Domestic Abuse in Same-Sex Relationships – Part B

I wrote this Research Paper from the perspective that same-sex domestic abuse was such an underreported problem that there were not just interventions for the individuals (abuser or victim), but also for governmental and police agencies and for therapists and social service providers. Accordingly, I laid out Part B in a way that answered three questions; what should the abused do; what else can be done; and, what can we do? Below you will find the answers to those questions.

What should the abused do? Below is a comprehensive list for the abused person to consider when they believe that they are being abused:

  1. Recognize that you are not responsible for the abuse;
  2. Recognize that violence/abuse is not likely to stop on its own. Episodes of violence usually become more frequent and more severe;
  3. You must tell someone;
  4. Seek professional help from a qualified counselor who is knowledgeable about partner abuse and is lesbian/gay positive. A lesbian or gay male counselor with these qualities may help you address the pertinent issues of abuse with more comfort and focus;
  5. Develop a safety plan that includes the following:

a. A safe place to stay;
b. A group of friends you can trust and who will help;
c. Emergency phone numbers;
d. A new phone number that is only given out to those you trust the most;
e. Some money;
f. Your own bank account;
g. A post office box; and,
h. A bag of essentials (Finnigan and MacAulay, 1996) (New Beginnings, 2009)

What Else Can be Done to Stop the Abuse?

The first thing to understand is that abusive behavior is highly resistant to treatment, and many abusers never change (Pitt, 2000). In nearly all cases the only time the abuse stops permanently is when the victim leaves because abuse is rarely a one-time occurrence (Burke and Owen, 2006). This is often very hard to do. Ending the abuse may mean leaving a partner of many years, disrupting a shared life, and leaving a shared living arrangement (Davenport, 2008).

In this matter, the GLBT community must look at themselves. Studies show that few relationships ended because of violence and the physical and emotional impact of the violence was often seen as moderate. It can only be assumed that the community’s perception of intimate violence is that it is not a problem or that it’s detrimental to their relationships (Stanley, Bartholomew, Taylor, Oram, and Landolt, 2006).

Another factor where the GLBT community must look inward is the fact that members of the community do everything possible to perpetuate the myth that there is no intimate partner violence in same-sex relationships. This must change. The lesbian and gay male communities must break down the silence and defensiveness around this issue (Finnigan and MacAulay, 2006). It appears that the GLBT community is often not supportive of victims because they want to maintain the myth that there are no problems in the community, such as child abuse, alcoholism and intimate partner violence. This has created a situation where local resources for victims in the GLBT community are often scarce and many traditional domestic violence services lack the training, sensitivity, and expertise to adequately recognize and address abusive GLBT relationships (Lambda, 2009).

Instead of putting ones head in the sand leaders in the community should get educated and help educate. They should also advocate for treatment and services on the part of medical, legal, police and social services that are equal, accessible and sensitive to the needs of victims of intimate partner violence. This can be started by placing stories and ads in community papers and other gay and lesbian media outlets, placing notices in gay and lesbian bars and clubs and participating in public forums.

Laws must be enacted which both protect the victim and are enforced. Currently, state laws vary throughout the country. At the end of 2007 the individual states could not agree on most important subjects regarding Intimate Partner Violence. For example, there is no consistency throughout the country on the circumstances whereby a judge issues a Civil Protection Order. They cannot agree on what the definition of a victim is, what the definition of an abuser is, and most importantly for this paper, whether a same-sex partner is protected. Furthermore, the duration of the order ranges nationally from 90 days to perpetuity.

In fact, the state of Colorado for example, lists its duration as “can be permanent or shorter” (Skolnik, et al, 2008). Although most state laws are written to be gender neutral, some states (Delaware, Louisiana, Montana, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia) explicitly exclude gay and lesbian relationships from legal protection for domestic violence (Brown and Groscup, 2008).

Another aspect of the legal system that is not working in the GLBT community relates to the actions of many police when they are called to the scene of a same-sex domestic violence incident. Because many of the laws that do exist protect only direct family and household members many police are put into a situation that is untenable (Seelau and Seelau, 2005).

Furthermore, even when the police have laws which properly protect the victim, they often look the other way or are not trained to handle such situations. Either their personal prejudices stop them from intervening or they fall into the stereotypical trap that women cannot be abusers and men cannot be abused. Police agencies need to incorporate diversity training and make the officers take the training seriously. Where there is training happening now, it is often derided and scoffed at (Burke and Owen, 2006).

The criminal justice system is no better. There have been many studies showing that prosecutors and juries are pre-disposed causing a male perpetrator on a female victim to be far more likely to be convicted than a same-sex or female on male perpetrator. When a woman is the perpetrator the feeling is that she must have been provoked by the victim (Seelau and Seelau, 2005).

Prosecutors and judges, in particular, need additional training. Prosecutors must pursue cases of same-sex violence and not look at them as “fair fights” because it’s the same sex. Judges must become more sensitive and aware of same-sex domestic violence. They must avoid sentence disparity based on sexual orientation (Burke and Owen, 2006). Again, diversity training and attitude change is a must.

Legal protection is not the only area lagging for victims. As implied above, community services are not adequate for victims of same-sex domestic violence. Because the GLBT community has hidden the problem and the heterosexual population views domestic violence as the man being the aggressor and the woman as the victim, very little widespread attention has been given to this problem. Accordingly, there is very little information or resources within the community that apply specifically to this problem. Not only are the victims not receiving the help they need government officials, social workers, and health care providers know very little about the problems or the nuances that go along with same-sex domestic violence (Devine, 2008).

As usual, money needs to be spent. Resources and funding for short and long-term support must be made available. Safe houses and shelters, places where a victim can escape to, must be provided. At this time, safe houses are rarely available for same-sex domestic victims (Burke and Owen, 2006).

What Can We, as Therapists or Counselors, Do to Help?

As you would expect, education is where it all starts for us. That is not just our education, but in turn educating others. We have to forget about what we think we know about same-sex domestic abuse. We have to put aside stereotypes that are either personal issues or have been foisted on us by society for many generations. We have to learn through research and asking a lot of questions. We have to be willing to go to government officials and educate them and other members of the community. They are the ones who enact the laws and enforce them. While some states have made strides to make domestic violence laws gender neutral, there is still a lot of work to do.

The most important thing we can do is to be sensitive to the GLBT community. If we are going to work in the community we have to be prepared with knowledge and empathy. In my research I saw much of the despair felt within the community because we’re seen as unconcerned for the victims of abuse in the GLBT community. One quote that summed up what many said was “I feel like I can’t talk about it, I mean how many therapists/social service providers are going to understand queer, s/m, abuse, intersexed, interracial (all features of her abusive relationships) . . . It’s too complicated” (Ristock and Timbang, 2005).

Some of the knowledge we need is as simple as knowing the proper terminology. For example, intimate partner violence is not something I had ever heard of before. It isn’t hard to figure out what it means but we should know. We should know that words such as -queer” are no longer derogatory, but something that the GLBT community has reclaimed in a positive way to reflect the diversity and breadth of sexual and gender identities (Ristock, and Timbang, 2005). There are countless other words and terms which we need to know and be comfortable using if we are going to work in the community and be empathetic.

Social workers and therapists should also be prepared from a screening perspective. Intake forms and other assessment tools should reflect knowledge of domestic abuse in the community. By doing so would normalize the victim’s situation and not single them out (Pitt and Dolan-Soto, 2001).

Finally, we must be willing to not only counsel the victim, but also the abuser. Counseling should be done in an environment that is safe for the abuser and not done with the victim present. This can create a potential dangerous situation for the victim once the session is finished. The treatment must be for the purpose of recognizing the source of the violent behavior and learn how to deal with the conflict in a non-violent manner. Otherwise, the abuser will just move on to the next victim (Burke and Owen, 2006).

In short, we have to get educated, change our attitudes, educate others, and there needs to be more of us prepared to adequately serve the community. A number of surveys have shown that those in the medical field often hold negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians. One survey of 165 nurses showed that the majority (57%) felt moderate and (20%) severe homophobia (Brown and Groscup, 2008). These attitudes can and do influence treatment decisions and the delivery of services. Our attitudes must lead the way and again that comes back to education. There are many websites available. Therapists and social workers should become well acquainted with them. A good start is “Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project”. It can be found at vio.stu ed/index.html. There are many others including ww,,, WNW/ gayl ife.aboutcom,, and


  • Brown, M. J., and Groscup, J. (2008). Perceptions of Same-sex Domestic Violence Among Crisis Center Staff Journal of Family Violence, Vol. 24: 87-93.
  • Burke, T. W., and Owen, S. S. (2006). Same-Sex Domestic Violence: Is anyone listening? The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, XIII (1), 6.
  • Davenport, B., (2008). Hurts too bad-domestic violence in same sex relationships. Gay & Lesbian Times, May 1, 2008: 36-38
  • Devine, J., (2008). Domestic Violence in Gay Relationships. BQ Online Magazine, August 13, 2008. Available on the Internet at
  • Family Violence Prevention Fund, Health Care Response to Domestic Violence Fact Sheet, (2000). Available on the Internet at
  • Finnigan, B., and MacAulay, D. (1996). Abuse in Same-Sex Relationships. Violence in Same-Sex Relationship Infollnation Project, (1996).
  • Houston, E., and McKirnan, D.J., (2007) Intimate Partner Abuse among Gay and Bisexual Men: Risk Correlates and Health Outcomes. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, Vol. 84, No. 5, 2007: 681-690.
  • Mendieta, M., (1999) Hidden Bruises: A new report exposes the unspoken problem of domestic violence among gays and lesbians. The Advocate, Issue 799: p. 24.
  • New Beginnings, A Women’s Crisis Center, Same Sex Partner Abuse, (2009). Available on the Internet at http:/
  • Pitt, E., (2000), Domestic Violence in Gay and Lesbian Relationships. Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Vol. 4, No. 4, 2000: 195-196.
  • Pitt, E., and Dolan-Soto, D., (2001). Clinical Considerations in Working with Victims of Same-Sex Domestic Violence. Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Vol. 5, No. 4, December 2001: 163-169.
  • Rennison, C.M., and Welchans, S. (2000). Intimate partner violence. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  • Ristock, J., and Timbang, N., (2005). Relationship Violence in Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer (LGBTQ) Communities ó Moving Beyond a Gender- Based Framework. Violence Against Women Online Resources. July 2005: 1-19.
  • Seelau, S.M. and Seelau, E.P., (2005). Gender-Role Stereotypes and Perceptions of Heterosexual, Gay and Lesbian Domestic Violence. Journal of Family Violence, Vol. 20, No. 6, 2005: 363-371.
  • Skolnik, A.A., et al, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Domestic Violence in the United States in 2007, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, (2008).
  • Stanley, J.L., Bartholomew, K., Taylor, T., Oram, D., and Landolt, M., (2006) Intimate Violence in Same-Sex Relationships. Journal of Family Violence, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2006: 31-41.
  • Turrell, S.C. (2000). A Descriptive Analysis of Same-Sex Relationship Violence for a Diverse Sample. Journal of Family Violence, Vol. 15, No. 3, 2000: 281-293.
  • Domestic Violence in Same-Sex Relationships. Available on the Internet at
  • Domestic Violence in Fay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Relationships. Available on the Internet at background.html