June 15, 2009

IconSame-sex domestic violence: the ugly truth

The police receive one call per minute about abusive partners, and yet this is only the tip of the iceberg – it is believed that less than half of all domestic violence incidents are reported to the police, writes Kaite Welsh.

And whilst heterosexual domestic violence understandably gets widespread coverage in the broadsheets and tabloids, abusive LGBT relationships have yet to make the headlines.

One in four

Research carried out by Women’s Aid suggests that one in four women in the UK will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

But while most studies of domestic violence focus on heterosexual relationships, research shows that the rate of domestic violence is exactly the same within LGBT population. In fact Broken Rainbow, an organisation set up to support LGBT victims of abuse, took 800 calls on its helpline between January and April 2008.

So why does the public perception of domestic violence focus explicitly on one aspect, rather than encompassing the whole problem?

Power

The marginalisation of same-sex domestic violence has is roots in several sources. The first is the misconception that domestic violence has its roots in physical aggression, in the same way that rape is still considered to be about sex.

In relationship between two people of the same gender, there is a perceived equality of power – so when violence occurs, it can be dismissed as a fight, or the question is asked of why the victim failed to defend themselves.

In addition, not everyone in a relationship with someone of the same gender is out to the wider community, or even to their family, which raises problems when approaching the authorities – will the details remain confidential, what happens if the case comes to court? And even if the case is reported, concerns over police homophobia are both rife and understandable.

In their report Count Me In Too, the Domestic Violence & Abuse Analysis Group discovered that only 22% of LGBT-identified victims reported their findings to the police – and less than half of those were satisfied with the response received.

Support services

Outside of statutory support services, the resources for survivors of same-sex domestic violence are limited.

Women-only shelters may work for victims of heterosexual domestic violence, but for a woman who has been abused by her female partner, an all-female community is no guarantee of safety. And for female-identified victims of domestic violence who have not transitioned for whatever reason, there is not even that option.

As the majority of domestic violence is perpetrated by men towards women, organisations such as Women’s Aid – whilst still offering advice and support for women experiencing abuse from a female partners – primarily address women in heterosexual relationships.

And the future does not look promising. As the credit crunch hits, smaller charities are starting to see the donations on which they rely dry up or disappear completely, and lack of funding is forcing organisations who provide specialist services to either close or integrate themselves with larger groups.

In an environment where same-sex domestic violence is still not treated with the same seriousness, it is imperative that the lesbian community work together to help both victims  and abusers get the support that they need in order to break the cycle of violence.

If we fail to address the issues within our community, we fail the community itself.

Broken Rainbow is currently looking for volunteers to run their helpline. To find out more visit the website or email mail@broken-rainbow.org.uk.

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