Debunking Myths: The Truth About LGBT Intimate Partner Violence/Domestic Violence–Guest Column

Susan Holt, PsyD, LMFT, CCDVC, Manager, Los Angeles LGBT Center’s STOP Domestic Violence Program

Mieko Failey, Esq, Staff Attorney, Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Domestic Violence Legal Advocacy Project

The Los Angeles LGBT Center is one of only a handful of providers nationwide who provide LGBT-specific services to survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual assault, and stalking. All too often, LGBT accounts of IPV are left untold, silenced, and rendered invisible by images and conversations that take place in the context of heterosexual relationships. The reality is that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, IPV occurs in the LGBT community at higher rates than in the heterosexual population for a variety of reasons related to systemic limitations. Unfortunately, invisibility and lack of knowledge about LGBT IPV continue to perpetuate myths about the LGBT cycle of violence. These myths are dangerous and potentially life-threatening for LGBT survivors who, as a result, face tremendous barriers when attempting to access resources and services. This piece will debunk three commonly held myths about IPV in the LGBT community.

1. Intimate Partner Violence is less common in the LGBT community than in the heterosexual community. Only women are survivors of domestic violence.

LGBT people are just as likely as heterosexual people to experience IPV in their relationships and IPV is just as harmful and dangerous for LGBT survivors as it is for heterosexual survivors. The Center for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence Survey study found the following lifetime prevalence of IPV, including physical assault, rape and/or stalking: bisexual women (61%), lesbians (43.8%), bisexual men (37%), heterosexual women (35%), heterosexual men (29%), and gay men (26%). The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program’s (NCAVP) 2013 Intimate Partner Violence Report found that transgender communities experience some of the most severe forms of IPV and that “LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ young adults, people of color, gay men, bisexual survivors and transgender women were the most impacted by IPV in 2013.” The report also stated that there were 21 known LGBTQ and HIV-affected IPV homicides in the past year alone. At the Los Angeles LGBT Center, our interactions with clients confirm that people of all gender identities and sexual orientations, as well as races/ethnicities/classes, are impacted by IPV.

2. Intimate Partner Violence in the LGBT community is exactly the same as or very similar to Domestic Violence in the heterosexual community.

While LGBT survivors experience many of the same dynamics as do heterosexual survivors, they face numerous additional and complex challenges. A primary difference between same-gender battering and opposite-gender battering is context: LGBT IPV always occurs within the societal context of homophobia/biphobia/transphobia. Discrimination resulting from one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is a common barrier. LGBT survivors also face additional discrimination on the basis of other intersecting, marginalized identities and experiences,including but not limited to race, immigration status, income level, ability, size, mental health, homelessness, religion, criminal history, education, and language proficiency. Additionally, the abuser may use the threat of outing one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity as a tool to maintain power and control over the survivor. One of the biggest differences for LGBT survivors is that there are fewer resources for LGBT people. In fact, studies have shown that 94% of victim services and law enforcement agencies state that they lack LGBTQ specific services. Further, the NCAVP found that only one in five survivors of LGBT IPV say they were able to access support services. The devastating reality is that there is a critical gap in resources for LGBT survivors of IPV, sexual assault, and stalking on a national level.

3. Intimate Partner Violence in LGBT relationships is “mutual abuse” because LGBT people are more likely to abuse each other. Intimate Partner Violence in LGBT relationships is not really violence because of “gender equality.”

According to the NCAVP, domestic violence/intimate partner violence is defined as, “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” Consequently, IPV involves one person who is exerting power and control over another person. The myth that abuse is “mutual” can be extremely dangerous for LGBT survivors because it minimizes and silences the abuse. Mislabeling IPV as “mutual abuse” often results in inappropriate first responder and service provider response such as dual arrest, no arrest, misplacement in couples counseling or individual therapy, and even mutual restraining orders. These responses place the victim at higher risk for abuse and lethality while the survivor has been further victimized by the systems that are supposed to protect them.

It is crucial that we shift the way we conceptualize IPV in order to create visibility for LGBT survivors who are often silenced. Creating visibility for LGBT survivors is a critical step toward creating systemic change and eradicating the myths and misconceptions that surround it. The challenges faced by LGBT survivors highlight the need for all IPV service providers to pro-actively create a safe and helpful space for LGBT survivors by ensuring our LGBT survivor stories are heard and made visible and that the needs of LGBT survivors are specifically and effectively addressed.

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