This paper will explore on the different societal factors that affect same-sex intimate partner violence; how these abuses are treated in society; and to try to answer why abused members of the same-sex relationships hesitate or fail to report to the authorities. Further, it will present the similarities and differences of heterosexual and same-sex relationships to offer a structure for understanding the distinctive factors that should be considered when working with this population. It will also examine several myths about same-sex relationships.
However, it will focus on the tacit, often overlooked, idea that abuse occurs in all types of partnerships, even in same-sex relationships where the typecast has always been, gay men are sensitive, while the “butch” woman is in power and thus, the antagonist in any violent event (Finnigan and MacAulay, 1996). Moreover, this paper will attempt to urge for supportive legislation and suggestion for therapists and clinicians to do a more consistent job in treating same-sex domestic violence.
Keywords: Domestic violence (intimate partner abuse); same-sex relationships; gender roles; helping professionals (police, authorities, therapists) Gay/ Lesbian Victimization in Domestic Violence Every year in the United States, domestic violence affects over a million people and victims often sustain serious injuries, some even killed. However, one of the most misunderstood factors in domestic violence is that abuse in same-sex relationships does not occur; due to the still lingering image that domestic violence happens only between abusive men, and women.
As a matter of fact, the ratio of reported abuse in same-sex relationships is analogous to that of heterosexual relationships, generally reported between 25% and 33% (Seelau and Seelau, 2005). Yet, these figures do not come close to what the real situation is—same-sex violence is grossly underreported, with those not reporting outnumbering those who do—which can be attributed to the stigma and rejection related to violence (Skolnik, et al, 2008). Furthermore, the abused in a same-sex relationship has the additional fear of being exposed, which doesn’t exist in a heterosexual relationship.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs defines intimate partner violence, or domestic abuse, as “a pattern of behavior where one partner coerces, dominates, and isolates the other to maintain power and control over the partner” (Skolnik, et al, 2008). Physical violence was not specifically mentioned but intimate partner violence also occurs when there are instances of sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse; a pattern of violence or behavior exists, where one seeks to control the thoughts, beliefs, or even the behavior of their partner; this pattern often occurs in a cycle, also known as the “cycle of abuse”.
This cycle is important in noting the persistence of abuse occurring in a violent relationship. There are three stages in this cycle: honeymoon, tension-building, and blow-up; and as these stages repeat over and over, frequency and severity of abuse usually increases. The honeymoon stage marks the beginning of the abuse, but here, the perpetrator is seen in a positive light, not yet abusive at all. On the victim’s part, this is seen as the denial stage. Soon, the victim feels uncomfortable and anxious about the relationship; this is the tension-building stage.
Finally, the victim focuses on his or her safety, which happens in the blow-up stage. The victim becomes very much afraid to act, due to fear of the perpetrator. It is in this stage that most serious injuries occur, especially when the cycle is repeated many times. Even when there is no physical abuse, the victim still suffers—from loss of contact with family and/ or friends, destruction of morale and dignity, and emotional and psychological stress. After the blow-up stage, honeymoon stage begins again, thus creating a circular, cyclical pattern (Pitt and Dolan-Soto, 2001).
However, there are notable distinctions between heterosexual and same-sex abuse, making it additionally challenging for the abused. In a same-sex relationship intimate partner violence, there is a threat of being exposed to the public—a “coming out” which is an important life decision for a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender (GLBT). Offices and helping professionals specifically trained in dealing with same-sex abuse are limited and oftentimes, where they exist, people who man them are either not properly trained or are sensitive to the issue.
There is this concern that reporting a same-sex abuse might underline the myth that same-sex relationships are abnormal (Skolnik, et al, 2008). Also, same-sex abuse is inaccurately assumed to be mutual since both are of the same sex. But, some studies suggest that establishing feature between aggressor and victim is hard because the roles they play may change (Stanley, et al, 2006). The most common perception of domestic violence is that only straight women get battered, men cannot be victims, and women cannot be the aggressor.
The reason for this is partly because, most reported cases of intimate partner violence involve a woman badly treated by a man; as such, lopsided exposure of these types of power imbalances have created beliefs that lead to various problems in intimate partner violence among GLBT relationships. These problems are particularly prominent when law helping professionals try to identify the victim. For people whose gender roles are already defined, it is easier to distinguish a woman being abused by her man, who is more powerful and has more social control.
In same-sex relationships, however, two people who are, more or less, equals consist of the partnership. What is dangerous in this situation is that the abuse may be trivialized and the abuse passed off as mere argument. Due to these gender role implications, it is harder for victims of same-sex abuse to report their cases. Some surveys show that majority of the common people (respondents) find that women are more believable victims than perpetrators; same is true in same-sex abuse cases where gender seems to be a greater factor than sexual orientation (Seelau and Seelau, 2005).
As such, when a victim in a same-sex relationship seeks help from the public, they face the risk of exposure and heterosexist discrimination. On the other hand, some studies have noted that lack of enough support groups, shelters and programs make it hard for GLBTs to report their cases in the first place. Similarly, many victims of same-sex abuse find that they are often discriminated and not believed when they report (Brown, 2008). Lack or hesitance of reporting in same-sex abuse may also be attributed to the avoidance and ignorance of governments, law enforcement, and society.
As regards domestic violence, state laws are designed for heterosexual couples, making it difficult for same-sex abuse victims to get help and protection. Shame also plays a role on why same-sex abuse victims refuse or hesitate to report—shame not only to the victim because of exposing himself or herself to the public, but also to the GLBT community as well. Research shows that appealing same-sex relationship violence to the public would only spark myths about GLBT individuals. So now what do we do about these?
Helping professionals should first acknowledge same-sex relationships so they could efficiently act upon same-sex relationship violence. They should also be willing to address their inhibitions when dealing with GLBT issues and intimate partner abuse (Brown, 2008). There should also be efficient and effective education as regards issues that concern sane-sex relationships, at all education levels, which should be taken seriously so that these won’t be trivialized and taboo. Homophobia among helping professionals should also be addressed.
People working to help victims of same-sex relationship abuse should not be heterosexist; have materials that are gender neutral and GLBT sensitive; they should also provide safety for the victims by working to pass laws that protect not only heterosexual couples but also homosexual couples. Moreover, helping professionals should be able to provide resources that are GLBT friendly, and strive to encourage families and friends of victims to help provide a safer place for the victims; to help them grow and move on with their lives with a more positive outlook.
By empowering the victims of same-sex abuse, they will be able to make the right choices for themselves. And finally, helping professionals should provide validation to victims—by giving them emotional support, suggesting alternatives for a better life, such as involving them in advocating the rights and welfare of GLBT individuals, especially those in abusive relationships. Conclusion Same-sex intimate partner violence will persist so long as it will remain ignored and denied by the society.
If taboos and myths as regards GLBT individuals and their issues remain, surely, victims will be left to fend for themselves with the little strength they have left, while perpetrators left out in the open. Furthermore, victims of same-sex abuse will never heal if services are only half-hearted, and when helping professionals continue to provide weak programs and policies. This blatant and seemingly uncommitted attitude of these agencies only aggravates the situation. Truly, we must challenge heterosexism in society and offer workshops and training.
Adequate policies on same-sex domestic violence must also be enforced to put an end to this problem. Only then will victims be able to heal and start their life anew. References Brown, C. (2008). Gender-role implications on same sex intimate partner abuse. Journal of Family Violence, 23(6) 457-462. Finnigan, B. , and MacAulay, D. (1996). Abuse in Same-Sex Relationships. Violence in Same-Sex Relationship Information Project. Pitt, E. , and Dolan-Soto, D. , (2001). Clinical Considerations in Working with Victims of Same-Sex Domestic Violence. Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Vol.
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