When most people think of dating and domestic violence, they think about heterosexual couples. In reality, abuse knows no boundaries. Rates of domestic and dating violence are similar if not higher among same sex couples, and it is more likely to involve severe physical violence, including beatings, burns, and choking. Abuse in these relationships takes some of the same forms as it does in heterosexual relationships, but there are also some unique challenges for same sex couples. Additionally, law enforcement and services for victims have historically found responding to same-sex domestic and dating violence challenging.
One of the only studies on LGBTQ teens, released by the Urban Institute, showed significantly higher rates of dating violence among LGB youth than among straight youth. Twenty-nine percent of heterosexual youth reported being physically abused by dating partners, but 42.8 percent of LGB youth reported the same. The rates of sexual victimization for LGB respondents was nearly double that of heterosexual youth: 23.2 percent compared to 12.3 percent. Transgender youth reported the highest rates of dating violence, with a shocking 88.9 percent reporting physical dating violence.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, some of the unique forms of abuse that can occur in same sex relationships include:
- “Outing” a partner’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Abusive partners in LGBTQ relationships may threaten to “out” victims to family members, employers, community members, and others.
- Saying that no one will help the victim because s/he is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or that for this reason, the partner “deserves” the abuse.
- Justifying the abuse with the notion that a partner is not “really” lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (i.e. the victim may once have had/may still have relationships, or express a gender identity, inconsistent with the abuser’s definitions of these terms). This can be used both as a tool in verbal and emotional abuse as well as to further the isolation of a victim from the community.
- Monopolizing support resources through an abusive partner’s manipulation of friends and family supports and generating sympathy and trust in order to cut off these resources to the victim. This is a particular issue to members of the LGBTQ community where there may be fewer specific resources, neighborhoods, or social outlets.
- Portraying the violence as mutual and even consensual, or as an expression of masculinity or some other “desirable” trait.
Police response to LGBT domestic violence calls has not always been good. Amnesty International reported that police often do not take the abuse seriously and many officers make homophobic comments. Similarly, many domestic violence services are not adequately tailored to LGBTQ victims.
One way to improve the situation, according to Human Rights Campaign, is to advocate for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in studies about domestic and dating violence, as research to date is minimal. Further. HRC recommends that curricula about dating violence include abuse in same-sex relationships. Currently, only four U.S. states and the District of Columbia require school sex education curricula to include LGBTQ-specific content.
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