LGBT Domestic Violence Survivors Face Complex Challenges, Discrimination

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and as previously discussed here on Huffington Post, it is a crime and a serious public health issue. Domestic violence survivors are at great risk for mental health disorders and are likely to die.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in seven men in the U.S. reported experiencing physical violence at the hands of their domestic partners. In 2013, the CDC reported the prevalence of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner was 43.8 percent for lesbians, 61.1 percent for bisexual women, and 35 percent for heterosexual women, and was 26 percent for gay men, 37.3 percent for bisexual men, and 29 percent for heterosexual men.

To further the conversation around this topic, I turned to my good friend and therapist Falon Williams.

What differences (or similarities) have you noticed between LGBT domestic violence survivors and heterosexual survivors?

Domestic violence does not take into consideration one's sexual orientation, gender identity expression, or any other factors; there is no discrimination in who can be a victim.

Domestic abuse comes in many variations --- physical, verbal, financial, emotional. None of them are okay. No one has the right to belittle you, to undermine you or to hurt you.

Mental health issues can occur as a result of intimate partner violence, including post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

Survivors share similar tales of resilience, one of the most common is finding a trusted friend or family member to offer support and help to seek out resources. LGBTQ survivors need to feel identity affirmation and social support and must seek help (likely not from mainstream providers or police, but from informal LGBTQ community supports) to be most likely to experience resilience. Feeling positive about one's LGBTQ identity helps survivors to better cope and increases overall adaptability. Social support is a protective factor for any individual — LGBT or otherwise.

Social media can serve as a way for victims to seek out support. Technology can also be a method of power and control exerted by an abuser. Technology may also put victims at risk and compromise victims' safety. Victims of domestic violence may use technology and online communities to find help. These online communities also provide education and empowerment to users which contributes to resilience.

Any differences between lesbians, gays, trans individuals?

There are differences in the experiences of subgroups in the larger LGBTQ community. For some minority groups there is an extreme lack of connection to services, some groups are ignored and their reports of abuse are minimized. Harassment, rape and violence are seen by non-knowledgeable providers as “boys being boys” behavior or just “cat fighting.” Many individuals are afraid to report abuse because of fear of negative response or lack of response by police (due to heterosexism, sometimes the victim and the abuser are arrested).

What issues do same-sex couples face vs. heterosexual couples if at all?

Both groups share many of the same characteristics, but there are several unique nuances for the LGBTQ communities. There are differences in the types of tactics used by abusers in the LGBTQ community: taking advantage of social stigma/heterosexism/transphobia/biphobia, threatening to out a partner, refusal to use preferred pronouns, isolation, etc. All of these tactics are especially detrimental in small LGTBQ communities.

There are significant complexities for individuals that face intersectional oppression (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.). Many victims have difficulty finding culturally competent and non-traumatizing supports due to overall stigma, lack of economic resources, or the absence available community outreach programs. If service providers do not have an understanding of the intersecting oppressions that exist, their work may cause more harm than good.

Can both groups get assistance in the same facilities or is there resistance? Has that changed given same-sex marriage?

Domestic violence victims with mental health issues also face many barriers, such as discrimination and stigmatization by the police, the legal system, health facilities and more.

There are some systemic barriers presented to LGBTQ survivors trying to access services, mostly the heterosexism that prevents service professionals from even identifying intimate partner violence among couples in the LGBTQ community.

Even when LGBTQ individuals do seek services, they may be dismissed, bombarded with materials using heterosexist language, face further traumatization by providers who are not educated about LGBTQ issues by having to come out and reveal sexual orientation or gender identity to discuss the intimate partner violence they experience.

Most of the silence and under reporting of instances of domestic violence in the LGBTQ community is a result of shame. Shame for being a victim. Shame from having to out themselves to receive help. Shame from think that reporting abuse will make the LGBTQ community look bad.

Survivors should seek out identity affirming supports, should seek out mental health therapists who are knowledgeable of the intricacies in the LGBTQ community and can help tackle the issues, and should seek access to resources that are LGBTQ aware and LGBTQ embracing to increase overall resilience.

Follow Falon Williams on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LGBTherapist

Resources for LGBT domestic violence survivors:

Know of additional resources? Share them in the comments.

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