LGBT people are victimized by bias-related violence and are targets for specific forms of abuse. The abuse is compounded if you are a racial or ethnic minority. Medical and mental health providers need to understand the elements of such violence and particularly partner abuse and how it impacts gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered clients in order to improve the use of the various tools that are used, including universal screens, assessments and interventions.
Domestic violence, or partner abuse, is a pattern of behaviors which coerce, dominate, and isolate the victim(s). Here's how Lenore Walker defines the stages in the Cycle of Violence.
As Walker explains, during the tension-building phase, you may report feeling like you're walking on eggshells, anticipating the incident. After the incident, the perpetrator may make extreme offerings and promises to her or his victim in order to keep the relationship. The abuse is about POWER and CONTROL, and can take any of these forms:
"Interpersonal violence generally follows a pattern of abuse. Battered women are not constantly being abused nor does the violence occur at completely random times. Abuse is inflicted in a repeating cycle that is made up of three phases: tension building, battering incident and honeymoon.
Phase One: Tension Building
The essence of Phase One involves gradual increase in tension. This is characterized by the batterer engaging in such behaviors as name-calling, constant criticism, verbal harassment, psychological humiliation, and minor battering incidents. These expressions of tension, hostility, and dissatisfaction intensify and inevitably lead to Phase Two.
Phase Two: Battering Incident
There is a major destructive act of physical violence against the victim. Often this is accompanied by severe verbal abuse. This phase is shorter than Phase One and Phase Three and usually lasts from two to forty-eight hours. In this phase, the victim suffers the most serious physical injuries.
Phase Three: Honeymoon
The batterer feels sorry for the behavior and acts apologetic and loving often showering the victim with gifts and apologies and promises not to hurt repeat the behavior. This reinforces the victim's hope and can often encourage the victim to stay in the relationship. Sometimes there is no loving behavior in Phase Three, but only an absence of violence. Phase Three leads inevitably to the tension building phase. The repetitive cycle described earlier (tension building, battering incident and honeymoon) begins again. Eventually, the remorse of the batterer in Phase Three gives way to the minor incidents of abuse that characterize Phase One."
[from The Battered Women Syndrome, by Lenore Walker (Springer Publishing Co, NY, 1984)]
- Psychological Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
- Destroying property, harming pets or animals
- Heterosexist control, "outing" partner without consent
- Financial abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Physical abuse
- AIDS Related battering
All of these are likely to happen in LGBT families as well as 'straight' relationships. But there are myths that render partner abuse in the LGBT community invisible.
- MYTH: Only heterosexual women are victims of domestic violence.
No. Heterosexual women are not the only victims of domestic violence.
- MYTH: Men are never victims and women never abuse.
Men are often victims and women can be abusers.
- MYTH: Domestic violence is more common among heterosexuals than lesbians or gay men.
The data on domestic violence shows no difference in the populations.
- MYTH: It's not violence if same-sex partners fight-it's just a "lover's quarrel."
Why should that be so with same-sex partners and not heterosexual partners? Domestic violence is never 'just a lover's quarrel.'
- MYTH: It's easier for gay men or lesbians to leave abuse than heterosexuals.
The only way this can be construed as true is that same-sex marriage is not recognized in most of the U.S., so one partner leaving another does not carry the legal complications of marriage. And that simply means that the same-sex couple is denied those "complications."
- MYTH: People who engage in violent behaviors more likely to hang out in bars, are poor, or are people of color.
None of those assumptions is true. Again, crime statistics and social research show that domestic violence is no more or less likely to occur among a particular population of people.
- MYTH: People under the influence of alcohol or substance abuse can't be held accountable for their behavior.
The 'mythology' of this idea should be well-recognized by now. No one pulled over for DWI has ever used their intoxication as a defense.
- MYTH: People who are victims of domestic violence suffer from "codependency."
Codependency is not an illness; it is a feature of some relationships that may be a contributing factor, but it is not a cause.
- MYTH: Many people think that lesbians couldn't abuse one another since they are seen as non-violent and peaceful.
This myth depends on the bi-polar view of gender that assumes women are dainty and delicate and incapable of violent behavior. The facts say otherwise.[The number of women under correctional supervision is one out of every 109 adult women or an estimated 950,000. Females account for approximately 6 percent of state prisoners; 11 percent of jailed inmates; 21 percent of all arrests, 21 percent of those on probation; and 16 percent of convicted felons. (Lawrence A. Greenfield & Tracy L. Snell, Women Offenders, Bureau of Just. Stat. Rep. (1999).] Women may not be in the majority, but they certainly can and do commit acts of violence.
- MYTH: Only those who are in butch/femme relationships, or who practice s/m are violent, with the butch (or the "top") assumed to be the batterer.
The 'role' of the batterer is not dependent on the role in a relationship. There is no evidence to support this idea.
- MYTH: When gay men batter their partners, it is mutually abusive (mutual combat), because "boys will be boys."
Domestic violence is rarely, if ever, mutual. Gays in a relationship are not engaging in anything less or more than heterosexual couples. The dynamics are much the same and the fact that they are of the same sex has little to do with the it.
- MYTH: Many people think that victims of partner battering like the abuse, or that jealous rage is a form of love.
Just as with heterosexual couples, these ideas are not valid. Rage does not equal love and the victims of abuse do not "like it."
- MYTH: The law or police will not protect LGBT victims of violence.
The laws on domestic violence do not distinguish between same-sex and heterosexual couples and it is the responsibility of law enforcement to protect victims.
- MYTH: S&M, B&D, and battering are all part of being transgendered.
There's no relationship between any of these.
A question always raised in these cases is "Why do victims stay?" Here are some of the reasons:.
- Financial dependence
- Fear (more violent incidences are reported when partners try to leave)
- Low self- esteem
- Belief that violence is just part of being in the LGBT community
- Substance abuse
- Children, especially if the victim has no legal ties to the children
Unfortunately, "the system" often fails to help LGBT victims of partner abuse for a variety of reasons, including:
- Domestic violence shelters are generally not an option for gay men or transgendered people.
- Lesbian women fear using shelters because their same-sex partner could get access to the shelter, too.
- Victims are often frightened to contact the police, and there is a fear of shaming the community. Also many police label the abuse "co-abusive" or "co-combative," leaving the victim with little legal recourse.
- An LGBT person must come out in order to report the abuse; many are not willing to do so.
- If there are no statutes for domestic partnerships, there is also no recognition for domestic violence within same-sex couples.
- Family court may not recognize same-sex partners as parents, and may routinely be prejudiced towards same-sex and gender variant people.
Even though resources may be limited, law enforcement officers are obligated to protect victims and clinicians are obligated to report life-threatening dangers. It's important to respect our clients anxieties about disclosure of sexual orientation, which may be based on real fears of discrimination and its effects on child custody, family support, job security, and/or deportation. Even though it can be daunting to leave an abusive relationship, it is important for professionals to affirm the client's right to an abuse free life, and to advocate for them in making connection with services that will offer them support and safety. Always encourage clients to develop a safety plan, so they can leave when faced with immediate danger. Safety plans include keeping an extra pair of keys, a change of clothes, and some money in a safe place, as well as making arrangements to stay with a friend or have someone pick them and take them to safety.
[For more on Domestic Violence and LGBT-related issues, read Richard Niolon's essay from PsychPage.com