Domestic Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Communities
                                                                                                                 last updated August 2013
 
Domestic violence (also referred to as “intimate partner violence” or IPV) within LGBTQ relationships is estimated to occur with approximately the same frequency as within heterosexual relationships, with a prevalence of approximately 20%–35%.[1] Despite this high rate, domestic violence within LGBTQ relationships is underreported due to many factors, including discrimination, shame, isolation, and fear of revictimization, and victims face significant hurdles to getting help.[2]  
 
Forms of Abuse
 
Though the underlying characteristics of domestic violence remain the same – controlling behavior marked by coercion, intimidation and isolation – there are certain forms of abuse specific to LGBTQ domestic violence. 
 
An abuser may threaten to “out” his/her partner (both in terms of sexual and gender identity), a threat that, in some circumstances, can have serious professional, financial and familial consequences if carried out. An abusive partner may bolster these threats with attempts to convince his/her partner that prejudice within the broader community will prevent the abused partner from accessing needed services and support. Particularly in small and/or rural communities, the abuser may monopolize community support and available resources, further isolating the abused victim.[3]  
 
In some states, a same-sex partner may not have access to legal protections or claim to the children they help raise if they are not the biological parent. Not only can abusers threaten to take the children, but victims of abuse who flee with the children in such situation may face criminal charges of kidnapping. Alternatively, abusers might threaten to “out” their partner to an ex-spouse or other family members who might attempt to gain custody of the victim’s biological children on account of the information.
 
Economic abuse, while not specific to LGBTQ relationships, can have unique characteristics in this context. Abusers might steal the identity of their same-sex partner to control finances or threaten other criminal activity.[4] Additionally, because LGBTQ partners often do not formally combine their finances, an abuser might put assets in their name and debt in the victim’s name to ensure that the victim remains financially dependent on them for basic needs.[5]
 
In addition to intimate partner abuse, LGBTQ individuals (and those perceived as LGBTQ) may be subject to emotional and physical abuse from their biological families. Lesbians in particular may be physically, emotionally and sexually abused within the private sphere, in addition to being married or impregnated against their will in an attempt to “re-orient” them to the “proper” sexual identity – heterosexuality.[6] LGBTQ youth are also frequently rejected by families, leading to high rates of homelessness and increased vulnerability to other sources of victimization. 
 
Risk Factors
 
Intimate partner violence in the LGBTQ community affects both men and women, regardless of age, race, and sexual orientation. According to a 2011 report of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, roughly 40% of the victims reporting domestic violence, and roughly 60% of abusive partners, identify as being male.[7] In 2011, data suggested that the most impacted identities were young adults of color. That year, people of color comprised roughly two-thirds of victims reporting intimate partner violence, while making up less than half of abusive partners.[8] Individuals age 19–29 more commonly reported abuse, but were also more commonly identified as abusers.[9]
 
Several factors may exacerbate domestic violence and increase an individual’s vulnerability to experiencing abuse. Though most reported survivors of LGBTQ domestic abuse are between nineteen and forty-nine years of age, the young and elderly may face increased obstacles due to a lack of understanding in the broader community and increased dependence upon an abuser.
 
Further, members of the LGBTQ community who live in rural areas may be at a higher risk as they may experience greater isolation and face violence or discrimination from the outside community as a result of their identity. Further, services and support systems may be less accessible, or even absent.[10] 
 
Recent LGBTQ immigrants may experience even greater social isolation and may not have the knowledge or language skills to navigate legal or support systems; where an abuser is a citizen or permanent resident while the victim is not, this status may be used to increase isolation and dependence.[11] 
 
When marginalized identity as an LGBTQ individual is combined with a racial or ethnic identity that is similarly marginalized, the intersection of these identities may lead to different, and sometimes greater, forms of abuse. Marginalization as a result of identities other than that of LGBTQ, or in combination with LGBTQ identity, may also increase an individual’s vulnerability to and real or perceived isolation, and may leave an individual more prone to perpetrate abuse.[12] 
 
Finally, trans individuals – those who “break away from one or more of the society’s expectations about sex and gender”[13]– and intersex individuals face particularly high rates of violence and discrimination and frequently experience transphobia in the broader community, including from law enforcement and service providers.[14]  In fact, one study indicated that of 31 percent of trans and intersex individuals self-identified as domestic abuse survivors, half had experienced rape or assault at the hands of a romantic partner.[15] 
 
Obstacles to Seeking Help
 
Mainstream domestic violence programs were founded upon the idea of sexism as a root cause of domestic violence perpetrated by men, against women. Individuals involved in same-sex or non-gender-conforming relationships do not fit neatly into a system built upon this central concept of a male batterer and female survivor, leading to ineffective and/or inappropriate responses from service providers and law enforcement.[16] 
 
As such, violence is often inaccurately perceived as mutual, with the abuser and survivor viewed as equals.[17]  In some instances, the abuser and survivor may even be incorrectly identified, especially where the survivor exhibits a more masculine gender presentation or is larger than his/her abuser.[18]  Further, medical personnel may not think to question a gay or bisexual male about the possibility of domestic violence when he presents with physical injuries at a hospital.[19]  
 
Fear of homophobia and/or transphobia may also lead individuals to avoid seeking help or may cause an individual to hide his/her LGBTQ identity when communicating with service providers. As an example, one study revealed that in 2000 that nearly half of all anti-transgender violence in San Francisco was perpetrated by police officers..[20]  
 
Appropriate services may also be unavailable to many LGBTQ survivors of domestic abuse, leading to an increased risk of homelessness for those leaving an abusive relationship. This is especially true of trans individuals and gay and bisexual men, who are frequently unable to access domestic violence shelters that exclusively serve women. Even among services that may be available to LGBTQ individuals, outreach materials and intake forms are often premised upon an assumption of heterosexuality, which may lead LGBTQ individuals to believe that the service will be unavailable or unwelcoming.[21] 
 
Finally, there may be reluctance among LGBTQ individuals and the broader LGBTQ community to disclose an issue they feel may reflect poorly on an already stigmatized LGBTQ community.[22]  
 
Laws
 
There are frequently a variety of legal obstacles that prevent an LGBTQ survivor of domestic violence from accessing legal protection. In some jurisdictions, domestic violence laws are explicitly restricted to opposite sex couples. Even where a jurisdiction has enacted a gender-neutral statute, the fact that homosexuality is criminalized in many jurisdictions, including in over 80 nations, means that an LGBTQ victim of domestic violence who attempts to press charges against his/her abuser may risk prosecution under anti-homosexuality laws.[23] 
 
The following provides an overview of the relevant laws currently in force in a sampling of countries.
 
United States
Prior to the 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas which held anti-sodomy laws to be unconstitutional, homosexuality was criminalized in several United States jurisdictions. As such, victims of same-sex domestic violence were forced to choose between leaving abuse unreported and facing potential prosecution.[24] 
 
Currently, protection orders are explicitly unavailable to victims of same-sex intimate partner abuse in four states – Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, and Virginia – and are affirmatively available to victims of same-sex abuse in seven states. In other states, gender-neutral language is used, thus theoretically providing same-sex partners with access, though other barriers may hinder an individual’s ability to successfully obtain a protection order.[25] It should be noted that as same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships, and civil unions become increasingly available to members of the LGBTQ community, protective orders will likewise become more securely available to LGBTQ victims of abuse.
 
On April 27, 2010, the Justice Department released a memorandum (Whether the Criminal Provisions of the Violence Against Women Act Apply to Otherwise Covered Conduct when the Offender and Victim Are the Same Sex) clarifying that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enforceable against perpetrators of same sex domestic violence. VAWA makes crossing state lines with the intention of committing domestic violence, stalking, or violating a protection order a federal offense. The memorandum explains that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as between a man and a woman, does not affect the inclusion of same sex relationships in the definitions of dating and intimate partners.[26] 

United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act of 2004 makes injunctions available to same-sex couples by explicitly defining “cohabitants” to include same sex couples.[27] Further, in 2005, the United Kingdom also began providing civil partnerships to same sex couples, affording civil partners rights similar to those of married couples and extending legislation affecting spouses to include same sex civil partners.[28]  
 
Kyrgyzstan
LGBTQ individuals in Kyrgyzstan, and especially lesbians and trans individuals, are commonly subjected to forced or early marriages, confinement, and physical, psychological, and sexual abuse by their families. Despite the 1998 decriminalization of consensual homosexual intercourse and
the 2003 Law on Social-Legal Protection from Domestic Violence, which includes gender-neutral protections for familial victims of abuse, LGBTQ victims receive little official protection from domestic abuse. Due to both widespread prejudice and ineffective implementation, individuals engaging in same-sex relationships or adopting non-conforming gender identities are often abused by families hoping to punish and/or change these individuals’ sexual and/or gender identities.[29]  
 
Kazakhstan
Though Kazakhstan repealed its anti-sodomy law in 1998, both private and official discrimination against LGBTQ individuals persists. A 2008 survey revealed that 60% of respondents between thirty and forty years of age were prepared to use physical violence against LGBTQ individuals, while 97% believed that homosexuals should be isolated from the rest of society. When asked, “What is the government’s position with respect to sexual minorities?” 97% percent of all respondents expressed confidence that Kazakhstan “does not tolerate” homosexuality.[30] 
 
This climate of discrimination not only leads to violence against LGBTQ individuals in private and public settings, but also leaves the victims of such violence reluctant to seek medical or legal help. In a 2008 survey of LGBTQ-identified individuals, just over 15% of familial abuse victims reported the abuse to the police. Of those who had reported homophobic or transphobic violence to the police, nearly 40% received a negative reaction. Victims of such abuse have been re-victimized at the hands of medical personnel as well.  An LGBTQ individual who had been beaten by several men suffered a broken arm as a result, but was made to wait for medical treatment after a doctor announced, “The gay will be the last to be seen.”[31] 
 
An Almaty police officer interviewed in 2008 expressed personal homophobic views while explaining why the police department had reported zero homophobic crimes. The officer explained that the department did not investigate homicides committed as a result of an individual’s sexuality – typically classifying these as accidental deaths – because “[N]o mother will want a public investigation of her son’s murder if he was gay. She would be ashamed.” He further explained that certain officers sought a “reward” in exchange for their agreement to refrain from investigating a murder. The officer went on to disclose that if his son “came out” to him, he would kill him.[32] 
 
Though homosexuality is no longer criminalized in Kazakhstan as it had been since the enactment of the 1934 Soviet Criminal Code, the nation has not yet taken the important step of including sexual orientation and gender identity as specifically-protected classes, instead referring only to a prohibition on discrimination based upon an individual’s “status.” Though Kazakhstan’s domestic violence law, passed in December 2009, uses gender-neutral language, ostensibly making it available to LGBTQ victims of domestic violence, the homophobic and transphobic environment of Kazakhstan both within the private and public spheres makes it unlikely that LGBTQ victims domestic violence will be able to effectively utilize the law.[33] 
 
Resources
 
A Guide to Community Rapid Incident Response, New York City Anti-Violence Project. This guide explains techniques that communities can use to “identify and respond to anti-LGBTQH incidents in urban, rural and suburban areas.”
 
Queer Resources Directory. This site provides links to 25,488 files containing information on a variety of LGBTQ-related topics.
 
International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission. This organization advocates for the human rights of LGBTQ individuals and provides country-by-country information on LGBTQ rights.
 
Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness: Education, Training & Action. This website includes educational materials specifically related to same gender relationships as well as links to community-based resources. It also contains a wide variety of educational materials for parents and professionals, including teachers, lawyers, businesses, law enforcement, etc.
 
 


[1] “Domestic Violence,” National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, accessed July 2, 2013, http://www.ncavp.org/issues/DomesticViolence.aspx. A study conducted by researchers at UCLA suggests that intimate partner violence may be more prevalent in the LGBTQ community. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the study found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals were almost twice as likely to experience intimate partner violence than heterosexuals. National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence, 11 (2012), accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/Reports/2012_NCAVP_2011_IPV_Report.pdf.
[2] National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Why It Matters: Rethinking Victim Assistance for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Victims of Hate Violence & Intimate Partner Violence, 11 (2010), accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.ncdsv.org/images/NCVC_WhyItMatters_LGBTQreport_3-2010.pdf.  
[3] “Domestic Violence,” National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, accessed July 2, 2013, http://www.ncavp.org/issues/DomesticViolence.aspx.
[4] “Power and Control Tactics Used in Same-Gender Relationships,” Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness, accessed 2 July 2013, http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/educated/same-gender-relationships/power-and-control-tactics-used-in-same-gender-relationships/.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Violence Against Women Information,” Amnesty International USA, accessed July 2, 2013, http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/women-s-rights/violence-against-women/violence-against-women-information.
[7] National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence (2012), accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/Reports/2012_NCAVP_2011_IPV_Report.pdf.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Janice Ristock, Relationship Violence in Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer Communities (2005), accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.mincava.umn.edu/documents/lgbtqviolence/lgbtqviolence.html.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] “Guide to Intersex & Trans Terminologies,” Survivor Project, accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.survivorproject.org/pdf/terms.pdf.
[14] Janice Ristock, Relationship Violence in Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer Communities (2005), accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.mincava.umn.edu/documents/lgbtqviolence/lgbtqviolence.html.
[15] D. Courvant, Trans and intersex Survivors of Domestic Violence: Defining Terms, Barriers, & Responsibilities, Survivor Project, accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.survivorproject.org/defbarresp.html.
[16] Mary Allen, LGBT Communities and Domestic Violence: Information & Resources (2007), accessed July 3, 2013, http://new.vawnet.org/Assoc_Files_VAWnet/NRC_LGBTDV-Full.pdf.
[17] Break the Cycle, Domestic Violence & LGBTQ Youth (2008), accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.thesafespace.org/pdf/handout-dv-&-lgbt-youth.pdf.
[18] National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence, 87 (2012), accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/Reports/2012_NCAVP_2011_IPV_Report.pdf.
[19] Janice Ristock, Relationship Violence in Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer Communities (2005), accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.mincava.umn.edu/documents/lgbtqviolence/lgbtqviolence.html.
[20] National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence, 87 (2012), accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/Reports/2012_NCAVP_2011_IPV_Report.pdf.
[21] Janice Ristock, Relationship Violence in Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer Communities (2005), accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.mincava.umn.edu/documents/lgbtqviolence/lgbtqviolence.html.
[22] Mary Allen, “Dynamics of Domestic Violence” in LGBT Communities and Domestic Violence: Information & Resources (2007): 2, accessed July 3, 2013, http://new.vawnet.org/Assoc_files_VAWnet/NRC_LGBTDV-Full.pdf
[23] “Countries Where Homosexuality Is Criminalized, Council for Global Equality,” accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.globalequality.org/component/content/article/166. “Our Issues,” International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.iglhrc.org/theme/decriminalization; Tara R. Pfeifer, Comment, “Out of the Shadows: The Positive Impact of Lawrence v. Texas on Victims of Same-Sex Domestic Violence,” 109 Penn St. L. Rev. 1251 (2005). 
[24] Tara R. Pfeifer, Comment, “Out of the Shadows: The Positive Impact of Lawrence v. Texas on Victims of Same-Sex Domestic Violence,” 109 Penn St. L. Rev. 1251 (2005). 
[25] “Appendix A: Protection Order Availability Chart” in LGBT Domestic Violence in 2001, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (2002), accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.ncavp.org/backup/document_files/Order%20of%20Protection%20Availability%20Chart.pdf
[26] Charlie Savage, “Gay Couples Gain Under Violence Against Women Act,” New York Times, June 10, 2010, accessed July 3, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/us/politics/11gender.html.