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Intimate Partner Abuse in Same Sex Relationships

Intimate Partner Abuse in Same Sex Relationships

Intimate Partner Abuse, also called domestic violence, is typically thought of as a uniquely heterosexual problem. Unfortunately, it is not.  In fact, we are seeing more and more abuse within the LGBT community as we become more visible. This article is going to be the first in a 3 part series that aims to explore this epidemic and empower its victims. In this part, I will clearly define intimate partner abuse and explore the legal obstacles victims of SSDV face. In the next part, I will explore the obstacles we face from the world and those that we, as a community, place on ourselves. And in my final part, I will discuss the cycle that abuse takes and the resources available for those in an abusive relationship.

Domestic Violence is a bit of a misnomer. Intimate partner abuse is a much more accurate term. Abuse does not have to be violent but can take many forms including the physical, sexual and verbal abuse that most people think of. It also can include financial abuse, isolation and other methods of control. In same sex partnerships, the threat of outting the other person to their family, friends or work is also a common method of abuse. Abuse is not a single incident and its not losing your temper once. Every couple argues and has issues now and then. The defining factor is how we handle the conflict when it occurs.

Same sex relationships are actually just as likely to involve abuse as heterosexual relationships. They are however, less likely to be reported and less likely, when they are reported, to be taken seriously by law enforcement. Also, when one partner leaves another, in many areas, they do not have access to shelters and other resources a heterosexual woman would have in this situation.

Men, especially gay men, have it the worst when it comes to securing services. Stereotypes place the role of abuser on the man’s shoulders and that of the victim on the woman’s. Abuse between gay men is typically seen as “mutual” or “deserved”. Also, men come forward so rarely that shelters specifically for battered men do not exist. Some, maybe even most, Domestic Violence programs will find a way to help men, by placing them in a hotel or otherwise hiding them but the resources for programs like this are extremely limited and not designed to be long term. Most men stay a few days and then either go back or figure out other options.

In some states, it is required that people seeking domestic violence protection orders be married to their abusers. If those states do not recognize gay marriage, it is virtually impossible for an LGBT victim of domestic violence to get protection and access to certain services offered to heterosexual victims. This includes shelter services in some areas, child support, spousal support, access to belongings, and police escort. Also, without a charge of domestic violence, the victim loses access to victim support services.

However, in other states, the laws have become so loose that most anyone can file domestic violence charges on anyone they know. In Ohio, for example, the charge of domestic violence can be filed against anyone you reside with or have resided with in the last 5 years for a period of more than 2 weeks. Also, it includes anyone who is related by blood or by marriage or anyone who is a relative of anyone you have resided with. This makes it difficult to take this charge seriously. If someone can charge their 7 year old with domestic violence for being disrespectful or their roommate for locking them out and threatening them(Both cases I heard of) the charge does not hold the same weight.

This also forces agencies redefine who they serve to limit it to those they feel need it the most. Funding for domestic violence programs are limited and when every assult victim can claim the higher charge of domestic violence, it makes it difficult to choose who will receive those limited services. Often, victims of same sex abuse get left out.

The laws, in both extremes, need some revision. The charge of domestic violence needs to be limited to the people it is intended to protect without protecting those it shouldn’t.  This includes intimate partners, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.  It should not, however, protect the roommate you lived with 4 years ago that you got into a fight with at the bar.

-Em

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