Domestic Violence Services for Same Sex Couples

In late June of 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States of America made history by legalizing marriage equality for all people within its borders. Even though it is a great moment in history, it may also highlight the challenges and barriers LGBTQ couples and families face in seeking treatment and services for domestic violence.

Domestic violence, also termed intimate partner violence, can be an all too real and very dangerous circumstance of dating and marriage for some individuals. The possible dangers do not change just because it is a same-sex relationship or marriage.

Screen-Shot-2013-09-18-at-2.08.31-PMThere are many domestic violence and women’s centers across America that mainly help heterosexual women and their children escape violent family situations. Many of these centers state they also help heterosexual men in abusive situations and would help LGBTQ individuals seeking services if requested.

However, some of these centers do not openly advertise their help for heterosexual men and LGBTQ individuals, and they may be protected from having to provide services to LGBTQ individuals due to religious freedoms laws being passed in various states around the country.

In 2005, The Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services shared a study by Stephen Owens and Tod Burke on intimate partner violence of same-sex couples. The criteria for this study was use of physical force, withholding financial gain, psychological (name calling, manipulation, threats), and engagement in forced and unwanted sexual activity. For more specific examples of abuse, you can check out the LGBT Relationship Violence Power and Control Wheel. The study group contained sixty-six individuals (50% of each gender) of which 56% had admitted to experiencing one or more forms of intimate partner violence.

The prevalence of domestic violence in a sample of 33 men and 33 women currently or previously in same-sex relationships was assessed. Data were collected through a mail survey in the state of Virginia. Of 1000 surveys sent out 66 usable ones were returned (response rate = 6.6%). Analysis indicated that 34 had experienced some form of domestic violence, but significant differences between male and female respondents were not detected. When data from this same-sex sample were compared with those of the heterosexual sample of the National Violence Against Women Survey, intimate partner assault may be more prevalent against gay men than against heterosexual men, but there was no significant difference between lesbians and heterosexual females. Read More

Federal non-discrimination laws and policies aim to prevent agencies from denying or failing to provide services to individuals in a  protected class such as race, gender, religion, etc.  However, LGBTQ individuals have not yet been given federal nondiscrimination protection which has been relegated to state or local bodies to extend protection.

Even though a domestic abuse center claims they will help LGBTQ individuals who are in abusive relationships, there really is no guarantee they will help without a non-discrimination clause against discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Adding these two areas to any and all non-discrimination policies will give LGBTQ individuals the added security they need when seeking services instead of fearing discrimination based on who they love.

Marriage equality is still controversial, and it will take time for some people to get used to the expanded definition of marriage, but nothing should be offensive about another person needing help. Just as everyone should be entitled to marry the person they love, everyone should be entitled to help when they need it.

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Bethnie Green

Bethnie Green is currently a graduate student studying for her MSW at USC. She also has a BA in Psychology. She is passionate about equal treatment for all people and hopes to use her degrees towards that goal. View all posts by Bethnie Green

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