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The ugly truth about domestic violence

The police blotter in a local newspaper caught my eye the other day. It covered four days of police calls, and I noticed that seven out of the 18 calls during that period were for domestic violence or spousal abuse.

It is shocking to realize that domestic violence is still so very common in our lives.

Domestic violence is a range of behaviors used to exert control or establish power by one intimate partner over the other. It is abuse that can be psychological, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, spiritual and physical. It may involve the threat of harm more than actual physical harm.

According to the California Attorney General, there were over 167,000 domestic violence-related calls for assistance in the state in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available. That is nearly 460 calls each day! About 70,000 of the annual total involved a weapon. and 21% percent of these cases involved use of a firearm, knife or other dangerous implement. The other 79% involved use of hands, feet or other personal weapons.

Is domestic violence always a crime? The California Penal Code defines it as “abuse committed against an adult or a minor who is a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship.” It is further defined as “intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, or placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to himself or herself, or another.”

In other words, whenever there is physical injury, or the immediate threat of it, within an intimate relationship, domestic violence is a criminal act.

Domestic violence is under-reported in LGBT community

Most experts agree that domestic violence occurs just about equally in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. The major difference is that LGBT victims are much less likely to report abuse, call for assistance, or receive support and help in the community. It is vastly under-reported compared to incidents among heterosexual partners.

There are many reasons why LGBT domestic violence is hidden or silent. States vary widely in how domestic violence is defined and handled. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have domestic violence laws that are gender neutral and do not specifically include or exclude same-sex partners. Eighteen states have domestic violence laws that are gender neutral, but apply to household members only. Delaware, Montana and South Carolina explicitly exclude same-sex survivors of domestic violence from protection under criminal laws.

Even in areas where there are legal protections, the system may be viewed as hostile toward same-gender relationships; personal attitudes of police, courts and social service agencies may be homophobic or apathetic; and there is often little community experience in working with LGBT victims of domestic violence.

These victims may not have come out in their workplace, or to their family members. The fallout from domestic violence touches all parts of a person’s life and other relationships, and could bring exposure that might make things worse.

Sometimes the LGBT community itself shuns victims, not willing to admit that same-sex relationships are subject to the same dysfunctions that afflict heterosexuals. This lack of support further isolates victims and makes it difficult for them to escape violent relationships.

It is estimated that 25% of gay and lesbian couples are affected by domestic violence. It is essential that the LGBT community open its eyes to reality and expand its support for victims by pushing for fully gender-neutral laws, broad police, court and social service system tolerance, and awareness of these victims’ special needs.

How to get help

If you are concerned for your safety in a relationship, or know someone who is in danger, here are some organizations that can help:

The San Diego LGBT Community Center in Hillcrest" offers a program dealing with relationship violence, called Relationship Violence Treatment & Intervention Program. For more information, contact The Center's Information and Referral Specialist at (619) 692-2077 x208 or onduty@thecentersd.org. You may also contact Dr. Amanda Quayle at (619) 692-2077 x214 or aquayle@thecentersd.org.

Here are other resources:

National Domestic Violence Hotline – (800) 799-SAFE

National Sexual Assault Hotline – (800) 656-HOPE

GLBT National Help Center – (888) 843-4564 – glbtnationalhelpcenter.org

Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project – (800) 832-1901 – gmdvp.org

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles pertaining to legal issues relevant to the LGBT community, and is intended for general information purposes only – not legal advice. Christopher Heritage is an attorney in Palm Springs and San Diego, who focuses on LGBT estate planning, domestic partnerships, same-sex marriage, probate, trust administration, and bankruptcy. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be contacted at (760) 325-2020, or by email: chris@heritagelegal.com

To read the orginal story, click HERE.