By Arielle Aboulafia, AWARE® Intern
June is LGBTQ Pride Month and all over the world people are celebrating their solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Throughout the month, victims of hate-based crimes are honored and broader society reflects on how we can promote social and civil equality for all. However, missing from these conversations is how we can support members of the LGBTQ community experiencing violence within their own homes and relationships.
Despite domestic and dating violence occurring in every community and in all kinds of relationships, there is a misconception that intimate partner violence isn’t as prevalent in the LGBTQ community. Since same-sex relationships don’t have the gender inequality dynamic that exists in the stereotypical image of domestic violence that includes a male abuser and female victim, there is also a misconception that when abuse occurs in a same-sex relationship, it is not as severe or dangerous.1
These are especially important myths to dispel when examining the prevalence of dating violence among LGBTQ youth.
According to an Urban Institute Study released in 2013, LGBTQ teens surveyed reported increased rates of victimization and perpetration in all categories of teen dating violence (cyber dating abuse, physical dating violence, psychological dating violence, and sexual coercion) than among their heterosexual peers. The rate of physical dating violence victimization for LGB teens was 42.8%, compared to 29.0% among heterosexual teens. The highest rate of victimization was among transgender youth, with 88.9% reporting physical dating violence.2
Because same-sex relationships, especially those amongst teens, are often left out of the conversation about intimate partner violence, many young members of the LGBTQ community are unaware of support resources. They also face other unique barriers to reaching out for help about an unhealthy relationship.
- Shame: Whether it be from one’s own internalized homophobia or that created by an unaccepting community, shame about one’s sexual orientation can be common among members of the LGBTQ community. In a same-sex relationship, an abusive partner may attempt to use the victim’s preexisting feelings of shame or guilt about their sexuality to demean, isolate, and control them.
- Fear of nonbelief: It can be common for LGBTQ individuals in abusive relationships to fear that people may not believe them when they disclose the abuse. In part due to the pervasive misconceptions about intimate partner violence in the LGBTQ community, individuals may worry that their claims won’t be taken seriously.
- Fear of “outing”: Despite being in an LGBTQ relationship, one or both of the partners may not be publically “out” yet. The threat of outing or disclosing an LGBTQ person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, without their consent, is a tactic used by abusers to maintain power and control over their partner. This is especially true for teens who may have only recently discovered or accepted their sexual identity and fear ridicule and rejection from their peers or family.
- Lack of support system: An LGBTQ teen in an abusive relationship may be part of a traditional, religious, or socially conservative family or community that they fear judgement and rejection from should they disclose their LGBTQ relationship. They may feel that they cannot seek help without the risk of losing those closest to them.
In recognition of these and other barriers LGBTQ teens may face in getting help for an abusive relationship, AWARE® is always working to ensure our program content is inclusive. Our core workshop, It’s Not Love®, includes same-sex relationships in its interactive introductory activity that has participants take on the identity of characters in abusive relationships and leads into a discussion of warning signs of abuse, the cycle of abuse, and how to help themselves or a friend. During the debrief discussion that follows, facilitators are mindful to refer to “dating partners” as to address all combinations of teen relationships. We further highlight that JCADA’s clinical support services are available to all members of the Greater Washington DC community, ages 14 and up, without regard to race, national origin, ability, background, faith, gender, or sexual orientation.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or dating abuse, please contact JCADA for support on our confidential helpline: 1-877-88-JCADA (52232).
For additional support resources specifically for the LGBTQ community, see below.