Domestic abuse in same-sex relationships
Domestic abuse in same-sex relationships is just as prevalent as it is in heterosexual relationships – about 1 in 4 people in both types of relationships report experiencing domestic abuse at some point in their lives. However, domestic abuse in heterosexual relationships has been well researched and is high in the public’s consciousness, while in same-sex relationships, it is often hidden, unexpected and unrecognised. Due to high levels of homophobia in society, people in same-sex relationships are less likely to come forward for help when experiencing abuse, so as not to cast further aspersions on their lifestyle. People in same-sex relationships can experience abuse in many similar ways to heterosexuals, but they can also experience some differences particular to their sexuality.
People who experience domestic abuse often fail to recognise abusive behaviour if it is something other than physical. The British government’s definition of domestic abuse is as follows:
“Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality."
This statement should make it clear that any of these behaviours apply to anyone who experiences them “regardless of gender or sexuality”. But domestic abuse is often seen through the prism of heterosexual relationships, where it may be clear who the perpetrator is or who is exerting control over the other. Some people may not agree that they have experienced domestic abuse when asked directly, but upon further discussion, disclose abusive behaviours that they have experienced. This misconception applies to both those who experience the abuse, as well as external agencies such as the Police and the criminal justice system. Anyone who experiences domestic abuse may think, this is just how things are in this relationship and may worry about what will happen to them, and any children, should they leave an abusive partner. Any perpetrator of abuse may also not accept the end of the relationship, continuing to abuse with texts, phone calls, or by turning up at their ex-partner’s workplace or new home.
There are some differences in how people in same sex relationships experience abuse that are particular to their sexuality. For example, part of the controlling aspects of the abuse may come in the form of saying they don’t like their partner going out on the scene without them, threatening to out them to childcare agencies if there are children or to work colleagues, or by undermining their confidence by suggesting they are “not gay enough”. This is particularly difficult if this is the first same-sex relationship for the survivor of the abuse. They may be desperate for this relationship to be perfect as a validation of their sexuality, or they may be unfamiliar with what constitutes “normal” behaviour in a same-sex relationship. The importance of being in a same-sex relationship is given more value than their feeling that there is something “not quite right” about it. Also, if there were difficulties with coming out to friends or family in the first place, they may feel they have to remain in the relationship to justify their decision.
Are you in an abusive relationship?
Does your partner
There are many reasons why people in same-sex relationships don’t seek help while still in the relationship or after it has ended. Stigma about experiencing domestic abuse is high for both heterosexuals and those in same-sex relationships. But there is also the added stigma of having to acknowledge who is the victim and who is the perpetrator when the abuse is viewed by those experiencing it and external agencies through the prism of heterosexuality. There is the often the fear that external agencies won’t understand same-sex relationships, will make assumptions and judgements and therefore will be unable to help. There is also the worry that by talking to external agencies about the abuse, it will only serve to validate the homophobic views that society holds about them. Research has shown however, that most people who seek help receive good support from individual practitioners, who are both skilled at working with survivors of domestic abuse and are sensitive to the needs of those in same-sex relationships.
Domestic abuse is a crime regardless of who experiences it. It is not the fault of the survivor, and is not a normal part of any healthy relationship. If you are looking for help or support for this issue, it is important to remember that you do not have to work with anyone who you feel doesn’t understand you or your situation or who makes you feel that the abuse is your fault. Getting the right support can help you to work through the difficult feelings that built up while the abuse was taking place, such as shame, blame and mistrust of others, and can help you move on and understand what you do want from a healthy relationship.
Related articles from our experts
- Domestic abuse - female and male victims
Angela Dierks, BA (Hons), MStud (Oxon), MA Integrative Counselling, MBACP (Acc)22nd June, 2017
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- Life after surviving domestic abuse
Jill Mitev-Will BA(Hons) MBACP (registered)31st May, 2017
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