One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, with 8% experiencing abuse in any given year according to a 2013/14 Crime Survey of England and Wales. On average, 2 women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner.
Most people, particularly those of us who work like myself, a project worker within Housing Leeds, as part of a front-line service, are aware of the problem of domestic violence. Taking the form of an incident or pattern of incidents revolving around coercive, controlling, degrading or violent behaviour, domestic abuse is an uncomfortably common problem.
As you read this, Leeds City Council is on day 5 of the 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence a national campaign aimed at businesses to support their employees and users affected by violence, and to help them take a stand against it.
Male violence towards women they know is still the most widely recognised form of domestic abuse, with the perpetrator often using sexual violence to control and abuse their partner. This can happen in and outside of the family home in heterosexual and familial relationships. This violence is deeply rooted in gendered social inequalities between men and women, happening to women because they are women, and because it reflects wider patterns of behaviour in our culture.
However, it is important that we remember that domestic violence is not restricted to heterosexual relationships. The term does not describe the gender identity or sexual orientation of those involved. Domestic and sexual violence are experienced by LGB&T* individuals as well, and it is vital that our services recognise the needs of our community.
The prevalence of domestic violence in LGBT relationships matches the heterosexual and cisgender experience: (25-33% of all couples). Given this is the case, why do we not talk about it?
This is one of the questions that Women’s Aid set out to answer in their report on LGBT Domestic Violence, which assesses the incident rate of abuse in Leeds, and makes suggestions for what services can be doing to provide better for LGB&T populations.
Cultural myths and excuses can be a barrier that stops LGB&T* individuals from being able to acknowledge abuse in their relationships, or to access appropriate support. Members of our community may also be worried about not being believed or taken seriously, or even experiencing homophobia, biphobia or transphobia when attempting to access support or report abuse to the police. The belief that because the relationships involve two people of the same sex or gender presentation, it cannot be “real” violence or abuse, still exists. It is also a belief that misunderstands the nature of domestic violence. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are not always, and sometimes not ever, physically violent. Abusive relationships can manifest as emotionally manipulative, verbally abusive, financially controlling and coercive without ever physically engaging the other person. In the LGBT community, this can come out as threats to ‘out’ the other person without their consent (therefore exposing them to violence or rejection from family, friends or the rest of society), to reveal HIV/AIDS status where that applies or to normalise abuse based on the limited education and support young people receive around non-straight relationships.
Many of the participants in the Women’s Aid study confess that they were either told by partners or assumed that their experience was “just how things are.” Not having been in an LGBT relationship before, or not feeling that they could seek help from outside of the relationship because of their sexuality prevented them from accessing the support they needed.
After my girlfriend and I broke up, she started texting me, sometimes up to 20 times a day without response, asking for another chance, to meet up with me, to come to my house. She refused to accept the relationship was over, and became very angry at me when I didn’t reply, accusing me of being “a cold bitch”. She rang me late at night, and attempted to get in touch with me through mutual friends and my housemates. On two occasions, I was sure that she was following me home from university. This behaviour went on for almost 4 weeks before she finally stopped, during which time I had to seek counselling to deal with the stress and resurgent feelings from other abusive relationships. I nearly went to the police, terrified that she might not stop, and that the behaviour might escalate, but I never did: I was scared they wouldn’t believe me.”
(Submitted by a person wishing to remain anonymous)
It is because of experiences like these that we broaden our conversation around domestic violence and abuse.
The campaign, ‘Get comfortable talking about it’, wants everyone in the city to feel comfortable talking about domestic violence and abuse. People can ask any questions they have about domestic violence and abuse – either by email, social media, or by posting a question in our branded letterboxes – look for them in Council Community Hubs. It really is everybody’s business, doing nothing is not an option.
If you want to talk about it personally or on behalf of someone else go to the www.getcomfortableleeds.org.uk website and ask your question.