Guest Blogger

The unspoken violence in our relationships

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 30, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: bisexual, domestic violence, lesbian, partners, relationships, spousal abuse, transgender

Editors' note: Greg Varnum is the acting Executive Director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition.

domestic-violence-hurts-everyone.pngWith all the talk of hate crimes happening in our community, and with October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I wanted to take an opportunity to comment on one form of violence often overlooked - violence within our own relationships.

As many as 33% of same-sex relationships experience some form of domestic violence. While the prevalence within our community is as high as that for opposite-sex couples, and in some cases higher, the awareness of this issue in our community is significantly lower.

The problem is amplified when you consider the lack of services and legal protections available for LGBT victims of intimate partner violence. Seven states' definitions of domestic violence exclude same-sex couples - in some cases an unforeseen consequence of constitutional amendments. Many of the over 1,500 shelters and safe houses for battered women deny services to same-sex survivors of domestic violence, and there are essentially no services for the 15.4% of male same-sex couples with instances of domestic violence. I suspect given the stigma around domestic violence targeted at males, that 15.4% statistic is smaller than the reality of the situation.

Even when cases are investigated by the police, many jurisdictions - either by practice or even policy - re-victimize the victim by arresting both individuals. There is a huge void of training in law enforcement on how to handle same-sex relationship abuse - so rather than try and sort it out - they simply arrest both parties. The instances where those individuals then experience harassment within the justice system is certainly a barrier for addressing this crisis.

My partner is a survivor of domestic violence and I need only look back two generations to find survivors of domestic violence in my own family. We all likely know someone who has been a victim of these often silent crimes. While the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and local anti-violence programs are developing more resources and awareness around this issue, not nearly enough is being done.

This past weekend I was a guest at the inaugural gala for Saving Promise, a national campaign focused on raising awareness about the domestic violence crisis facing our nation. Their founder and executive director - and author of Color Me Butterfly - L.Y. Marlow, has a truly remarkable story. Five generations of women in her family are survivors of domestic violence. When her granddaughter, Promise, was in danger of being the next in that line - she decided enough was enough. It's time for our community to also say that enough is enough and give a voice to this unspoken violence.

The National Youth Advocacy Coalition is looking forward to developing a relationship with Saving Promise, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and other organizations that are working to get the message out to our young people that NO ONE deserves to be the victim of domestic violence. With 91% of victims in our community reporting that this incident was not their first, we must offer a helping hand to our friends, family and colleagues suffering in silence.

This is not a problem that will simply go away. It might be incredibly uncomfortable to talk about and acknowledge - but only by accepting the reality will we be able to overcome it. If you are a victim of domestic violence - please seek help. You can visit NCAVP's web site for a listing of LGBT organizations available to help victims of crimes. If you know or suspect someone is suffering in their relationship - do not let your silence be the cause of their demise. Together we can help put an end to the suffering many in our community are experiencing.

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Well said!
And I might add a couple of other factors:
1. Same sex partner violence is often accompanied by shame on the part of the victim "I couldn't defend myself," or "I shouldn't be such a wimp," leading to a deficit in reporting to authorities or in seeking help.
2. When you FEEL abused, it is very likely that you are. Domestic violence/abuse can be something other than physical- primarily it's about controlling the other partner and that can mean emotional/verbal abuse, stalking, controlling of social activities and general limiting of freedom.
Thanks for bringing this to greater attention.


Why aren't you a full-time contributor? I always love reading your posts.

Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | October 30, 2009 7:20 PM

ditto Bil! and thank you for bringing up this issue, it is rare to see it addressed in any form of media

we need to grow up and be able to talk about the challenges we face honestly

Aw the shame that has no name in the LGBTQRXY and Z "community". Another great ref for lesbians would be No More Secrets by Janice Ristock

bigolpoofter | October 31, 2009 2:06 PM

I'll send you an email to engage you with the Rainbow Response Coalition here in Washington, DC. After two years in existence, we have only begun to scratch the surface of LGBTQ consciousness on the issue of intimate partner violence.

remaining anonymous | November 2, 2009 3:56 PM

This is such an important issue and I wish queer people talked about it more -- or, for that matter, took it more seriously.

I'm a survivor of intimate partner abuse. It wasn't until my ex beat me up pretty bad that I realized, "Wow, this situation has really spun out of control." He was always jealous, controlling, and full of anger, but I always chalked it up to something I must be doing in the relationship -- that if I somehow was a better communicator, or more attentive to his needs, or more sensitive, that things would be good. In some ways, I'm actually really thankful that he finally really lost it, because only then was I able to say, "Wow. This is not my fault."

After it all went down, I felt so isolated. It was nightmarish. Directly to your point about the dissonance between rhetoric about hate crimes and the violence within our communities and relationships: a few days after the last time he beat me up, I got an email press release from a legal organization he volunteers for. The email described a hate crime that had occurred in our area over the weekend, and called for tougher legislation. This particular organization uses pictures of their volunteers in all their visual communication, so, in a true show of shitty irony, this organization sent me an email condemning violence against LGBT people, with a picture of the guy who had just beaten me up on the letterhead.

So I guess a question is, how do we keep our own accountable for this kind of stuff? I sure as hell don't have any answers. All I know to do is to talk about it to as many people as I can, and to spread awareness of the issue. I hope that all my friends and relations know that they can come talk to me if they have concerns about abuse, or even just to talk about it generally. This experience has made me way more sensitive to this issue, and all I can hope for is that by sharing my experience with others, some good can come from it.