Abuse Doesn’t Discriminate: Facing Abuse in LGBTQ+  Communities

Key: LGBTQ+ is translated as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. The “+” includes members of the Intersex and Asexual communities.

It is extremely important to keep in mind that abuse in any form is unacceptable and can never be rationalized. It is also crucial to realize that relationship abuse can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, social class, and ability.

According to the National Council Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), the majority of the domestic violence awareness movement has focused on heterosexual relationships.

Members of the LGBTQ community have been largely left out of the movement; however, recent research shows that LGBTQ members fall victim to domestic violence at equal or even higher rates compared to their heterosexual counterparts.

Nine (9) Quick Statistics about Domestic Violence and the LGBTQ Community

  1. 43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime, as opposed to 35% of heterosexual women.
  2. 26% of gay men and 37.3% of bisexual men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, in comparison to 29% of heterosexual men.
  3. In a study of male same sex relationships, only 26% of men called the police for assistance after experiencing near-lethal violence.
  4. In 2012, fewer than 5% of LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence sought orders of protection.
  5. Transgender victims are more likely to experience intimate partner violence in public, compared to those who do not identify as transgender.
  6. Bisexual victims are more likely to experience sexual violence, compared to people who do not identify as bisexual.
  7. LGBTQ Black/African American victims are more likely to experience physical intimate partner violence, compared to those who do not identify as Black/African American.
  8. LGBTQ white victims are more likely to experience sexual violence, compared to those who do not identify as white.
  9. LGBTQ victims on public assistance are more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to those who are not on public assistance.

(Source: Domestic Violence and the LGBTQ Community, NCADV, 2018)

Abuse Tactics/Methods

Just like abuse in heterosexual relationships, abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships can be physical, sexual, emotional, or financial. While the epidemic of abuse does not discriminate, it’s also important to acknowledge the unique challenges that some victims might face because of how they identify. Abusive partners in LGBTQ+ relationships may also use societal and reputational factors to maintain control over their partner. Also, when trying to leave an abusive relationship or access help and resources, LGBTQ+ victims face an added layer of complexity. 

LGBTQ+ Youth

A recent study conducted by the Urban Institute focused on dating violence among LGBT youth, producing some frightening statistics. 

The study looked at a total of 5,647 young people. Among those, 3,745 reported either being in a current dating relationship or having ended a dating relationship within the past year. 

Across the board, LGBT youth are at higher risk of all sorts dating violence than are heterosexual youth. Transgender and female youth are at the highest risk of teen dating violence.

Here are some statistics from the Urban Institute study:

  • 43% of LGBT youth and 29% of heterosexual youth reported being victims of physical dating violence.
  • 59% of LGBT youth and 46% of heterosexual youth reported emotional abuse from a dating partner.
  • 37% of LGBT youth and 26% of heterosexual youth reported cyber/phone abuse and harassment.
  • 23% of LGBT and 12% of heterosexual youth have reported sexual coercion.

Particularly frighting is the violence level among transgender youth. Transgender youth represented a small percentage of the overall number of youths involved in the study, yet as a group, they reported the highest levels of violence, harassment, and sexual coercion. 

Using the categories above, transgender teens reported:

  • 89% had experienced physical dating violence.
  • 61% had been sexually coerced.
  • 59% had been emotionally abused.
  • 56% had suffered cyber and phone abuse and harassment.

These percentages are significantly higher than for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, and much higher than for heterosexual youth.

(Source: Studies Show LGBT Youth Face Higher Risk of Dating Violence, Teen Domestic Violence, 2020)

Experiencing Abuse as a Member of the LGBTQ+ Community

Dating violence in the LGBTQ+ community is something that needs to be talked about! Individuals experiencing dating abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships may:

  • Feel embarrassed about the abuse.
  • Fear that their partner will try to turn the community against them if they do something counter to the abuser’s needs and wants, or if they decide to end the relationship.
  • Develop a fear of being “outed” by their partner to their families and friends as a way to gain power and control.
  • Be made to feel ashamed about their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression by their abusive partner.
  • Believe that their partner – however abusive – is the only person who will ever love them because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
  • Be worried that they won’t be able to get help because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression if they reach out.

Many victims of dating and sexual violence feel scared or apprehensive when faced with the decision to report the crimes against them. They fear that they won’t be believed or become outcasts in their community.

LGBTQ+ individuals also may not feel safe reporting their experience to authorities because they fear they won’t be believed or they won’t be taken seriously. This fear is amplified among queer and trans folks who have to also wonder if they will face discrimination and prejudice, especially when the assumption is that sexual and relationship violence only occurs in situations with male perpetrators and female victims.

Abusive partners in LGBTQ+ relationships may use their partner’s sexuality or identity to shame them and exert power over them. They do this by calling them names like “homo,” playing on gender insecurities, or pressuring their victim sexually. 

Abusive partners in LGBTQ+ relationships often threaten to “out” someone. Threatening to reveal a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a common tactic used by an abuser to control their partner in LGBTQ+ relationships. This tactic is prevalent in relationships where one partner might not be fully public with their identity as a gay, trans, or queer person. While some people are comfortable going public with their gender identity or sexual orientation, others may not feel safe or encouraged. Whether it’s telling an employer, a family member, or a friend — no person should ever threaten to disclose personal information about their partner without expressed consent.

What it means to be marginalized. Among LGBTQ+ groups often there is pressure to assimilate to mainstream culture, which can make it harder to discuss or address problems within that community. Dating and sexual violence are examples of this. Marginalized people or groups may feel as though they need to maintain a façade of perfection in order to be accepted by their peers or family. 

For example, a woman identifying as lesbian may seek acceptance of her relationship from her friends. She may hide her partner’s abuse so that her friends do not form a negative perception of all lesbians. As allies, we need to actively advocate and work to eliminate the stigma of gender-based violence in marginalized communities.

HIV/AIDS has afforded abusers another avenue by which to assert control over their partners. It is never okay for a partner to threaten to reveal anything about your medical condition without your consent or to prevent you from accessing proper medical treatment. In some extreme cases, an abusive partner who is HIV-positive may threaten to infect a partner if they decide to leave the relationship. They may also use guilt – claim that they will die or become more ill – if their partner breaks up with them as a way to keep their victim in the relationship. Manipulation, threats, and making you feel guilty are never okay in any relationship.

How To Protect Yourself

At the TAR Network™ we are working diligently to raise awareness about relationship violence. We want everyone to understand that abuse can impact anyone regardless of how you identify. You can help us educate your peers about the warning signs of relationship abuse and start conversations about how this issue impacts the LGBTQ+ community by joining our movement and sharing resources with your friends. Supporting organizations and causes that fight against LGBTQ+ discrimination also helps to decrease the barriers to reporting and   increase access to resources that can help LGBTQ+ victims and survivors of dating and sexual violence.

If you or someone you know have experienced relationship abuse, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at (800) 799-7233. Read this to learn more about Signs of LGBTQ Relationship Abuse. Everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, deserves a healthy relationship where they are treated with respect and valued for who they are. Remember, you’re worth it!

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