considerable attention within the past 30 years; however, the majority of the focus has been placed on heterosexual relationships. Very little research and attention has focused on the nature of intimate partner violence within same-sex relationships. Failure to examine same-sex/intimate partner domestic violence has often historically been centered around issues such as social stigma, homophobia, discrimination, and the often quoted gender-based myth that only men are aggressors and women are victims. Unfortunately, the life experiences of LGBT domestic violence victims have long been silenced and ignored as a result.
The research that does exist on same-sex intimate partner violence indicates that it occurs at the same frequency among same-sex couples as it does among heterosexual couples. The levels of violence are just as severe and detrimental in same-sex relationships as in heterosexual relationships. Power, coercion, sexual and/or physical assault, economic control, psychological abuse, threats, and emotional abuse are all components of same-sex domestic violence as they are heterosexual domestic violence. Reasons why same-sex victims of intimate partner violence remain in abusive relationships mirror the reasons why heterosexual victims stay: fear, isolation, lack of resources, coercion, feelings of guilt, and promises of reform. Same-sex victims of domestic violence have an increased risk of leaving abusive relationships due to fears of being “outed”, isolation from the community, and a lack of LGBT-specific services.
When talking of same sex intimate partner violence, there are a number of unique challenges that these victims face whereby their abuse may be trivialized or discounted due to myths or assumptions regarding LGBT persons. Just a few of these false assumptions are that 1) men are never victims of intimate partner violence and women are never perpetrators of abuse, 2) the “myth of mutual battering” that assumes any battering activity is mutual assault among same-sex couples or the abuse is not severe because it is equivocated among “equals”, either two men or two women. This lack of understanding has led to a significant number of cases where criminal justice systems professionals, for example, have not recognized the dynamics of the abuse of power and control in these relationships and therefore have not offered the appropriate legal resolution to the case nor the appropriate domestic violence specific resources to the victims.
There are a number of barriers to service that same-sex survivors must face that their heterosexual counterparts do not. Some of these barriers are found within community programs and shelters in which service availability is limited to those within the LGBT community, particularly for gay male and transgender survivors. Other common barriers can be found within the criminal justice system. Current issues range from limited involvement by police enforcement in calls for service to same-sex domestic abuse, to the ability for those involved in a same-sex relationship to obtain civil protection orders. Additional issues include fears of making the LGBT community “look bad” when reporting violence, the fear that when accessing services, victims must face issues of homophobia and heterosexism by those that they are working with, the fear that they won’t be believed by systems that are designed to serve and support the primary binary of male abuser/female victim, the prospect of having to “come out” in order to receive domestic violence services, and finally the existence of a double-stigma for same-sex survivors: first as a “victim”, second, as being “LGBT ”. Survivors of same-sex intimate partner violence have to face this secondary abuse through bias from others in society when seeking help for their situations
It is important to note that within the last 10 years, many states, including Minnesota, have altered laws to be more gender neutral, affording protection to anyone who has been abused or threatened by someone they've lived with or had an intimate dating relationship with, regardless of the gender of either party. Out of all of the states, however, only Hawaii’s domestic violence law explicitly mentions same-sex couples. Conversely, some very conservative states have gone to great lengths to define that only opposite gendered persons who have been married, lived together or had a child together can be considered "domestic violence victims." Montana, Arizona, New York, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Virginia have laws that specifically prevent same-sex victims from obtaining a civil protection order. The other 40 states and the District of Columbia have laws written in gender neutral language that the courts could interpret in favor of same-sex couples, but, however, do not specifically mention same-sex couples.
It is highly unfortunate that very little focus and attention has been placed on same-sex intimate partner violence because many people's lives could benefit from improved research, understanding and increased awareness of the issue. Future research should focus on a variety of topics including the dynamics of intimate partner/same-sex domestic violence, help-seeking behaviors, correlates, and interventions. Especially deficient is research about children living within same-sex couple households where one partner is experiencing intimate partner violence. Similarly, research on the use of self-defensive, retaliatory, and aggressive behaviors among same-sex victims could be useful in making more accurate assessments of the context of violence, thus enabling more useful interventions by law enforcement.
When looking to the future of LGBT intimate partner violence prevention, the focus should serve to increase education of this issue, increase advocacy for LGBT survivors, review and revise old policies and programs, and to effectively implement new ones. Same-sex couples are in need of education and advocacy about relationship violence as many are unaware of the existence, let alone the magnitude, of LGBT intimate partner violence. Factual information for these survivors would help to both reduce the stigma of same-sex persons who are experiencing partner abuse and to empower victims and perpetrators to professional assistance.
Agencies providing services to victims of intimate partner violence need to confront and deal with both external and internalized homophobia and heterosexism so as not to preclude LGBT survivors from using necessary services .Reducing the stigma of victimization as well as sexual orientation will serve to increase help-seeking behaviors of same-sex intimate partner violence victims. Shelters and community outreach programs that use gender-neutral terminology when working with ALL clients, and are sensitive to the needs of LGBT abuse victims, are crucial to increasing the help-seeking behaviors of victims of same-sex intimate partner violence. Finally, the development of accurate and effective tools to identify primary aggressors in same-sex relationships is crucial to creating additional levels of community safety through the means of effective law enforcement and accurate criminal prosecution.
Finally, effective and consistent program evaluation tools are needed to ensure the effectiveness and efficacy of established programs and services to all victims of intimate partner violence. Existing protocols need to be examined for heterosexist language which presumes that the perpetrator is male and the victim is female. Similarly, agency staff and personnel should attend workshops which focus on the needs of victims of same-sex intimate partner violence to increase awareness and skill levels in order to properly assist LGBT survivors. Efforts should be made by service providers to target victims of same-sex intimate partner violence and include that population in programs, especially since gay and lesbian victims often do not have the same legal recourse as their heterosexual counterparts. Reinforcing the need for all agencies to be gender-neutral in their outreach to victims will not only improve the overall quality of services the agencies provide, but will make them a more viable option to victims of same-sex intimate partner violence.
It took the women's movement nearly twenty years to increase public awareness of domestic violence as a serious problem and to fully develop widespread resources for heterosexual women. Continued efforts to provide same-sex specific services, training to mainstream service providers and continued work with criminal justice systems professionals will serve to increase understanding and awareness of the issue.
Once again, through extensive research and community feedback, it has been shown that greater attention and commitment should be placed on providing same-sex victim services and treatment and that such agencies should strive to become more culturally aware of both the specific barriers to service often faced by LGBT clients and the ways in which those barriers impact the everyday lives of LGBT clients. When working together toward the common goal of the development of safe and effective service provision strategies for all victims of domestic violence, it has been shown that ALL communities are safer, including the LGBT communities.
Same-Sex Intimate Partner Violence: Current Barriers to Service & Future Goals for Community Agencies
The issue of domestic violence has received
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