October 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:
- Are you frequently criticized, degraded, or yelled at? Do you feel as if nothing you do is ever good enough?
- Are you kept away from family and friends?
- Does your partner control all the money? Prevent you from working?
- Does he/she check your mail, your email, and your phone?
- Does he/she fly into rages, threaten to harm children or pets, or break things?
- Have you been pushed, kicked, smacked, choked, tripped, or had your arm twisted?
- Has she/he forced sex on you? Demanded that you dress a certain way? Called you by sexual epithets?
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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: ncadv.org
STOP Program, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center: 323-860-5806
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233(SAFE)
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