Friends, Family & Community
Making the Invisible Visible
National invisibility: Arguably the existence of abuse in relationships involving LGBTIQ people remains largely invisible.
This invisibility is the result of limited research, little to no media attention and the larger national discussions around domestic violence focussing on gendered explanations of (cis) men’s violence toward (cis) women. This invisibility has resulted in less adequate support services that are well prepared and equipped to recognise and deal with domestic violence in our communities.
Domestic violence is not a topic that is easy to discuss in any community, it is even harder for minority communities, like ours, to publicly acknowledge the abuse that goes on. One reason that our communities may have for not wanting to ‘come out’ about abusive relationships is a fear that it detracts from positive images of LGBTIQ relationships which may hinder efforts to achieve legal recognition and reinforces homophobic and transphobic abuse. Or a fear that speaking about LGBTIQ perpetrators will add to the existing pathologisation of LGBTIQ people. Often communities find it hard to believe, or don’t want to believe that the person they like or admire is being abused or is abusing another person and so they ignore the warning signs or make excuses for them.
Invisibility within the relationship: There are many reasons why people struggle to identify and name abuse in their own relationships.
Abusers are great manipulators and can make the person they abuse believe that the abuse they suffer is their own fault. Often the abusers truly believe that it is their partner that “makes them do it”. Often people who experience abuse prefer to focus on the hope and love they have for their partner, rather than on the pressure and fear they feel around them. Abusers are normal people in every other way; they may be charming, well respected and successful. This invisibility within the relationship means it is harder for the people involved to get help and easier for the abuser to continue the abuse.
DFV is a social problem
DFV is very much a social problem, as well as an individual one, and as a society we have a moral and ethical responsibility to do something about it.
The growing body of evidence that explores the prevalence rates of DFV in all communities indicates that about 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 women as well as LGBTIQ people have experienced intimate partner violence in at least one past or present relationship.
When we look into these prevalence rates it is important that we ask ourselves why this is such a common problem in our community as well is in broader society. What is our role in contributing to the attitudes that allow the prevalence rates to be so high? And then ultimately how can we, as individuals and as a community, contribute to a meaningful shift in the cultures of power and violence so that we can lower these rates and ultimately create a society that fosters and nurtures healthy, happy and safe relationships?
The constant focus on men’s violence against women has contributed to the issue of DFV in LGBTIQ relationships being close to invisible, both within and outside of our communities.
The invisibility of DFV in our community has allowed for some of us to become passive witnesses and sometimes we can even be complicit. A bystander is anyone who is not a perpetrator or a victim in a particular situation and are able to do something to intervene, support, or at the very least not condone abusive behaviours. Not knowing how to respond, what services are available, how best to support a friend, colleague or family member can mean that we become passive as opposed to active bystanders even when we really want to help.
If we find ourselves observing DFV we can ask: How do we act in a helpful way that does not make a situation worse? How do we do no further harm? How can we make a useful difference?
Although LGBTIQ identified people make up approximately 11% of the Australian population (Australian Human Right Commission, 2014), we are still considered to be a small, marginalised community, bound together by our common experiences of gender and sexuality based stigma and discrimination. Many people in our communities have been rejected by family, many of us live in isolation, and many of us face multiple barriers to accessing support – both formal and informal. Pathologising and criminalising people in our communities can cause further harm, not just to the individual but to the community as a whole. Keeping in mind that one-third of our community has been a victim of violence at some stage in their life, we can conclude that the number of perpetrators is probably quite high.
It takes a lot of courage, insight and objective (usually professional) help for a perpetrator to hold themselves accountable, even then, being accountable and making amends does not necessarily grant that person forgiveness. This isn’t about forgiving and forgetting, this is about being more productive and helpful in the short and long term than shunning and excommunicating a perpetrator which would relieve them of their responsibilities.
If we can support an abuser to change for the better and do no further future harm to others than the cycle of violence can end.