Improving the Outcomes for Queer IPV Survivors

When I tell people who know little about me that I am a survivor of domestic violence, they tend to make assumptions. First, they assume that I was in a relationship with a man. They also assume that the abuse was only physical. Unfortunately, this misconception is widespread. It negatively affects the way that LGBTQI+ survivors are able to get the help that they need. 

The Statistics Say

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Queer individuals in experience domestic violence at as great of a rate (and in some cases higher) than heterosexual women. As a pansexual woman, I was, without knowing it, in one of the highest risk categories for domestic violence and intimate partner rape. 

Some of the statistics (CDC 2010):

  • 61% of bisexual women have experienced some kind of IPV in their lifetime
  • 22% of bisexual women have been raped by an intimate partner (versus 9% of heterosexual women)
  • 13% of lesbian women have been raped in their lifetime
  • 46% of bisexual women have been raped in their lifetime
  • 44% of lesbian women have experienced some kind of IPV in their lifetime
  • 26% of gay men have experienced some kind of IPV in their lifetime
  • 37% of bisexual men have experienced some kind of IPV in their lifetime

For transgender people (Peitzmeier 2020)

  • Transgender individuals are 1.7 times more likely to experience IPV than cisgender people
  • 37.5% of trans people have experienced physical IPV in their lifetime
  • 25% of trans people have experienced sexual IPV in their lifetime

 

But Why?

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There are many discussions about why LGBTQI+ people are more likely to have suffered from domestic violence, but here I will speak from personal experience as a pansexual woman. People have many preconceived notions about bisexual people as a whole. Assumptions that bi and pansexual people are overtly promiscuous or hypersexual may lead to sexual victimization in the form of rape by those who think that we are “asking for it.” Partners may become more controlling because they feel that they “have to” in order to assure monogamy. Sexual coercion and forced sexual interactions with partners may be a part of how a partner reassures him or herself that a bisexual or pansexual person is not cheating or still desires them. Physical violence may manifest because a partner feels that the pansexual person’s insistence on retaining their sexual identity means lack of monogamy. People confuse someone coming out as bisexual or pansexual as a way to invite sex. 

Finally, and most importantly for the purposes of this article, when LGBTQI+ people reach out for help, they are often met with barriers. 

The Biggest Problems

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During one of the many separations from my ex after a particularly brutal physical attack, I consulted with the police about pressing charges. Like many survivors of IPV know, it can be very difficult to come out with your story to friends, let alone authorities. People who come forward may not be believed or may even be persecuted themselves because it is hard for an outsider to step into a situation of “he said, she said” and figure out what is going on without adequate training. Now throw in all of the above prejudice against LGBTQI+ people and all of the misconceptions. Couple that with inadequate training on domestic violence in general and queer populations as a whole and you have a recipe for a disaster. Some assumptions I discovered in my attempts to get help include:

  • If you’re both women, the abuse must have been mutual
  • If you’re both close in size and the same gender, you should have been able to free yourself of physical or sexual harm
  • As a pansexual person, if you don’t choose to label your sexuality based on your partner, you’re likely cheating and your partner is understandably upset
  • Women cannot rape another woman 
  • Women are less likely to abuse others in general, so you must not be telling the truth

Even my local LGBT center and theNetworklaRed, a hotline for LGBTQI+ people did not prove helpful. Both met me with even greater prejudice and incredulity than resources like TheHotline. One individual at the local LGBT center said specifically what her concern was: if this was happening in the local gay community, it could cause problems legally for others. In short, they were not willing to help. 

Since leaving, there have been similar difficulties in obtaining support. Before I can tell my story, many people want to “just understand” it. This involves asking for more detailed and specific questions than I am prepared to answer most of the time. I have learned through support communities that I am not alone in this. Women who face abuse at the hands of other women are more likely to be met with incredulity than belief in a world where that is already too often the case for many survivors.

What Do We Do?

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First, improvements to awareness of the intersectionality between abuse and sexuality/gender identity for authorities must occur. Training for law enforcement and judges needs to occur to protect queer people. This will need to involve domestic violence training becoming a priority for those individuals, and even for therapists who may treat people after the fact. Understanding how abusers behave and how they are likely to attempt to lay blame, manipulate, and otherwise dodge being held accountable will be useful. Understanding coercive control, as well as other forms of domestic violence, will need to occur. 

Secondly, aid needs to be readily available. In some locations, that may involve changing laws to assure that all populations are equally protected. This will involve better education of hotlines that help victims of domestic violence, as well as education for therapists treating survivors. Many of those who are in a position to help are overworked and overwhelmed, particularly during the Covid crisis. However, ensuring appropriate training can start from the outset. Volunteers and therapists must get the proper information before they even start working with the public and ongoing training is essential. 

Third, the public needs to understand that abuse is abuse, regardless of the perpetrator. There is no rule that says that abusers must be male, or that abuse needs to look a particular way. As the public becomes more aware of issues in the queer community as a whole, ensuring that they hear all parts of the story, including the negatives, is essential. To that point, I write this article and raise my voice whenever I can, and hope that others will find the strength to do the same. 

References

Mikel L. Walters; Jieru Chen; Matthew J. Breiding. (2013). National intimate partner and sexual violence SURVEY (nisvs): 2010 findings on victimization by sexual orientation. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation | Office of Justice Programs. https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/national-intimate-partner-and-sexual-violence-survey-nisvs-2010. 

Sarah M. Peitzmeier, Mannat Malik, Shanna K. Kattari, Elliot Marrow, Rob Stephenson, Madina Agénor, and Sari L. Reisner, 2020: Intimate Partner Violence in Transgender Populations: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Prevalence and Correlates  American Journal of Public Health 110, e1_e14, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2020.305774

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