With Pride Week festivities in Boston in full swing, we wanted to take the opportunity to recognize the unique challenges faced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer (LGBTQ) survivors of domestic violence.
Research about LGBTQ partner abuse shows that domestic violence occurs at similar rates as it does in the general population. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey released in January by the Centers for Disease Control documents the same or higher prevalence of domestic violence within LBG communities as the general population. (The sample of transgender individuals within the survey was too small to draw meaningful conclusions.)
Unfortunately, LGBTQ victims of domestic violence often don’t receive the help they need. Batterers have been known to threaten “outing” their victims to work colleagues, family, and friends, which can heighten their sense of isolation. For this reason, as well as the host of reasons reported by other survivors, LGBTQ individuals may be hesitant to report abuse to law enforcement or social service agencies.
Earlier this year, a case in Western Massachusetts made headlines as a woman went on trial for the 2010 murder of her wife, the first case in Massachusetts history in which a woman was charged with murdering her lawful wife. (A hung jury resulted in a mistrial and the case is expected to be tried again next year.) According to Jane Doe Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, while this case was the first involving a legally married couple, there have been 9 reported or suspected LGBTQ domestic violence-related homicides across the Commonwealth in the past 5 years.
Regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, domestic violence is a pattern – a systematic abuse of power and control over a victim. As service providers, it’s important that we understand which person in the relationship has control over the other before deciding whether one person is the abuser or the survivor. At REACH, all of our services are open to any survivors of domestic violence, regardless of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
In our work we follow the guidelines below:
- Do not assume anyone’s sexual orientation or gender identity
- Do not out someone’s sexual orientation or transgender status
- Respect people’s pronoun choices
- Find out what terminology people are comfortable with and use it
- Use non-heterosexist language:
- Use the term “partner” or “significant other” instead of boyfriend/girlfriend”, or “husband/wife”
- Ask, “are you seeing someone?” or “are you in a committed relationship” instead of “do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?” or “are you married?”
- Speak out against anti-LGBTQ statements and jokes. Let people know that you find anti-LGBTQ statements and jokes offensive and unacceptable
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any type of relationship, REACH’s hotline is always available at 1-800-899-4000.