When we think of domestic abuse we are more likely to envisage a timid battered wife than we are a gay man or a lesbian. But is this a fair assessment? The facts speak for themselves. Domestic abuse is not simply a heterosexual problem. What little surveys there are of same-sex relationship s reveal that up to a quarter of LGBs have at one point been in a domestic abuse situation at some point in their lives. Even more of us know somebody who is in a violent or controlling relationship. But when it comes to same-sex couples, where does a disagreement end and abuse start?
Stormy Waters One of the key problems is that in a same-sex relationship, there isn’t always an obvious under-dog. When a man hits a woman, he normally has the physical advantage, but when two women or men are in a fight, it is somehow viewed as a ‘fair contest’. This means that sometimes when one partner hits another, it is viewed as a ‘lovers spat’ or one off. But behind many of the black eyes and bruises could lay a domestic abuse situation.
So when does a stormy relationship turn into domestic abuse? Having a violent relationship is a big problem, but when there is a very obvious abuser and victim imbalance, you have adomestic abuse situation on your hands. Abuse is one sided and has dominance, power and insecurity as its main elements. Escessive control, manipulation, threats and degradation are also ways of abusing a partner. many couples slap faces or hit out in moments of anger, but when one partner is constantly seeking to over-power the other, it is clearly domestic abuse.
Misuse of Power Domestic abuse takes many forms. most often violence is involved, but not always. Adam Rees is project co-ordinator for the Dyn Project which offers support to male victims of domestic in Wales explains how violence is only one element in a much wider picture. “The key to understanding domestic violence is that it is more than just violence. Domestic abuse is the misuse of power and control by one adult over another adult person within the context of a close personal relationship. Abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, sexual or financial.” Many partners may find themselves with friends they are restricted from seeing, places they are not allowed to go. they may also have their mobile phones or phone bills scrutinised and suffer constant questions on where they are goingand who they are seeing. in severe cases of abuse, partners have been known to physically stop their partner from leaving the house, covertly follow the around or take away their money or mobile phone. Often the abuser goes further and becomes violent. In the first instance, the abuse is fuelled by alcohol or an excessively heated argument. The situation is often manipulated by the abuser who is sorry for their actions or blame the victim for making them that angry. This cycle of abuse and remorse or blame can happen many times before the victim even considers leaving the relationship.
Not immune many aspects of relationships are the same, whatever gender is involved. the same can be said for domestic abuse. However what is different is how little we know about the extent of gay domestic abuse. “There has been very little research done on how common domestic abuse is in same sex relationships.” Says Adam. “Some would use the statistic that 1 in 4 gay people suffer from domestic abuse at one time in their lives, but this is on very little research. In the experience of the Dyn Project, between 15-20% of our clients are gay men.” So why are we so ignorant about a problem in our community? Rees is clear that exposure and understanding are the key to tackling the issue head on. “Domestic abuse has only really started to be discussed in the last 15 years, and whilst people see the storylines of female victims on television, trying to understand the situations of other victims is hard for the general population. There is still so much work to be done on the acceptance of sexual orientation that some victims may be intimidated to contact support agencies for fear of homophobia.”
A helping hand Breaking the cycle of abuse often needs outside help and it is in this area the gay community has an especially big problem. Although women have a whole host of charities on offer, most of them are geared towards heterosexuals and may feel intimidating or inappropriate to a female in an abusive same-sex relationship. men also have limited places to turn and for gay men, finding help is especially problematic, as Rees explains. “There are support services for women in most areas of England and Wales, but very few services for male victims. Obviously all victims can access these services, but domestic abuse in same sex relationships can differ slightly from heterosexual relationships and it’s important to know that you are getting support from someone who is aware of that. Domestic abuse within same sex relationships can often be more prevalent if someone is not comfortable with their own sexuality. This can leave them feeling vulnerable and afraid and even try to convince you violence in gay relationships is “normal”.
What little research there is shows victims of same sex domestic violence are most likely to turn to a friend for advice and support. The second most popular place to turn is some form of counsellor or therapist but only 13.5% sought help from an LGB organisation and only 9% informed the police of the abuse. In cases where violence is used, the police are an essential helping hand which most LGBs choose to ignore through fear of prejudice.
It’s over Ending the reltionship is a seemingly obvious way to bring the abuse to an end, but it really isn’t that easy. Leaving a partner you know is violent or manipulative is a brave thing to do and takes a lot of mental and practical preparation. But even if you have managed to leave, the abuse can continue. Persistent phone calls, texting or emails can be a problem. Some partners also spread lies among friends or make themselves out to be the wronged one. The abuser may also visit the new home of the victim or continue to be violent. In extreme cases, a clean break is needed. This is when outside help is most needed. At best, you lose a partner. At worst, you may lose your home, friends and even your job.
Looking forward It is obvious that something needs to be done about the ignorance surrounding same se domestic abuse. There is also a need for more availability to help and resources. But there are also ways we can all help to ease the situation. “It is important that people talk about domestic abuse and acknowledge that it can happen to anyone regardless of gender; sexual orientation; race; religion or age.” says Rees. “Sometimes friends, family and neighnours notice ‘something odd’ going on with a person, but don’t really know what to do. If you notice a serious change in someone’s attitude or personality, then you should give them as much support as possible. it is sometimes hardest for that person to make themselves realise they are experiencing domestic abuse, and talking it through with friends and family can be very helpful. Helplines like the Dyn Project, Men’s Advice Line or Broken Rainbow can also help people talk through the issues.”