Including same sex victims and survivors
By Emily Moreton
When we think of domestic violence and abuse, we usually think of women being abused by their male partners. It’s what we mostly see: on TV, in the news, in books and research, which makes sense, since the majority of victims and survivors of gender-based violence are women abused by men.
It’s not the whole story though: domestic abuse can also be directed at men by their female partners, within same sex relationships, and within relationships where one or both partners don’t necessarily identify as male or female. In fact, domestic violence and abuse happens at about the same rate in same sex relationships as it does in opposite sex relationships. There’s a lot less research and awareness about this group, however, and as a result, lots of people abused by same sex partners either don’t identify the experience as abuse, or don’t know where they can go to get help with what’s happening. Research suggests that, mostly, they go to family and friends, to GPs, and sometimes to the police; very few go to specialist domestic violence agencies.
In Bristol there have been two projects looking at how to better support LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and other) people who’ve experienced domestic abuse.
The first was a joint project between the Diversity Trust and Next Link Housing, funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner through Safer Bristol. Over a period of about a year, the project ran training courses for domestic violence workers in how to support LGBT+ victims and survivors, reviewed services’ policies and procedures, and ran focus groups with survivors, all focused on improving experiences for this group of survivors. The whole project culminated in the release of a lengthy report in March 2016, with recommendations for how services can best support this group.
The second project was a research study by a PhD student at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol. This looked specifically at the experiences of women abused by female partners, again, with a view to guiding services in how best to support this group. It also looked at how same sex violence can fit within the current definition of domestic violence, as something that happens because of male power and control. A little like the project above, they talked to professionals about this, as well as women who were in unhealthy or abusive relationships about how they would have wanted to be supported, via an online one-hour focus group.
If you have read about the two projects, and you’re keen to make sure your service is doing the best it can to support LGBT+ victims and survivors. Taken from the two projects, here are five top tips:
Visibility: Do you use images of same sex couples? Do you mention trans, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people on your publicity materials? Even better, do you say anything about how you support their specific needs? A lot of LGBT+ survivors assume a service isn’t for them if they can’t see themselves in the service’s publicity materials.
Monitoring: Yes, we all hate the equality tick boxes, but they’re actually important for helping you find out whether you’re reaching LGBT+ people with your service. Asking about sexuality and gender identity also help people feel like you’re aware that these things exist and might be important – back to visibility again.
Policies: Even less popular than the tick boxes, probably, but policies and procedures help to guide you when potentially difficult questions come up. Like: are ‘out’ trans women supported in refuge provision? What if both members of a couple turn up looking for support? What happens if someone makes homophobic remarks in a support group? Try asking your staff to anonymously suggest what concerns they have, and to think about how to deal with these.
Training: In lots of ways, same sex domestic violence is just like opposite sex violence; in a lot of other ways, it’s really different, and even more so when the person is also disabled, or from an ethnic minority, or someone who doesn’t speak English as a first language. Training, like that provided by the Diversity Trust, gives you space to think about the similarities and differences, as well as supporting you to learn more about LGBT+ domestic violence and abuse, and the resources available.
Good is more important than perfect: One of the things that comes up again and again talking to service providers is the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing – especially saying it! We can’t promise no-one will ever bite your head off because you used a term they don’t like – hey, we all have bad days, and sometimes you’re just in the firing line when they happen! – but it’s better to try with good intentions than to let fear of something going wrong stop you acting. Mostly, people take things the way they’re intended, and if you mess up, a sincere apology and attempt to do better going forward can make all the difference.
For more information about LGBT+ domestic violence, or support if you’re worried or afraid in your own relationship, contact the National LGBT+ Domestic Violence Helpline.