Domestic violence in gay or lesbian relationships is a serious matter since the rates of domestic violence in such relationships are almost equivalent to domestic violence in heterosexual relationships. Same-gendered couples usually experience domestic violence in various forms, and they have to tackle different difficulties when accessing help services (Ristock, 2002, p.50).
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Research in the United States indicates that about twenty-five to fifty percent of gay/lesbians has experienced physically abusive close relationships (Alexander, 2002). These findings indicate that domestic violence in same-gendered relationships is a crucial issue that should be given increased attention. However, despite the increased rate of domestic violence, most gay/lesbian victims are usually reluctant to report such cases to the authorities.
There are a number of reasons why people in same-sex relationships fail to report domestic violence cases to the police. The first reason can be attributed to homophobia and heterosexism (Chan, 2005, p.2). Homophobia refers to the irrational fear and abhorrence accorded to those in same-sex relationships, while heterosexism refers to the employment of heterosexuality as the prevailing and institutionalized type of sexual identity for the purpose of gaining supremacy and privilege over a person or a group of people. Abusive partners are able to make use of homophobia or heterosexism as a means of preventing their partners from seeking help from the authorities.
This type of abuse can involve ‘outing’ or intimidating to out their partner to close associates such as friends, family, police, church, or employer, informing their partner that he or she risks losing custody of the children as a result of being ‘outed,’ and informing a partner that the authorities will not be able to help since the legal system is homophobic. The abused partner may also fail to seek services when his or her partner informs him or her that such abusive behavior is a normal occurrence in gay/lesbian relationships. The abused can be convinced that he or she does not adequately comprehend sexual practices among same-sex couples due to heterosexism (Renzetti & Miley, 1996).
In the case of same-sex couples living with HIV or AIDS, there are usually related and particular types of abuse that can prevent them from reporting abusive relationships (Island & Letellier, 1991, p.250). Even though HIV or AIDS can also have devastating effects on opposite-gendered couples, for same-gendered couples, this may be accompanied by the intimidation of being ‘outed’ by their abusive partner because of homophobia. Even though HIV or AIDS does not lead to domestic violence, it can be one of the factors for abuse.
For example, the lack of resistance in giving in to unprotected sex in the context of sexual assault, and threatening to reveal the HIV status of a partner if reported. HIV status in gay/lesbian relationships is able to affect a person’s decision making regarding staying in abusive relationships and not reporting cases of abuse to the authority. Victims of same-gender domestic violence afflicted by HIV/AIDS may think that there is nobody who can assist them, except their abusive partners. They may feel that reporting the matter to the authorities is a sign of betrayal to their ‘trusted’ gay or lesbian community.
Homophobic violence against same-sex couples is a crucial societal problem in most developed countries. Most of them often encounter verbal abuse in public places due to their sexual orientation, threatened with violence, or are physically abused. Moreover, apart from the separating effects formed through homophobia and prejudice, same-sex couples are usually isolated from their close family members and friends (Kaschak, 2001).
In these ways, homophobia adds to the possibility of domestic violence taking place without incurring any negative results since it isolates the abused partner and thwarts his or her efforts of accessing resources. These resources may include family members, friends, social services, and authorities. Additionally, the failure to report abuse cases in gay/lesbian relationships may also be strengthened by the fear that accepting it may add to communal homophobia and augment to discrimination against same-gender couples (Pitt, 2000).
There are a number of misconceptions that can contribute to the silence around domestic violence in same-sex relationships (McCue, 2008; Lehmann, 2010). It has been misconceived that the occurrence of gay male domestic violence is reasonable since they are both men who are most of the time susceptible to violence. On the other hand, lesbian domestic violence does not take place because women are less susceptible to violence.
There is a false impression that same-gendered domestic violence does not have the same effects as compared to violence involving opposite-gendered couples. Another misconception is that since the spouses are of the same sex, it is a situation of mutual abuse, where every one of them is perpetrating and receiving ‘equally.’ Finally, it has been misconceived that the person behind the abuse must be a ‘man,’ and the abused must be a ‘woman’ in imitation to opposite-gendered relationships.
Misconceptions such as the ones mentioned, which are components of homophobic assumptions, are able to make the victims even more isolated and more fearful of accessing services. This is because they masquerade the realities of abuse in same-gendered relationships and make the life of the abused individual to be at increased risk. The abused may feel reluctant to report such cases. They may harbor the fear of being arrested or fear that the violence may be regarded as a case of ‘mutual battering.’
If gay/lesbians had experienced homophobia in the past, it means that they are less likely to give reports to the police. In the case of gay or lesbian individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds, the silence can be attributed to the history of poor attention by the service providers. This poor relationship is able to present additional barriers that prevent them from accessing support services. Same-sex couples from indigenous and ethnic communities may have other reasons for their refusal to disclose abusive partners. They may feel sidelined because of their color, culture, or language, and these can make them be reluctant to access support services.
In conclusion, for proper response in cases of same-sex domestic violence, a number of fundamental issues need to be addressed so as to enable the victims, who usually suffer in silence, to seek assistance from various support services. These include the role of heterosexism and homophobia as barriers in accessing helpful resources as well as the availability and suitability of the various support services. The lesbians and the gay men should also be empowered so as to eradicate the fear that they are likely to be isolated if they report the abusive partner to the police.
Alexander, C. J. (2002). Violence in gay and lesbian relationships. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 14(1), 95-98.
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Chan, C. (2005). Domestic violence in gay and lesbian relationships. Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse. Web.
Island, D., & Letellier, P. (1991). Men who beat the men who love them: battered gay men and domestic violence. New York: The Haworth Press.
Kaschak, E. (2001). Intimate betrayal: domestic violence in lesbian relationships. New York: The Haworth Press.
Lehmann, C. (2010). Domestic violence overlooked in same-sex couples. American Psychiatric Association. Web.
McCue, M. L. (2008). Domestic violence: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.
Pitt, E. L. (2000). Domestic violence in gay and lesbian relationships. Journal of the gay and lesbian medical association, 4 (4), 195-199.
Renzetti, C. M., & Miley, C.H. (1996). Violence in gay and lesbian domestic partnerships. New York: The Haworth Press.
Ristock, J. L. (2002). No more secrets: violence in lesbian relationships. New York: Routledge.