As with domestic abuse within heterosexual relationships, we define LGBT domestic abuse as a pattern of tactics and behaviours designed to exert control over a partner or ex-partner. These include physical abuse, sexual abuse, and mental and emotional abuse.
However, there are a number of aspects that are unique to domestic abuse in LGBT relationships. Service providers need to ensure that they are aware of these and that they are able to respond appropriately when supporting LGBT vicitms.
If the abused partner isn't out to their family, friends, and workmates, the abusive partner may use 'outing' or the threat of 'outing' as a method of control.
For many LGBT people experiencing domestic abuse, their sexual orientation or gender identity comes to be seen as the reason for experiencing abuse from their partner or ex-partner.
Domestic abuse isn't well recognised or acknowledged in the LGBT community. Given that most information on domestic abuse relates to the experiences of heterosexual women, this lack of understanding means that some people may not believe it happends in same sex relationships or recognise their experience as domestic abuse if it does happen to them.
The relatively small size of the gay and lesbian communities, especially in smaller towns and rural areas, can make it difficult for a victim to seek help. They may feel embarrassed about the abuse, their partner may have tried to turn others in the community against them, or they may not be 'out'.
A perpetrator may further isolate their partner from contact with the LGBT community by preventing them reading LGBT literature, going out on the scene or seeing friends. This is especially true for people in their first same sex relationship who may not have had much contact with the LGBT community before the relationship began.
In some cases the abusive partner is the one with the illness while in others it is the one without the illness that is abusive.
There are a number of forms of domestic abuse that are specific to situations where either or both partners have a serious illness:
If the abusive partner does not have a serious illness they may use their partner’s health status as a form of control, withhold medication and treatment, threaten to cut off support; or simply threaten to leave.
They may also verbally abuse their partner by saying they are diseased and dirty. If the abusive partner does have a serious illness they may use guilt or other psychological abuse to manipulate their partner; refuse to take medication or seek medical services; or use their illness to manipulate services, eg saying ‘I’m weak and sick, how could I control him/her?
An abusive partner may also threaten to, or actually, infect their partner to prevent them leaving. As sexual assault is a common form of domestic abuse, sexually transmittable infections (eg HIV, Hepatitis B) pose a special risk to the uninfected partner.
Although there are many parallels between LGBT people’s experience of domestic abuse and that of heterosexual women, there are a number of factors service providers should take into account when working with LGBT victims.
A perception, which can be real or perceived by many LGBT people when deciding whether to access support provision or protection is will they face homophobia, biphobia or transphobia (the way in which organisations intentionally or unintentionally discriminate against LGBT people through their policies and working practices).
Possible ways to address this could be sending staff on LGBT equality training and then publicising this in your internal/external policies or strategies, websites etc. Other solutions may include displaying LGBT anti-discriminatory posters or the Broken Rainbow Helpline poster (LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline).
The media portrayal of domestic abuse is generally women being abused by men because that accounts for the vast majority of people experiencing domestic abuse.
However, this can often lead to LGBT people not realising that what they are experiencing is actually domestic abuse and therefore may not even realise they can access certain services for help or even that they may need help.
Organisations can take steps to ensure that images of same sex and transgender people are included in publicity and promotional material and websites.
Some LGBT people may think mainstream service providers don’t know how to deal with their specific needs (many LGBT people will have accessed mainstream services but won’t have disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity and they remain hidden).
Service providers can show that equality doesn’t mean treating everyone the same and that they want to address LGBT people’s specific needs. This could be done by confidential equal opportunity monitoring forms which include questions on gender identity and sexual orientation. This can help service-providers understand their service users' specific needs and make service users feel included within the organisation.
Another concern for LGBT service users could be the fear of being ‘outed’, this is especially true down the criminal justice route where if a case progresses the details of the case are discussed in open court and if a person was not ‘out’ in all sections of their life (ie out to friends and family but not at work then this may be a real fear for them).
All services, with the exception of criminal justice services, should promote their procedures of confidentiality, including confidentiality statements in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Encouraging disclosure is essential. Being LGB or T and experiencing domestic abuse increases greatly the likelihood of mental health problems and it is therefore essential to let people know that someone cares and wants to help.
Simply asking, even if a disclosure doesn’t take place, can be a very important step for someone experiencing domestic abuse. If they decide at that point not to disclose they may then disclose the next time they are asked.
LGBT people will be discouraged from disclosing if service providers use language which reflect heterosexual assumptions, for example assuming a female victim's perpetrator is male.
With the exception of criminal justice services, who need to identify the perpetrator, best practice is to always believe someone who presents as having experienced domestic abuse.
Unfortunately, in a small number of cases this might mean that service providers give support to the abuser. However, as there is no way to know for certain, this is more beneficial than potentially getting it wrong and sending the person who really needs help away.
Clearly service providers cannot support both parties at the same time and various steps can be taken to avoid this, such as referring one party to another local service or arranging meeting places out with the organisation.
It is essential that LGBT people feel that they are included within policies, strategies, service plans and protocols. This provides service users, staff and volunteers with reassuarance that a service is able to address the specific needs of an LGBT person experiencing domestic abuse.
It is especially important in terms of all equality strands that all policies and related documents are impact assessed. The LGBT community is extremely hidden and service providers need to ensure that changes they are making at a strategic level are having a positive impact on the service users.