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Special Concerns

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Challenges Specific to LGBT Relationship Violence

For Law Enforcement

  • Police responding to a call about domestic violence are faced with determining which party is the offender and which the victim. This is not obvious based on gender in a same-sex relationship, nor can it be assumed based on a person's size, age, presentation, strength, etc. Training is needed to know how to correctly screen for the offender.
  • The LGBT population is less visible, misunderstood and subject to stereotypes that impede appropriate responses when relationship violence occurs.
  • LGBT partner abuse is underreported for all the same reasons as it is in heterosexual relationships. Additionally, because LGBT relationships lack public and legal recognition, many in the community fear that speaking up will tarnish the entire community. There are also pervasive dual myths that LGBT people are not violent and don't experience abusive relationships, or that abuse is a normal part of LGBT relationships.
  • Many LGBT people are wary of law enforcement and reluctant to report abuse.
  • Research, information and legislation about LGBT partner abuse is not as readily available as the resources developed for heterosexual relationship violence.
  • Advocates may not be aware of available legal protections for LGBT victims/survivors.

For Providers

  • Most domestic violence services and providers arose from the battered women's movement. As LGBT relationship violence becomes better understood, providers are faced with becoming culturally competent to serve the needs of the LGBT community. While most relationship violence in the straight community is committed by men against women, the LGBT community has roughly equal numbers of offenders and survivors who are men and women.
  • Understanding the different strategies that abusers may use to exert control in same-sex relationships is important. Tactics specific to LGBT relationship violence include threatening to "out" a partner's sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status; using the lack of legal recognition of same-sex relationships to impact custody of children or partner's immigration status; isolating a partner from supportive coming out groups; withholding hormones or HIV medication; or denying that abuse occurs in same-sex relationships.
  • Providers need training to learn how to screen individuals to determine if someone is a victim/survivor or offender in order to provide appropriate services.
  • Not all shelters accommodate LGBT victims/survivors, especially men and transgender individuals. Policies and procedures that acknowledge the complexities of same-sex relationship violence are needed.

Connections Between HIV, Substance Abuse and Relationship Violence

  • Abuse rates are higher when people are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse results in lowered inhibitions but is not the cause of relationship violence. Substance abuse only increases the chances that a person would act on an existing impulse that they might normally curb.
  • Abusers may control access to medications or insurance coverage.
  • Abusers may coerce their partner to misuse drugs, force them to have unprotected sex or share needles and expose them to HIV.
  • Abusers may threaten to "out" their partner's HIV status or addiction to authorities and employers.
  • HIV increases the likelihood of abuse because it is a stressor in a relationship. Abusers choose to take their stress out on their partner. People can learn other ways of responding to stress.
  • Positive HIV status can increase isolation due to the fear of being stigmatized and because abusers may emotionally abuse positive partners by saying, “nobody will want you.”
  • Substance abuse increases the chance of exposure to HIV from shared needles and unprotected sex while using meth.

Impact of Partner Abuse on Children

  • Abusers may use the children as a pawn to manipulate their partner, threaten to hurt or gain custody of the children.
  • Abusers may tell the children one side of the story or pit them against the other parent.
  • Abusers may threaten the children directly - that what they see between the adults will also happen to them.
  • According to Safe From The Start, "one in four California children are directly exposed to violence as a victim or witness. Children's chronic exposure to violence can have an extremely negative and long-lasting impact on their developing brains."

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