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Myths & misconceptions of LGBT domestic violence

The Los Angeles Gay & Lebian Center is the nation's largest provider of LGBT-specific domestic violence services, including counseling, legal assistance and a court-approved batterers'-intervention program.

Offering services that are specifically tailored to LGBT people is important because, although the core of the problem is the same, there are many ways in which LGBT domestic violence is different than domestic violence among straight couples.

In recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Vanguard -- the LA Gay & Lesbian Center's monthly newsletter -- asked the Center’s Susan Holt and Terra Slavin, who lead the Center’s domestic violence services, to address some of the common myths and misconceptions about LGBT domestic violence.

Myth: Domestic violence isn’t a problem for LGBT people.

Reality: Domestic violence occurs in an estimated one in three relationships, and at about the same rate in same-sex couples as opposite-sex couples.

Myth: When domestic violence occurs in same-sex couples, it’s most likely mutual.

Reality: The core of domestic violence is that one partner systematically asserts power and control over the other. It is rarely, if ever, mutual.

An abused person in a same-sex relationship is more likely to fight back against an abusive partner, but that is not the same as both partners being abusive.

However, it does mean that identifying which partner is the abuser can be difficult, especially for police officers or counselors who are not knowledgeable about the problem.

Myth: The more masculine or "butch" partner is typically the abuser.

Reality: Gender roles do not determine which partner is abusive. Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence.

A Place to Turn

The LA Center’s domestic violence-related services include:

  • Individual and group counseling;
  • One of the only LGBT-specific, court-approved batterers’-intervention programs in the world; and,
  • Assistance with restraining orders and other legal issues.

There are many complex factors that make the issue of domestic violence different for LGBT people.

For example:

  • Being closeted and/or HIV-positive can be used against victims.
  • Same-sex couples may have the same friends, making it more difficult for the victim to seek help or create an escape plan.
  • There is a dearth of resources to help LGBT people—and there are no shelters specifically for LGBT people. Women’s shelters often aren’t safe for lesbians because their abusers can gain access and men frequently have no shelter options.
  • In many cases, police officers called to the scene will not realize that two men or women are a couple—or the two are fearful of identifying themselves as a couple -- and the incident will not be classified as domestic violence.
  • Gay men who are HIV-positive are at an increased risk for domestic violence; abusers may threaten to “out” victims about HIV status. In some cases, an abuser may purposely infect the victim with HIV or threaten to do so.
  • Crystal meth, common in the “P&P” (party and play) scene, also increases the risk of domestic violence for some gay men. Meth use can lead to poor impulse control, depression and anger, and it lowers inhibitions. These are all factors that make meth users more likely to project problems onto their partners and to become violent.

For more information about the LA Gay & Lesbian Center’s domestic violence services, click HERE.

Holt is the manager of the LA Center’s STOP Domestic Violence program. Slavin is the manager of the Domestic Violence Legal Advocacy Project.