Domestic abuse in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community is a serious issue. Around 25% of LGBTQ+ individuals experience violent, abusive, or threatening relationships with partners or ex-partners. This is also underreported and those in abusive relationships are often afraid of revealing their sexuality or gender identity, or the nature of their relationship. As an example, about 17-45% of lesbians reported having been the victim of a least one act of physical violence perpetrated by a lesbian partner according to one US study.
There are many parallels between LGBTQ+ people’s experience of domestic abuse and that of heterosexual couples, including the impact on the abused partner and the types of abuse such as emotional bullying, physical aggression, threats to harm the victim or other loved ones, social isolation, control of finances, and extreme jealousy.
However, there are a number of aspects that are unique to LGBTQ+ domestic abuse.
‘Outing’ as a method of control
The abuser may threaten to ‘out’ the victim to friends, family, religious communities, co-workers, and others as a method of control. The abuser may use the close-knit dynamic of the gay and lesbian community and the lack of support for LGBTQ+ people outside the community to further pressure the victim into compliance.
Abuse associated with sexual orientation or gender identity
For many people, their sexual orientation or gender identity becomes associated with the abuse so that they blame the abuse on this. They may feel that they are experiencing this abuse because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender or that if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be experiencing it. This can therefore fuel feelings of internalised homo/bi/transphobia.
Domestic abuse isn’t well recognised in the LGBTQ+ community
There hasn’t been much information or discussion in the LGBTQ+ communities about domestic abuse. Most information on domestic abuse relates to the experiences of heterosexual women. This lack of understanding means that some people may not:
- Believe it happens in LGBTQ+ relationships.
- Recognise their experience of domestic abuse as that.
- Know how to respond if they see domestic abuse being experienced by their friends or family.
Confidentiality and isolation within LGBTQ+ communities
LGBT communities are often hidden and can rely on friends and relationships as support within the local community. This is often compounded when living in smaller towns and rural areas and can make it difficult for the abused partner to seek help. They may feel ashamed about the abuse, or their partner may have tried to turn others in the community against them. An abusive partner may isolate their partner from contact with the LGBT community by preventing them reading any LGBT papers/magazines etc or attending LGBT venues or events and preventing them seeing friends from within the community. This can be 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.
It can be hard for LGBTQ+ domestic violence victims to seek help because they may not want to disclose their sexuality to police or other organisations. Because of the general homo/transphobia in modern societies, LGBTQ+ victims of partner violence may be concerned about giving gay and lesbian relationships a ‘bad name’ and may refuse to speak up about the abuse they’re suffering.
When people do seek help, police and other agencies may misunderstand the situation as a fight between two men or women rather than a violent intimate relationship. Therefore LGBTQ+ people may be discouraged from disclosing the sex of their partner if service providers use language which reflect heterosexual assumptions. For example, if it is a woman and she has not disclosed her partner’s sex, it is inappropriate to ask about her boyfriend/husband or use the word ‘he’ in reference to her partner. If her abuser is a woman she may feel that she cannot disclose this or that it mustn’t count.
Here is an example of asking someone if they are experiencing domestic abuse which is inclusive:
“There are some routine questions we ask all our clients/service users, as many of them are in relationships where they are either afraid their partners may hurt them or afraid of challenging their partner. Is this a concern for you? Have you ever felt afraid of your partner?”
The example above does not use gendered language, any wording which has been approved by an organisation for encouraging disclosure of domestic abuse could be used with simple changes made from references of ‘he/she’ to ‘your partner’.
What the victim can do if they are experiencing domestic abuse
The victim will not stop their partner’s abuse: only the abuser can do that. However, there are things the victim can do to increase their own safety. A safety plan can help the victim protect themselves against future abuse whether they stay in the relationship, or leave.
They have the right to be protected from domestic abuse just as anyone else does. They can use any of the general support services listed on this site to find the support and advice they need. However, some people might prefer to seek advice from a specialist support agency like those listed below. The victim does not have to give their name. The support agencies will be able to explain options and help the victim plan safely.
Domestic abuse affects all parts of the community, but for a variety of reasons abuse within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community is under-reported. There is no excuse for Domestic Abuse towards any person and in any relationship at any time.
Support services are listed on our website here.
- SafeLives talks to the helpline manager at Galop, the LGBT+ anti-violence charity. Listen here.
Additional support guidance
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