Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in LGBT Relationships: Myths and Barriers Molly M. Herrmann, MS, December 2, 2003 Myths Many myths exist about our lives as LGBT people. This is no different for the issues of LGBT domestic violence and sexual assault. Some of the myths are in the minds of people who are not LGBT; some of the myths live in our own communities. The following are a few of these myths along with some thoughts and facts to contradict the myths. Myth: Women don?t use force. There is increasing research on the use of force by women. Some women use force in self-defense; some in reaction to past abuse. However, there are women who abuse others while not currently being abused themselves. Women in same-sex relationships have used physical and sexual force to assault their partners; some also use emotional, psychological, financial, and verbal abuse. The effects of abuse are just as great in same sex relationships among women as in heterosexual relationships. Myth: Adult men fight but don?t abuse each other. Our society supports ? even demands -- physical fighting between men. We need look no further than popular action movies, video games, and professional wrestling. We view fighting between men all the time and do not necessarily think of it as abuse. However, the fighting we see in a bar room brawl or wrestling match lacks the ongoing power and control that exist in an intimate relationship between men. For example, the man who is beaten up by his male partner could, if numerous barriers did not bar him, cite examples of control his partner has over him that elevates the incident above a ?boys-fighting? event to ongoing abuse. Some men do get in fights, and others are abused by their partners. Myth: LGBT people can just leave abusive relationships. After many years of experience in the battered women?s movement, people began to realize that telling a woman to just leave her male abuser did not work for her for several reasons. First, she may not have wanted to leave him or it may not have been a safe option at the time. Second, she may have been thinking of all the other parts of her life that would be affected: her marriage, her home, her children, her pets, her belongings, her family?the list went on. Third, she may not have had a plan for how to leave. Since ? at least currently ? LGBT people cannot legally marry, and do not often share biological children with their LGBT partners, it might seem that it would be easier to leave a relationship that is abusive. However, LGBT people also share property, child custody, pets, belongings, and families (biological and families of choice) with their partners. The threats of escalating violence upon leaving are just as great. Finally, there are fewer services and support systems to help LGBT people plan ways to leave their relationships. Often, LGBT people have been given no reason to believe that there is a support system waiting for them if they do leave an abusive relationship. Myth: A woman can?t be raped by another woman; a man can?t be raped by another man. Society has come to view rape as largely a crime perpetrated by men against women. By definition, though, rape is any sexual act committed against a person without consent. Sexual assault, regardless of the sex of the individuals involved, includes a wide variety of actions, including but not limited to unwanted touching, penetration of any kind, and forcing a person to participate in sexual acts she or he does not want. Broad definitions of sexual abuse include demeaning language about a person?s sexuality, subjecting a person to viewing sexual acts without consent, and demanding participation in acts with which a person is not comfortable. None of these lists say anything about a person?s sex; men can rape men, and women can rape women. Myth: Domestic violence in LGBT relationships is either very prevalent or not all that common. One danger (whether real or perceived) with raising awareness around domestic violence and sexual assault in LGBT communities is that society will think that all LGBT relationships are abusive. This barrier to discussing this issue limits progress in addressing it and, in turn, punishes us further by keeping this issue in the closet. We need to acknowledge and work through our fears over what society will think of our relationships and focus our energies on stopping abuse and assault. The flip side of this perspective is the belief that abuse in LGBT relationships is not all that common. This is what we would like to believe, so that we feel better and do not have to face it. This extreme position is also dangerous, as we are given false hope and maybe even a sense of superiority that we have somehow risen above the social challenges of straight people. It also further isolates the targets of abuse, leaving them feeling all alone. In reality, researchers have found that domestic violence is just as common in LGBT relationships as it is in straight relationships. Myth: Bisexual women people can just access mainstream services when they are abused by a partner of another sex. To suggest that a bisexual woman can just seek services from mainstream provider assumes that she will be comfortable with the likelihood that she will need to hide her sexual orientation. If we say alternately that she should be accessing LGBT services, we assume that she will be well received by LGBT providers when she reports a man has abused her. Bisexual women, gay and bisexual men, lesbians, and transgender people all face barriers in accessing domestic violence and sexual assault services, not because of their identities, but because of interpersonal and institutional bias. Barriers LGBT people face numerous barriers in recognizing domestic violence and sexual assault, reaching out for support, leaving abusive relationships, and accessing services during and after abusive relationships. The following is a list of just a few of these barriers. * Lack of services: With the exception of groups for batterer treatment, individual sessions with a therapist, and an occasional survivors? support group, there is a lack of specific and adequate domestic violence and sexual assault services for LGBT people. The very few services that exist tend to be concentrated in urban areas. *Homophobia: Aside from fear of a partner?s reaction, fear of facing homophobia from a service provider or other support system may be the largest barrier faced by LGBT people around this issue. LGBT people have faced homophobia from service providers in general and are thus wary of reaching out to a mainstream provider in a crisis situation. Along with the fear of homophobia, LGBT people may know that they will have to educate providers on LGBT issues when what they most need is help during a crisis. *Transphobia: Transgender individuals often face transphobia from within LGBT communities, as well as from society in general. Transphobia can result in transgender individuals finding that their pool of potential partners is so small that a person can feel that staying in an abusive relationship is easier than finding another partner. Also, transgender people can be so relieved that a partner does not act violently upon learning that the person is transgender that negotiating safer sex does not occur. From society in general, transgender people so frequently face discrimination and oppression during everyday events that seeking services for such difficult issues as abusive relationships and/or sexual assault would seem to only result in further and potentially more traumatic oppression and abuse by providers. *?That doesn?t happen in our community:? As LGBT people, we often hesitate to recognize problems within our community in effort to gain some semblance of respect. We may fear that we will bring criticism to our community while we continue to fight for rights and recognition in the larger society. Victims themselves and friends of victims and abusers may be afraid to call attention to this issue as a result. *Lack of a recognizable social movement: The battered women?s movement is a recognized social movement with a history. Of course this does not mean its work is done. On the other hand, there is not a recognizable, established, and concerted movement to address domestic violence and sexual assault in LGBT communities. *Fear of coming out or being outed: Often when we reach out for services, we face the reality that we will need to come out to a provider. It is no different for LGBT people accessing domestic violence or sexual assault services. In addition to the fear of coming out, LGBT people may fear being outed by a provider or that an abusive partner may use the threat of outing to isolate victims further. *Small communities: Communities of LGBT people are often small and isolated. People who are being abused in relationships may fear isolation from their peers if they expose the abuse. They may understand that friendships will be lost if friends choose between the victim and the abuser. People have told of losing straight friends, LGBT communities, and racial/ethnic communities as a result of speaking out about abuse they experienced. *Traditional service systems: Traditionally, shelter services have been provided to women and their children. Transgender people may face discrimination in accessing shelter services. For example, a male-to-female transgender person may not be allowed in a shelter if the person is anatomically male. Lesbians may be discriminated against or not allowed to be out at a shelter. Gay men are almost certainly going to be turned away from shelters for women; they would also likely be totally out of place. The myths and barriers outlined here are a few among many, and they paint a bleak picture of the situation for LGBT people experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault in relationships. However, we cannot allow these barriers to deny the access of LGBT people to support and services. We must find new ways to navigate systems, to change systems, and when necessary to develop our own systems. We have successfully taken these very actions again and again in the past 100 years for other issues. We know it takes courage, time, patience, diligence, passion, allies, thick skins, funding, and lots of work. We can rise to this challenge. We deserve to be safe in our homes. It?s time. disability Microsoft Word - myths and barriers document.doc
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