Gay/Lesbians and Domestic Violence

Cases of domestic violence have been on the increase, with ranges from physical violence, sexual abuse, intimidation, emotional abuse, economic deprivation, and other forms of violent behavior. These violent acts occur as a result of misuse of power and control by one person over the other who are or have been in an intimate co-existence. It can occur to both mixed gender relationships and same gender relationship; its effects are profound to the lives of children, families, individuals, and the society.

(9)As a result many organizations have been formed to address this issue; these organizations were initially created to cater for women as they were perceived to be the most vulnerable. However, this has changed with men also coming out to press for recognition as more and more men fall victims to domestic violence (second closet, 2oo6) Historically domestic violence has been a private and a family issue with many couples choosing to solve their problems privately rather than going public or reporting to the police.

However; activism propagated by advocacy groups and feminist groups helped to instill a deeper understanding into the scope and effects of domestic violence. (second closet, 2oo6) On a sad note things are yet to take a positive trend for domestic violence that is prevalent in same-sex relationships despite reliable sources showing almost similar figures of domestic violence cases with opposite-sex relationships. A number of reasons exist that make same-sex victims of domestic violence not willing to go public and expose the mistreatments they go through.

Both gays and Lesbians are prone to domestic violence in any one time of their co-existence, however, they face special obstacles in dealing with domestic violence issues, this paper therefore will discuss in depth these special obstacles by visiting various works of reputable researchers. Reasons for reluctance of same-sex victims to report domestic violence to the police 1. Homophobia and heterosexism Gays/lesbians are yet to be fully accepted into the society. Many people continue to look down on them with many harboring great levels of hatred and fear on them.

This state of fear and hatred (homophobia) from the general public has been the greatest factor as to why same-sex victims of violence are reluctant to report victimization incidences to the police. A case of Robert McEwen of Perth, Australia who was charged with the willful murder of his fourteen years same-sex partner serves to credit this hypothesis. On cross-examination he pleaded not guilty but admitted that he was a victim of relentless physical, sexual, and emotional abuse for several years.

This clearly indicates that he was suffering privately and feared to come out though he was undergoing untold brutality for a long time and therefore the case was reduced to the lesser manslaughter charges, with the judge basing his arguments on the “battered wife (spouse) syndrome”. Domestic violence in most societies has been perceived to be only common to the heterosexual community and hence ignoring same-sex domestic violence. This situation is compounded by the fact that the police and the justice system are also homophobic.

The pervasiveness of heterosexism further complicates the battered partners’ situations who most of the time resort to the notion that intimate violence is a normal thing in gay or lesbian relationships. (Ristock, J. 'And Justice for All? , 1986) 2. Myths and stereotypes Historically the issue of intimate violence was generally perceived to be a problem that only faces women in heterosexual relationships. Gay and lesbian intimate violence has been as issue that is treated with much indifference and silence especially in feminist domestic violence discourse.

This is chiefly because of the perceived myths and stereotypes that include the following; lesbians don’t engage in violent behaviors because naturally women are not violent, fights in lesbian and gay relationships are “mutual and equal fights” and not based on power and control by one partner over the other, men are never victims of domestic violence, therefore when gays fights it is not violence but a case of boy’s being boys, lesbian and gay domestic violence is “sexual behavior” that both partners enjoy, and that domestic violence victims deserve what they get because they provoke the violence.

Other myths includes; violence is normal and part of how same-sex relationships work, women in relationships together have equal rights and power, domestic violence occurs to gay and lesbians who like hanging out in bars and are people of colour, and that a batterer must be physically bigger than the abused partner. All these stereotypes and myths serves to instill doubts on victims of violence in same-sex relationships, and therefore increasing their reluctance to report such cases to the police, a situation that makes gay and lesbian domestic violence to be “ closeted”, (Ristock, J. 'And Justice for All?

1994) 3. The wall of silence The pervasiveness of the silence that surrounds gay/lesbian domestic violence serves to encourage its thriving. Intimate violence in the gay/lesbian community still remains a taboo that is fanned by the notion that “No one or thing should intrude in the private realm of intimate relationships”. This notion has led to a situation of untouched, institutionalized homophobia, and heterosexism hence further inhibiting open discussion of same-sex abuse (second closet, 2oo6) This adherence to the principle of privacy has insulated many cases of same-sex abuse from the public scrutiny.

This silence is based on reasons that lesbian/ gay community is largely looked down on by the heterosexist general public and therefore “outing” or reporting abuse incidences to the police is the last thing a gay or lesbian can partake to do. Reporting violence perpetuated by same-sex intimate partners is seen as exposing the community to a homophobic and heterosexist general public and a judicial system, an action that will not in any way help the victims but instead it will compound their woes.

The case of McEwen is a typical example of how great this wall of silence can be, as despite extensive coverage of the case by the print media the great wall of silence on the reporting of same-sex domestic violence still remained (second closet, 2oo6) • Acknowledgement by lesbian and gay community May lesbians are reluctance to admit that lesbian relationships are not always equal, that lesbians can be sometimes violent towards their partners just like men.

This only serves to increase the homophobia and heterosexism perpetuated on gay and lesbians. Again there is great denial on the issue of same-sex domestic violence on the side of gay male community than in the lesbian community. The homophobia and heterosexism which bars lesbians and gays from reporting abuse cases is as a result of gay men and lesbians failure to acknowledge the existence of same-sex domestic violence amongst them. • Silencing of victims

Out of fear of homophobic and heterosexism reprisals many individual survivors of same sex intimate violence have chosen to remain silence. This is due to fear of “coming out” when one approaches the police or the courts, a feeling of pesionism – no help from the police and the courts, a feeling of betrayal to the gay/lesbian community or even fear of exposing their violet partners to a homophobic and heterosexist community and judicial system. 4. Unhelpful criminal justice systems

The contemporary criminal justice system has offered very little support to lesbian and gay victims of domestic violence chiefly because the police and the courts are heterosexist and homophobic; therefore victims of same sex domestic violence find it meaningless to seek redress in these institutions (The Boston Globe, June 1, 1992). There is rampant heterosexual, homophobic and homosexual impunity on the part of the police force, a thing that is fanned by the fact that the laws outlawing sodomy are still in force, and therefore the police are under the obligations to enforce the law.

• Police attitude The police are accused of feigning indifference and don’t treat gay and lesbian violence with seriousness. They don’t believe if a woman can better another woman and they treat gay and lesbian domestic violence as ‘mutual fighting’. Again the police still harbor the memories of the history of conflict between them and the lesbian/gay community that was marked by unprovoked violence by them against lesbians and gay community (Sexual orientation and the law, 1989)

• Courts attitude There are many problems in the court systems when it comes to the issues of exposing the sexual orientation of gays and lesbians. Most gay men and lesbians feel that they can utilize the services of the courts if only the issue of the domestic violence remained a private matter and be dealt with by family courts. The major obstacle with victims of same-sex violence is in obtaining restraining orders against a violent partner.

This is due to the fact that same-sex domestic violence is still viewed as “mutual violence” going by the assumptions brought about by the heterosexist reasoning. (Bricker, D. 'Fatal Defense’, 1993) Again it true that court personnel including judges use homophobic and heterosexist remarks, hence creating a general unhelpful atmosphere in the court systems. 5. Limited support services There is notable inadequacy in the number of support programs specifically addressing same-sex domestic violence, reliable sources indicate that only a handful of cities in US have instituted such programs.

The available general domestic violence support programs are unwelcoming, insensitive, and homophobic to the needs of lesbians and gay men survivors of domestic violence (Chronicle Jan 3, 1994) The main problem with the general domestic violence support institutions is twofold; the workers may be homophobic and heterosexist and therefore have an insensitive approach towards lesbian and gay men domestic violence victims or still the heterosexist victims of domestic violence in the institutions may show unacceptable attitudes to the same-sex domestic violence victims.

This results to same-sex victims of domestic violence altogether shunning these “straight” domestic violence shelters. Those same-sex victims of domestic violence who visit these “straight” domestic violence shelters opt not divulge their true sexual orientation. 6. Rigid legal systems It is encouraging to note that the world is now beginning to address the issue of lesbianism and domestic violence by opening up institutions/shelters that cater for lesbians domestic violence victims, however, the legal frameworks that provides for more recognition are still wanting.

Again there are still problems on the part of the number of shelters that cater for gay male victims of domestic violence, thereby limiting their options for choice of consideration. (Gay Community News, April 16-22, 1989) Generally gay male crisis shelters reliability is still low as compared to their lesbian counterparts. Lack of proper community awareness It is evident that the heterosexual community knowledge about gay and lesbianism is still a thing of consideration.

This is compounded by the fact that the gay and lesbian community has not fully acknowledged and recognized the existence of domestic violence amongst it. Again the lack of political muscle and resources has contributed to the limited knowledge and also the formation of sound institutions that specifically caters for lesbian and gay victims of domestic violence. Conclusion Domestic violence whether inflicted on heterosexual or homosexual partners happens as a result of the illegitimate wrangles on power and control by one partner over the other.

This knowledge should work positively towards the recognition of gay and lesbian domestic violence. From the thorough explanations given above, it is evident that indeed the reluctance of lesbian and gay victim of domestic violence to report to the police is chiefly due to lack of an understanding and accommodative society. Therefore the society (citizens, police, and the courts) should abolish the homophobic, homosexual, and homosexual assumptions in their midst and accept lesbians and gay men as part of the society.

This will consequently instill confidence in the lesbian and gay community and hence open-up to the police and the courts.

References:

• The second closet, available at; http://www. murdoch. edu. au/elaw/issues/v3n4/vickers. html, accessed on October 26, 2008 • Gay Community News, April 16-22, 1989, accessed on October 26, 2008 • Naming the violence speaking out about battering North Naming secretary Seattle, 1986, accessed on October 26, 2008

• Law Doesn't Take Problem Seriously: When Gays Batter Their Partners Sanfransisco Chronicle Jan 3 1994 accessed on October 26, 2008 • Bricker, D, 'Fatal Defense, accessed on October 26, 2008 • Sexual orientation and the law’', 1989, accessed on October 26, 2008, • Lesbians also feel Domestic violence', The Boston Globe, June 1, 1992, accessed on October 26, 2008 • Restock, J. And just for all? , 1993, accessed on October 26, 2008 • Second closet, 2oo6, available at; http://www. murdoch. edu. au/elaw/issues/v3n4/vickers. html. accessed on October 26, 2008