @betsy- I see this as a human thing and not a gay or straight thing. It is a serious issue no matter what couple it is happening with. If this is a part of your own relationship then I urge you to seek help locally because I promise you that there is help available and there are people out there who do very much care about your well being.

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