Cops, Courts, Governments Don’t Comprehend Gay Domestic Abuse
The Scottish government’s current definition of domestic abuse -- what is known in the United States as Intimate Partner Violence, or IPV -- should be revised, a critic has suggested, to include same-sex partners, a Sept. 6 Press Association story said.
The current definition regards domestic abuse as violence by a man directed against a woman. That legal standard erases same-sex victims, notes the University of Dundee’s Brian Dempsey, a professor of law.
Otherwise, the law is fairly comprehensive.
"Domestic abuse (as gender-based abuse), can be perpetrated by partners or ex partners and can include physical abuse (assault and physical attack involving a range of behavior), sexual abuse (acts which degrade and humiliate women and are perpetrated against their will, including rape) and mental and emotional abuse," the language for the current statute says.
But because of the way the law is phrased, and because training for police, health workers, and social services is based on the law’s wording, same-sex partners who are abused, and their children also, can easily fall through the cracks.
"My impression is that both politicians and people involved in delivering domestic abuse services are sympathetic to lesbian, gay bisexual and trans people but are generally pretty unaware of our needs -- especially so in relation to transgendered people," Dempsey said.
"But the overwhelming emphasis on presenting domestic abuse as something that men do to women means that people such as accident and emergency nurses or GPs or housing officers just aren’t picking up on the signals that an LGBT client might need help."
"Domestic abuse must not be tolerated in any form and the Scottish Government has committed over £55 million during the period 2008-12 to tackling domestic abuse and violence against women," a government spokesperson said.
"We have received international recognition and praise for our gendered definition, which does not exclude or deny other experiences, but does focus on the majority experience, that 83% of domestic abuse incidents recorded by the police in 2009-10 involved a female victim and male perpetrator," the spokesperson said. "In addition, we have funded a helpline for male victims and the LGBT youth domestic abuse project."
Experts in the United States have said that the incidence of IPV in same-sex families is the same as that among heterosexual couples.
Though the police may not take as much notice of same-sex domestic violence, as gay and lesbian families become more widely accepted and recognized, so too do the relationships in which violence plays a part. In Massachusetts, for example, which led the nation in legalizing marriage equality in 2004, IPV between people of the same gender has drawn greater attention now that those relationships are recognized.
The result is a seeming spike in IPV between couples of the same sex, though it easily may be the case that any apparent increase is illusory and the result of same-sex couples now being acknowledged as such.
The Boston Globe reported in a Sept. 5 article that seven high profile cases of same-sex IPV have come to light in the last two years, including one man, John Lacoy, having stabbed his boyfriend to death and then hidden the body under his porch.
In a similar instance, another Massachusetts man, Michael Losee, surrendered to authorities on March 9. Police had discovered the body Losee’s husband, Brian Bergeron, 51, at the couple’s home after a family friend called in a tip about Bergeron’s killing.
The incident followed in the wake of several other high-profile instances of intimate partner violence (IPV) in Massachusetts. Last August, 54-year-old Eunice Field of Brockton turned herself in to police, saying that she had killed another woman, 62-year-old Lorraine Wachsman, because of Wachsman’s relationship with Feld’s former girlfriend.
And just over a year ago, a jury convicted a woman of setting a blaze in South Boston that resulted in the deaths of her girlfriend’s tow young children.
Advocates note that police and judges still become confused as to who the abuser is because the realities of IPV have outstripped the stereotype of the male batterer and the female victim. This can lead to situations in which the victim is arrested along with, or instead of, the perpetrator.
Perhaps just as bad is a perception that police are not interested in bringing perpetrators to justice if the victim is another man.
"There are... times when people may see [gay] domestic violence as less serious, like a catfight between women or guys who should work it out between themselves," Jessica Newman, a counselor for Boston-based gay health provider Fenway Health told the Globe.
"We live in a society where heterosexism and homophobia are pervasive and people are walking around with unconscious biases," added Newman.
Another advocate, the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project’s Curt Rogers, described how local police called a training program offered by the Project a "waste of time" and walked out.
"As soon as we started in on the content, one officer asked, ’Why are we here? This is just like our diversity training. This is a waste of our time,’ " Rogers recalled, terming the incident "traumatizing."
But if police find training around such issues to be tedious, in real life they are often unable to deal with situations in which domestic abuser and victim are two people of the same gender. That can lead to victims being arrested, the Globe noted, because police are not prepared to understand that they are responding to a domestic violence situation and not a brawl.
"They assume you’re roommates or friends, and that is not flagged as domestic violence," noted The Network/La Red’s Beth Leventhal. "All of the steps that would normally be available to someone who is a survivor of domestic violence are bypassed" in situations where the police fail to discern the nature of the violence and address it accordingly.
But there are bright points of light in the law enforcement community when it comes to treating cases of IPV effectively. The Globe noted that GLBT leaders saw police departments in Suffolk and Middlesex counties as setting a standard.
"We say it all the time: Arresting both people does nobody any good," a Sergeant Detective, Mary-Ann Riva, of Boston’s police department told the Globe. "What happens then is the real abuser says, ’Next time, I’m going to tell them that you hit me.’ "
IPV is generally though of in terms of heterosexual relationships, but domestic violence rates in gay and lesbian relationships are comparable to those among straight couples, an Aug. 3, 2009 EDGE article reported. With gay couples, however, the abusive partner sometimes has additional pressure points to use against his or her victim; the perpetrator can threaten to out the victimized partner, or seek to control the victim’s medication use.
For gay victims who already face hostility and bias from family, faith, and other sources, the abuse can start to seem like a punishment for being gay, noted a posted at Another Closet, a website devoted to addressing the issue of IPV in same-sex relationships.
"For many people, especially those new to gay or lesbian relationships, their sexual identity becomes associated with the abuse so that they blame the abuse on being gay or lesbian," the posting read. "So they may feel that ’I’m experiencing this abuse because I’m gay/lesbian. If I wasn’t gay/lesbian I wouldn’t be experiencing this. I hate being gay/lesbian.’ "
Abusive behavior is not always violently physical. It can also take the form of possessive and controlling behavior, destruction of a partner’s property, verbal harassment, or seeking to deny a partner’s access to family and friends.
A report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs last year said that IPV rates had increased in 2009 as compared to the previous year, with reported instances of domestic violence rising by 15%. Economic pressure was cited as one factor in the rising rates. At the same time, organizations dedicated to countering IPV or offering victimized partners support and even escape from abusive relationships were losing funds critical to their operations, an Oct. 27, 2010 EDGE article reported.
"We have not lost any staff because we do a lot of creative fundraising and juggling of funds," Network/LaRed’s Leventhal told EDGE at the time. "We have a long history of doing a lot of work on very little money." Among the challenges were cutbacks from the Massachusetts state government, which translated to a loss of $60,000 for the group.
"That’s a significant amount of money for an agency with a small budget -- about $400,000 -- so we are turning to the community for support to the extent that people can dig into their own pockets," said Leventhal. "It’s not an easy time."
Leventhal added that although reported rates of IPV were also rising within the LGBT community, she did not think that was an indication that violence directed at intimate partners was necessarily on the increase. Rather, Leventhal attributed higher numbers of reports to greater awareness of IPV and the fact that help is available.
"It’s becoming more understood by more people," Leventhal told EDGE. "There’s an increase in reporting and awareness that partner abuse is a problem for us as well as the straight community."