Common Myths about LGBTQ Domestic Violence

by HRC Staff

October marks National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, when millions of Americans pay increased attention to addressing domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence) and supporting its victims.

Submitted by the HRC Foundation Public Education & Research Staff with contributions from Ashley Taylor

October marks National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, when millions of Americans pay increased attention to addressing domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence) and supporting its victims.

We know the numbers are astronomical: nationally, one in three women and one in four men are victims of domestic violence at some point in their lifetime and the impact can be lasting and devastating. However, very little is often known or discussed regarding domestic violence in LGBTQ relationships. To highlight the importance of this topic within the LGBTQ community, here are some common myths:

Myth: Domestic violence is mainly a ‘straight’ issue and does not occur often in LGBTQ relationships.

Truth: Although many people believe that only straight women can be victims of domestic violence, domestic violence actually occurs in LGBTQ relationships at similar or higher rates than in the general population.

Myth: Incidents of domestic violence are less severe in LGBTQ relationships than when it happens in straight relationships.

Truth: The abuse experienced by LGBTQ individuals can be equally or more damaging. Studies show that gay men and bisexual women are more likely to experience severe physical violence than their straight counterparts, including being beaten, burned or choked.

Myth: Psychological violence, which includes name calling, insulting, humiliating or attempting to monitor, control or threaten a partner, is not as serious as physical or sexual violence.

Truth: Psychological violence can be an equally devastating form of abuse. In particular, threats to out another person's sexual orientation or gender identity as a means of control are unique to the LGBTQ communty.

Myth: The more masculine, bigger and/or stronger partner is typically the abuser.

Truth: Gender plays a significant role in perceiving and reporting instances of domestic violence. Many people ‘gender’ the violence in LGBTQ relationships; for example, they may assume that the offender in a relationship is always the more masculine-presenting partner. However, domestic violence does not discriminate: it can impact or be perpetrated by any person regardless of their physical or personal attributes (e.g.. size, gender expression or age).

Myth: It is easier for LGBTQ victims to leave abusive relationships than it is for their straight and/or married counterparts.

Truth: LGBTQ relationships are just as legitimate as straight relationships. Regardless of the gender identity, sexual orientation or marital status of two people in a relationship, leaving an abusive partner is often a difficult and painful process. Being in a LGBTQ relationship does not diminish that pain.

Myths like those listed above are harmful to our community and cultivate a culture where survivors can feel afraid to come forward or fear they will not be believed. No one should have to suffer in silence. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • If you suspect a friend, family member or coworker may be in an abusive relationship, there are several ways to be supportive, including being non-judgmental, listening and helping them to create a safety plan. (Please see the resources below for further information.)
  • Support legislation like The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which for the first time provided non-discrimination protections that include sexual orientation and gender identity, but is up for reauthorization after 2018. The continued inclusion of these characteristics provides valuable and life-saving resources to LGBTQ victims.
  • Advocate for inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity markers in research studies on domestic violence. Most of the limited existing data on LGBTQ domestic violence is not generalizable or comprehensive, making it challenging to generate attention or funding to combat this issue in LGBTQ relationships.

If you or someone you know has been affected by domestic violence, you can seek help by calling a helpline or seeking counseling and information from one of the LGBTQ-friendly resources listed below.

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