Understanding the Differences
While domestic violence is largely a result of misogyny, in which women are much more likely to be victims of violence than men, domestic violence also affects other vulnerable groups that are more at risk of violence such as people with a disability, from cultural minorities and LGBTIQ people.
Perpetrators of domestic and family violence may exploit homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism or cissexism (the assumption that the only ‘normal’ gender identity is cisgender) to further control their partner or to influence their partners family and social networks.
Abuse in LGBTIQ relationships has the same elements as all abusive relationships, but there are some unique differences for LGBTIQ people.
- Using someone’s intersex status, sexuality, gender, gender expression, transgender or HIV status against them.
- Feeling that it’s “normal for people like me” to live with abuse because the person may have spent their whole life ignoring their own wishes in an attempt to conform to other people’s expectations of their gender and/or sexuality.
- Threatening to ‘out’ someone to their family, friends, community or workplace. Outing can include someone’s gender, sexuality, intersex status or HIV status.
- Controlling someone’s medications, access to gender transition related healthcare, or pressuring them to conform to sex or gender “norms”.
- Confidentiality and lack of appropriate language to discuss abuse in LGBTIQ communities/relationships. The abuse beomes associated with LGBTIQ identity. For some LGBTIQ people, especially those new to LGBTIQ relationships or those having difficulty understanding or accepting their identity, these difficulties become associated with the abuse so that they blame the abuse on being a LGBTIQ person. So, the person may feel that, “I’m experiencing this abuse because I’m gay/lesbian/trasngender/intersex. If I wasn’t gay/lesbian/trasngender/intersex I wouldn’t be experiencing or doing this. I hate being this way.”
- Due to a lack of healthy relationship role models some LGBTIQ people new to LGBTIQ relationships may think that LGBTIQ relationships are synonymous with abuse.
- A lack of services that address the specific needs of LGBTIQ people, such as safe housing services for male victims, supports for female perpetrators, transgender and intersex inclusive services.
- A fear of a lack of understanding, minimisation and/or discrimination from police and service providers.
- Collective memory of re-victimisation by institutions that are supposed to help, resulting in a fear of a lack of understanding, minimisation and/or discrimination from police and service providers. This may be especially salient for survivors with intersex conditions, many of whom, as infants have had nonconsensual surgery performed on them within healthcare settings.
People in LGBTIQ relationships often do not recognise the abusive or controlling behaviour and friends, family and service providers similarly struggle to identify abuse in these relationships. One of the main reasons for this is that almost all depictions of domestic violence shows cisgender men perpetrating violence against their cisgender female partners.
In addition, the abuse is often not seen to be as serious (e.g. a woman is not capable of hurting another woman, or a man is capable of ‘standing up’ for himself).
People’s life-long lived experience of homophobia/transphobia, discrimination and harassment can result in a high tolerance for abuse in relationships, an inability to recognise abuse in relationships and an unwillingness to seek help from services.
It also leaves victims more vulnerable to reoccurrences of violent relationships.
The Sydney Women’s Sexual Health survey report found that in 2014, 40% of women reported having ever experienced domestic violence.
The majority of experiences were in a relationship with another woman (26.5%). The apparent increase in DV experiences since 2006 needs to be interpreted with caution. It is not clear if DV is increasing or if awareness has increased.
Although LBQ women can access most mainstream services, many services will not have experience working with women in our communities, their frameworks may be very gendered, and their intake procedures may not recognise gender and sexuality diversity and they may have difficulty determining the primary aggressor. Also, in some cases there is a concern that a female abusive partner may have access to women’s safety refuges, where traditionally they screen and exclude male perpetrators only.
There are also very few support services for women who use violence.
Often stereotypes and myths around gender can make abuse invisible. Some of these myths are:
- women are not abusive but instead are innately gentle and nurturing
- all lesbian relationships are over-emotional and co-dependent
- ‘butch’ women are more aggressive.
Research into heterosexual domestic violence has continuously shown that masculinity is the reason for the abuse. And yet, studies have shown little support that ‘butch’ women are more likely to perpetrate DV or that the majority of lesbians even engage in butch-femme identities
An abuser may justify their actions, using a gendered explanation by saying ‘this is how all lesbian relationships are’ or ‘this is how all lesbians/queer people have sex’.
In the gay male community, there is very little discussion at all about the issue of domestic violence. One reason for this may be that it is still considered a ‘women’s issue’ and historically the domestic violence movement has been driven by female activists.
Because there is no history of gay male involvement in domestic violence issues, articulation of the problem of domestic violence is more difficult.
The role of homophobia and heterosexism is also evident in relation to gay men. Gay men may rely on the view that they are ‘more evolved’ than heterosexual men and so they deny the existence of abuse in gay male relationships.
Alternatively, some GBQ men may have adopted the heterosexist ideal of masculinity which normalises aggression and condones abusive actions.
Ways in which a man’s sexuality could be used against him:
- an abuser may justify their actions by saying ‘this is how all gay relationships are’ or ‘this is how all gay men have sex’
- by ‘outing’ or threatening to ‘out’ their partner to friends, family, employer or the wider community
- by telling a partner that no-one will help him or her because the police and the justice system are homophobic
- by telling a partner that he deserves it because of his sexuality. This type of abuse is indicative of internalised homophobia or self-hatred of an abuser
- by telling a partner that he is not a ‘real’ homosexual because of his history of relationships with women or because he prefers certain sexual practices or because he doesn’t look/act ‘gay’
- an abuser may portray the violence as mutual and say that violence is how men sort out issues
Barriers to getting help:
- currently in Australia there is no crisis accommodation support services for male victims of domestic violence. Men who need emergency accommodation will need to access a homelessness service
- men’s perpetrator intervention programs are often either too unsafe for GBQ men or the content is too gendered and heteronormative and so it is not relevant for GBQ men
- shame and stigma around male victims who are worried about being judged as weak when coming out about abuse
Police, services and bystanders may hold the view that men are never victims of domestic violence. They may believe that domestic violence between two men isn’t violence but instead is just a case of ‘boys being boys’.
Living Rural or Remote
Living in rural and remote places may impact on LGBTIQ people experiencing domestic violence.
Some of the additional complexities for people experiencing abuse whilst living remotely include:
- confidentiality, particularly in areas where everyone knows each other and especially if someone is not ‘out’ in their home town
- a lack of services and access to resources and information for domestic violence as well as for LGBTIQ services and information. This is amplified even more when telephone reception and internet connection is poor
- physical isolation can be a problem for someone trying to get help, especially in emergency situations when help is located far away
- regional areas have smaller LGBTIQ communities, this could increase people’s feeling of isolation
- smaller LGBTIQ informal support networks may also mean a victim of abuse is worried about confidentiality in this community as well
- physically getting away from an abuser may mean having to go far away from the home
- some remote areas are less accepting of sexuality and gender diverse people which may make it harder to report to police or be open about abusive relationships
In places where locals know each other, if an abuser is well liked it can be harder for a victim to come out about abuse and easier for an abuser to tarnish a victims reputation.
Transgender, Gender Diverse, and Intersex People
Specific forms of abuse can occur in relationships where one partner is gender-diverse, including:
- Using offensive pronouns such as “it”
- Ridiculing the person’s body and/or appearance
- Telling them that he or she is not a real man or woman
- Using a gender pronoun that does not fit with the person’s gender identity
- Ridiculing the partner’s identity
- Denying the partner’s access to medical treatment or hormones or coercing him or her to not pursue medical treatment or surgery
- Threatening to out their partner’s gender history
- Shame, self doubt, internalised transphobia or belief that oneself is “sick” or “abnormal.” This reinforced by the medical community performing cosmetic surgeries on the genitalia of infants with intersex conditions and by the psychological community’s designation of Gender Identity Disorder in the DSM. A transgender and/or intersex person may feel that due to this stigma, institutional abuse, and discrimination that they are deserving of abuse and/or not deserving of services.
- Unique body and/or unique vulnerability to aftermath of physical and especially sexual assault.
- Gender segregation of services means transgender and/or intersex survivors may be denied services entirely. In other instances, they must be able to prove identity or be placed in an inappropriate space in order to receive services. This also means transgender and/or intersex survivors may feel (or be made to feel) like invaders for trying to access services designed primarily for women
- Transgender women whose parents tried to socialise them to be more masculine may feel responsible for abuse if they refused to fight back
- Transgender and/or intersex survivors whose abusive partners are female may fear not being believed by the criminal justice system and/or service providers
- Survivors with intersex conditions, whose parents insisted on surgery, may have been raised with the expectation that no one will love them because of their anatomy. This socialisation can lead to a survivor settling for an abusive relationship because they feel lucky to be loved by anyone.
- Invisibility, stereotyping, and ignorance are significant barriers for transgender and/or intersex survivors seeking services. Many people have never even heard the words used to describe these communities and some who may have heard the language, may still have minimal knowledge about these communities or may have many misconceptions.
Note that if a victim is reporting to the police or going through the court system, they will likely be referred to as the name and gender that is on their identification. If their gender identity and name are different to what is on their official ID you may want to talk to them about the option of legally making changes through the Births Deaths and Marriages registry. Note that it could take about five to six weeks to have documents changed for a change of name at Births Deaths and Marriages (BDM). Therefore someone who is gender transitioning or non-gendered and escaping violence who files an AVO or APVO or ADVO will have their name as it stands on existing documents used on all official court documentation-unless they initiate the change of name process beforehand.
Even though the name has been changed on certification – NSW still requires confirmation of gender reassignment surgery to change the listed gender. For example a transman or transwoman who has not had that reassignment surgery must also be aware that their birth gender will remain on the birth certificate, which of course is hugely problematic and often insulting.
There is very little research on Intersex people’s experiences with relationship abuse, however there are some added complexities for someone who has intersex characteristics and is at risk of relationship abuse. One of the issues of concern is around when and how you reveal your intersex status, if at all. Not disclosing may make some people feel like they are being secretive whereas disclosing may make you vulnerable to abuse and violence.
Many intersex, transgender and gender diverse people are made vulnerable to sexual assault and rape due to their gender identity.
Thank you to the Colorado Anti-Violence Program for giving permission to use their Dynamics of intimate Partner Violence Unique to Transgender and Intersex Survivors.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ People
The term ‘domestic violence’ is usually swapped to ‘family violence’ when discussing the issue in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
This is because violence is conceptualised within extended families and the wider community and violence is understood to be an element of a range of family and community factors and not an individual’s problem. Also, in many Aboriginal communities, extended family are considered as close as your immediate next of kin.
The full extent of violence involving one or more Aboriginal people is difficult to determine due to under-reporting, lack of appropriate screening by service providers, incomplete identification of gender, sexuality and Indigenous status on assessments.
We know that non-LBTIQ Aboriginal women experience family violence at much greater rates and severity than non-Indigenous women. It is important to understand that, although FV is disproportionate for Aboriginal women, violence is not normal or customary in Aboriginal communities.
A number of interrelated factors have been identified as making up the complex and cumulative nature of violence experienced by Aboriginal people, including colonisation and the breakdown of culture, intergenerational patterns of violence and Post Traumatic Stress and socio-economic stressors. All of which add to barriers to reporting and getting help for abuse.
An understanding of intersectionality helps to understand FV experienced and used by Aboriginal LGBTIQ people. The interconnected nature of various layers of discrimination: race, gender, sexuality and sometimes class all add to the complexities of the issue of violence.
There is a lack of data and resources into LGBTIQ Aboriginal experiences of FV, however there have been community initiatives and forums that use worker experience and anecdotal evidence to discuss the reality of FV in these relationships. One of the conferences was Out of Limbo held in Adelaide in 1997 which focused on violence in lesbian relationships. In 1999 the First National Sistergirl Forum was held where they discussed support services for Sistergirls escaping violent relationships.
Sistergirls and Brotherboys are terms used by some Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people to describe male-assigned people who identify as women (Sistergirls) or female-assigned people who identify as men (Brotherboy).
Indigenous Australians are diverse peoples who, while having a number of areas of commonality, differ in their languages, culture and history.
Culturally and/or Linguistically Diverse LGBTIQ People
Homophobia and transphobia exists in all cultures and in all societies. Culture and religion is often used to justify violence against LGBTIQ people, even when that person is in the same family.
In mix-culture relationships, an abuser may use racism and their partner’s culture against them. They may belittle them for their practices, beliefs, appearance, background or even what is happening in their country of origin.
In cultures where it is unacceptable to identify as LGBTIQ, someone experiencing abuse may have little or no family support for their relationships or abuse that happens within that relationship.
An abuser may threaten to ‘out’ their partner to their family or community.
Language and cultural barriers as well as distrust of police, systems and services may make it more difficult for CALD people to access support.
If you have applied for residency in Australia on the basis of your relationship and you are experiencing domestic and family violence the family violence provisions of Australia’s immigration laws may apply to you.
These provisions may enable you to leave the violent relationship and still be eligible to apply for permanent residency.
You should not remain in an abusive relationship in order to obtain permanent residence in Australia. If you can show that your sponsor has acted or threatened to act in a way that made you fear for your wellbeing or safety, ending the relationship will not prevent you from obtaining a permanent visa. This will be the case even where it has not been two years since your temporary Partner Visa application was granted.
You are required to notify the Department of Immigration and Citizenship when your relationship with your sponsor ends, and for other change of circumstance, such as change in address.
When providing this information, you should also inform the Department that you experienced domestic or family violence while in the relationship. If you do not let the Department know about the domestic and family violence, your sponsor may withdraw their sponsorship and your visa application may be refused.
(Reference: Another Closet, 2015 p.32)
LGBTIQ People Living With a Disability
Ways in which someone’s disability could be used against them
Violence against LGBTIQ people with disability must be understood within an intersectional framework. These individuals often experience different types of violence and discrimination on the basis of their disability or their sexuality, or their unique experiences of this identity.
Some specific forms of violence affecting LGBTIQ people with disability include:
- Denying access to medication, support services and disability related equipment
- Using or misusing medications as a form of restraint
- Refusing to allow the person access to sexual partners (for instance, carers or support workers intervening in or refusing to facilitate contact between the person with disability and their intimate partners, or sex workers)
- Threatening to withdraw care or medication, including antiretroviral therapy
- Threatening to have the person institutionalised
- Threatening to out the person’s sexuality, identity, or HIV status
- Denying, trivialising or ridiculing the person’s disability, their sexuality or identity
Additional barriers to accessing support
People with disability face multiple barriers to accessing violence prevention responses and support services. LGBTIQ people with disability can often experience even more barriers. LGBTIQ people with disability may be reliant on their perpetrator for the ongoing provision of support, or reliant on the perpetrator to even make a complaint or report. Many may require the support of a disability support worker to address domestic and family violence, for example by supporting them to contact police; however, this may mean they have to disclose their sexuality or gender identity to the service provider, which may put them at risk. They may fear they will not be believed or supported by others. Due to the unique combination of stereotypes and myths around LGBTIQ people and people with disability, this is often not an unfounded fear. LGBTIQ people with disability may also fear the loss of support services or financial assistance, and this may increase their reluctance to seek violence responses or services, particularly as they are not guaranteed to be supported by these services.
People with disability experience higher levels of HIV. Additionally, people living with HIV are understood by the World Health Organisation to be people with disability. These individuals may experience additional barriers to support due to the stigma around HIV. Domestic and family violence services may not provide support to these individuals, especially if they also experience other forms of disability, and disability services may also not deem these individuals to fall within their client group.
Specific services that may be able to help
There are no specific services that provide violence prevention responses specifically to this cohort. This means that mainstream services must be able to provide support services to all LGBTIQ people with disability. Mainstream services should thus be informed about the intersectional violence experienced by this cohort, and should liaise with disability advocacy organisations and services to gain a further understanding of how to support LGBTIQ people with disability who are experiencing violence.
Mainstream domestic and family violence services should ensure any promotional or information material emphasises the accessibility and inclusivity of their service. If LGBTIQ people with disability are aware that there are responsive, accepting and accessible domestic and family violence services in their area, they may feel more confident leaving violent situations.
Information provided by Jess Cadwallader from People With Disability Australia.
For more information, see PWDA’s resources: Women with Disability and Domestic and Family Violence: A Guide to Policy and Practice.
Additionally, PWDA provides individual advocacy to all people with disability within particular geographical areas. For more details call 1800 422 015.
Older LGBTIQ People
Older LGBTIQ people can experience abuse in intimate relationships, whether they are new or long-term relationships.
Historically LGBTIQ people have been criminalised because of their gender/sexuality and so many older people in our communities will not go to police or services to discuss their relationships. Many have kept their relationship ‘in the closet’ for years as well as any abuse suffered in that relationship.
Research shows that LGBTIQ older people also frequently encounter abuse from friends and family members, because LGBTIQ older people are less likely to have children and more likely to be single, their support networks might be smaller and thus, less available when incidents of abuse occur.
The term ‘domestic and family violence’ includes violence and abuse experienced by someone’s carer. In aged care settings, hostility from residents and staff may cause LGBTIQ elders to withdraw or be excluded from social activities, compounding their profound social isolation.
Many aged care facilities are especially ill-prepared for transgender and gender diverse older people. Many TGD people are extremely reluctant to use any service that requires disrobing for fear of ostracism and abuse.
An older LGBTIQ person may be especially vulnerable to abuse if:
- They rely on someone to provide basic care
- Someone else is responsible for, or holds their medications
- Someone has power over their economic affairs
- They are socially isolated
- They are not ‘out’ about their gender/sexuality
- They are physically vulnerable due to illness or frailty
Young LGBTIQ People
Research shows that younger LGBTIQ people are more likely to experience abuse in the family, often as a result of their gender/sexuality.
For younger people in relationships, it is often harder to recognise the abuse, know what to do about abuse or seek any help for it. This is especially true for people in their first relationship, who may be led to believe that abuse is ‘normal’ and who may have not yet learnt appropriate ways of treating a partner and behaving in a relationship.
Twenty10 along with partners The University of Western Sydney and The Young and Well CRC released ‘Growing Up Queer: Issues Facing Young Australians Who are Gender Variant and Sexuality Diverse’ (2016). This research found that out of the 1000+ 16-27 year old LGBTIQ people studied:
- 42% had thought about self-harm and/or suicide
- 16% had attempted suicide
- 33% had harmed themselves as a result of widespread homophobic and transphobic harassment and violence in Australian society
Although these statistics do not relate directly to the experiences of DFV for LGBTIQ young people they show the added vulnerabilities that they face that may have an impact on their ability to have healthy relationships, identify abusive behaviours and get help. Furthermore, rejection by families can lead to homelessness, economic instability and/or destitution for some young people, particularly in families of different cultural or religious affiliations.
Although there is a growing number of school based programs educating young people about relationships, there is still little focus and inclusion of LGBTIQ identities and relationships in these programs.
LGBTIQ People With Children
For many LGBTIQ people, caring for children may make it harder to leave an abusive relationship. Some of these reasons include:
- fears for the safety and well-being of children
- there are no refuges for men accompanied by children
- a lack of appropriate child-friendly accommodation options
- confusion and feeling insecure around legal rights of children if not the birth parent
- an LGBTIQ person may already face scrutiny around parenting because of their gender and/or sexuality and so they may be hesitant to reveal problems in the relationship
If you have a child together with your partner or ex-partner, or have been caring for a child together, you may be considered the child’s parent under the family law. The court should take into account many factors when determining if someone is a parent of a child.
Visit www.familyrelationships.gov.au/services/frc/ for more information.
Contact the Inner City Legal Centre (1800 244 481) to arrange a confidential appointment with a solicitor for free legal advice (NSW only)
Similarly, for LGBTIQ people with pets, they may be reluctant to leave an abuser especially if they fear the abuser will harm their pet or if they have nowhere for their pet to stay with them or while they are away.
HIV Related Abuse
Although people in Australia living with HIV today usually live long and fulfilling lives, they are still somewhat more vulnerable to abuse as a result of their HIV status, particularly if they rely on their partner for any caregiving.
Due to shame and stigma associated with the virus, an abuser can use their partner’s HIV status against them.
The presence of HIV (or any chronic illness) in an abusive relationship may lead to specific forms of abuse.
If the abusive partner does not have an illness but their partner does, they may:
- threaten to or actually “out” their HIV status
- preventing the HIV+ partner from receiving needed medical care or medications
- taking advantage of a HIV+ partner’s health status
- assuming sole power over a partner’s economic affairs
- creating the partner’s dependency on the abuser
- tell their partner that they are sick, diseased, dirty or that they deserve the illness
- tell their partner that nobody else would want them because of their HIV status
- make them feel as though they can’t work or live a productive life
If the abusive partner has a chronic illness, they may:
- suggest that they will get more sick or die if the partner ends the relationship or doesn’t do what they tell them to do
- intentionally infect or threaten to infect a partner
- use guilt or sympathy to manipulate their partner