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Catherine Shugrue dos Santos Headshot

Silence + Intimate Partner Violence = A Price Too High to Pay

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On January 7th, Carlos Castro, a journalist and gay rights advocate from Portugal, was found beaten to death and castrated in a hotel room in NYC. Castro's intimate partner, Renato Seabra, confessed to the murder. A few days later, Francisco R. Gonzalez was discovered in New Jersey murdered and dismembered. His boyfriend, Jose Garcia, was arrested for the crime. Just this past September, Rosalind Ross, a 30-year-old semi-professional basketball player, was shot to death by a woman whom Rosalind's mother described as having been dating her daughter for ten years.

Intimate partner violence is about power. It is about control. And it is increasingly deadly. The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) has seen an increase in the severity of intimate partner violence incidents and murders of LGBT victims over the past few years. Yet, these deaths seem to elude public attention, with neither outcry nor a call to action. The result is that LGBT survivors are ignored and marginalized, without the support they need to be safe.

As a social worker and advocate for survivors of intimate partner violence whose work has spanned several decades, I ask: Why don't people talk about the violence that happens within relationships? What do these murders mean? What we can do to end intimate partner violence?

Intimate partner violence is a public health crisis that has a very personal impact. It affects individuals, families and communities, but it is far from easy to talk about. Like all people, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people experience violence within our intimate relationships -- and we don't like to talk about it anymore than anyone else does.

I've often heard survivors of intimate partner violence speak of the self-blame and shame they feel about the violence they suffer. They believe an abusive partner's claims that the violence is their fault. Isolated by their partners, they often feel there is nowhere to go. This power and control makes it much harder for victimized partners to talk about the violence and ask for help, which can trap them in an abusive relationship. This is true for all survivors of intimate partner violence -- but for LGBT survivors it can be even harder to reach out.

LGBT people experience discrimination from the larger society because of bias about sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT survivors seeking help to stop the violence in their relationships may find that this discrimination means that service providers and first responders -- such as victim services organizations, the police or courts -- don't understand them or their lives. Survivors often internalize the stigma and shame society -- and too often, friends and family -- heap upon them for being who they are, compounding self-blame for the violence they suffer. When reinforced by their partner, this double dose of internalized blame and shame, and lack of access to traditional support, can create a huge obstacle for LGBT survivors in abusive relationships with nowhere to turn for safety and support.

Those who care deeply about the fair and equal treatment of LGBT people have told me that acknowledging LGBT survivors may endanger the progress of equal rights for LGBT people, and could cede ground to those that would characterize all LGBT relationships as harmful. These understandable fears represent yet another impact of stigma and shame as a result of the discrimination LGBT communities experience. However, the solution cannot be to ignore the needs of LGBT people in violent relationships. Instead, we must work to move past these fears to recognize and face the realities of intimate partner violence in LGBT relationships and communities -- because the increasingly deadly consequences are too great a price to pay.

Until we begin to talk openly about intimate partner violence, we will not be able to help those who are abused or understand what motivates abusers and what it will take to end the violence. As we work toward equal rights for all LGBT people, we must not forget about those in violent relationships. This violence is everyone's issue and you can make a difference. When someone you know says "I'm afraid of my partner," believe them. Remind them that no one deserves to be abused. Encourage them to reach out for help -- AVP has a 24-hour bilingual (English/Spanish) hotline with trained counselors ready to talk to survivors and their families and friends. David Mixner, long time leader in the national LGBT community takes a huge step forward in breaking the silence in his recent Live from Hells Kitchen blog: Gay Men: Battered and Shattered.

Join him. Talk about intimate partner violence. End the silence.

If you or someone you know is experiencing violence within an intimate relationship, call the Anti-Violence Project's confidential 24-hour hotline at 212-714-1141 or report violence anonymously on our website at www.avp.org.