The ‘revolutionary’ programs giving hope to LGBT domestic violence survivors

July 16, 2018

When Elizabeth* first fell in love with Janie* nearly two decades ago, the future looked rosy. They built a home together and had two children.

But eight or nine years later, as the stresses piled up — the death of loved ones, the need to field the parenting opinions of their children’s biological fathers — Janie began subjecting the family to lashings of verbal abuse.

She would scream at Elizabeth and the children, Elizabeth said, for items that went missing in the house, or if something fell out of the cupboard. Later, Janie would swear at Elizabeth, accusing her of flirting with men and threatening to “go straight and leave her”.

Then there was the violence towards the children, now primary school-aged.

“There was some physical discipline that we would never have agreed on, smacking, that kind of thing,” Elizabeth said. “One particular incident went further than that. She really hurt one of the kids, [saying she] did it because our daughter was ‘out of control’.”

Elizabeth now believes she had been blinded to the abuse because she was in a same-sex relationship.

Gay male perpetrators of domestic violence may justify their behaviour by telling their partner that all men are violent by nature, experts say.

“When you have a woman [partner] that purports to be a feminist, and is quite outspoken about feminist issues, you kind of doubt yourself,” she said.

“Did these things really happen? Are they really as bad as you thought they were? You have expectations that women aren’t violent, and that women will never hurt their children.”

Elizabeth sought help from a counsellor and GP, confiding in them about Janie’s behaviour. But the GP failed to report the abuse of the children, she said, which made her feel abandoned and guilty.

“You feel like you’re being sent back into the warzone,” she said. “The GP … not once asked me how I was going, and what did I need. He did refer me to individual counselling, but never labelled what was happening as violence.”

Studies show people in same-sex relationships experience domestic violence at similar — and possibly higher — rates as opposite-sex couples.

But until recently survivors have suffered in silence and worse, been ignored and misunderstood by the health professionals and police who are supposed to help them, because of the persistent stigma and shame surrounding LGBT abuse and misconceptions that especially lesbian couples are immune from it.

Now, six months after Australians voted to legalise same-sex marriage, survivors and advocates are hopeful a suite of new programs addressing the nature and dynamics of LGBT violence will kick-start a long-overdue conversation by bringing the issue out of the shadows and reversing generations of neglect.

‘This is what happens when two blokes are together’

Much of the ignorance about how the LGBT community experiences domestic violence stems from the long-held understanding that gender inequality can foster and cultivate environments where men seek to control or abuse women.

In addition, the overwhelming majority of murders between couples who have a history of domestic violence are committed by men.

But according to experts and survivors, this has created a false assumption that LGBT people are immune to intimate partner abuse. There is a lack of consensus and data on prevalence: many studies indicate rates are on par with the mainstream community — about a third of LGBT couples — however some evidence suggests this might be higher.

And experts say the previously unacknowledged reality is that the same patriarchal forces that disempower women and enforce a narrow script of what it means to be a man are leading contributors to domestic violence in the LGBT community.

“Gender inequality and patriarchy still affect our relationships as well, because we exist in the same society with the same messages,” said Kai Noonan, domestic and family violence coordinator at the Aids Council of NSW (ACON).

It is not uncommon, survivors and counsellors say, for gay male perpetrators of domestic violence to justify their behaviour by telling their partners that all men are simply violent by nature.

“He told me, ‘This is what happens when two blokes are together, arguments turn violent, just cop it sweet, because this is how it works, mate’,” said Thomas* of his ex-partner Harry*, who once threw him down the stairs, in front of Thomas’s children and beat him so badly with a phone that he cracked his skull.

Harry was the first male partner for Thomas, who had previously been married for 17 years to a woman, with whom he had three children.

He had no role models for how a gay relationship should be. “That’s how I was groomed,” said Thomas, who was in the relationship for five years.

The influence of childhood abuse and homophobia

And the fact that LGBT people experience childhood and sexual abuse at higher rates than straight people — abuse that often stems from homophobia — is another driver of domestic violence in the community, says Ms Noonan.

“It’s our families who have abused us, then our partners abuse us, [we learn] ‘This is relationships, and this is love’,” said Ms Noonan, who is currently investigating whether family violence increased during last year’s same-sex marriage debate and postal survey, which unleashed a torrent of gay hate literature and other acts of homophobia.

Originally Published by ABC News, continue reading here.

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