Co-Author: Susan Holt, PsyD, LMFT
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States and, as the Ray Rice situation so well portrays, intimate partner violence (more commonly known as domestic violence) remains a very significant problem. In Rice's apologies to his wife he said, "Violence of any kind, especially man-on-woman, is just not right...shouldn't be tolerated." For the majority of us, this statement rings true -- or should ring true. In reality violence against women is an epidemic and one that has recently received a glimmer of attention in the wake of the Rice scandal and the continuing growing list of implicated abusers in professional sports. However, this national conversation, while long overdue, is almost always framed as one in which men are the abusers and women are the victims, which leaves many survivors of domestic violence unrepresented. Unfortunately, intimate partner violence will continue long after the Rice story fades from the media. And this is, perhaps, particularly true of intimate partner violence among LGBT couples.
In 2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that lesbians, gay and bisexual men and women reported intimate partner violence and sexual violence over their lifetimes at levels equal to or higher than those of heterosexuals. Eight months later, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented 21 LGBT intimate partner violence homicides across the country in its annual report. This number is just the tip of the iceberg, representing only the reported homicides, with many homicides remaining classified as "roommate" or "non-intimate" disputes. Despite the fact that intimate partner violence in the LGBT community happens at rates comparable to or greater than in the non-LGBT heterosexual community -- nearly 1 in 3 members of the LGBT community experience intimate partner violence at some point in his or her life -- there still remain only a handful of services specifically targeted towards LGBT survivors. In fact, according to a recently published study, only 1 in 5 LGBT survivors receives victim services.
A review published earlier this month in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy stressed that multiple factors related to minority stress, including the fear of being "outed," may explain high prevalence rates in the LGBT community. Increased risk may also result from same-sex partners unconsciously responding to internalized homophobia they developed while being raised in a heterosexual society. So, as our nation takes these moments to examine the problem of intimate partner violence in all communities and across sexual orientations, let us make sure that we are not only inclusive in that examination, but we also take into account the role that institutionalized and systemic homophobia play in the perpetration of violence within and from outside the LGBT community.
Simply put: Whether you are a colleague from work, a family member or a friend, chances are you will know an LGBT person who, at some point in his or her life, has been or is in an abusive relationship. When this happens, ensuring that you can provide support in a non-judgmental way can literally mean the difference to that survivor receiving the assistance they need to find safety.
As a country, we need to educate ourselves, learn the signs and develop effective community-based resources. After all, addressing this epidemic is going to take more than a public moment. It will take -- and deserves -- a national commitment from all of us.
To find out more information about the domestic violence services at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, visit lalgbtcenter.org/domestic_violence_services.