Domestic Violence in LGBT Relationships

This post will discuss domestic violence within LGBT relationships.

What does LGBT stand for?

LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual.  The initialism can also be arranged to be GLBT, although the initials stand for the same thing.

Note: Much of the information in the blog post is based on research on same-sex couples; however, much of the information applies to transgendered and bisexual incidences of domestic violence. 

Domestic Violence within LGBT Relationships

Most LGBT relationships are healthy and happy; however, one out of four to one out of three same-sex relationships has experienced domestic violence.  In comparison, one in every four heterosexual relationships has experienced an occurrence of domestic violence.  As you can see, there is not a distinguishable difference in incidence of domestic violence between heterosexual and LGBT couples.  There are a few differences, however, in tactics of abuse. (2)

  • Gay or lesbian batterers will threaten “outing” their victims to work colleagues, family, and friends.  This threat is amplified by the sense of extreme isolation among gay and lesbian victims since some are still closeted from friends and family, have fewer civil rights protections, and lack access to the legal system.
  • Lesbian and gay victims are more reluctant to report abuse to legal authorities.  Survivors may not contact law enforcement agencies because doing so would force them to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Gay and lesbian victims are also reluctant to seek help out of fear of showing a lack of solidarity among the gay and lesbian community. Similarly, many gay men and women hide their abuse out of a heightened fear that society will perceive same-sex relationships as inherently dysfunctional.
  • Gay and lesbian victims are more likely to fight back than are heterosexual women.  This can lead law enforcement to conclude that the fighting was mutual, overlooking the larger context of domestic violence and the history of power and control in the relationship.
  • Abusers can threaten to take away the children from the victim. In some states, adoption laws do not allow same-sex parents to adopt each other’s children. This can leave the victim with no legal rights should the couple separate. The abuser can easily use the children as leverage to prevent the victim from leaving or seeking help. Even when the victim is the legally recognized parent an abuser may threaten to out the victim to social workers hostile to gays and lesbians, which may result in a loss of custody. In the worst cases the children can even end up in the custody of the abuser. (2)

The Power and Control Wheel for LGBT Relationships

As stated, the rate of domestic violence within homosexual relationships is similar to the rates of domestic violence within heterosexual relationship.  But the forms of abuse are very different.  Research has shown that “same-sex assaults produce substantially more injuries, and same-sex homicides tend to be more brutal than heterosexual homicides.”

Note: this research only applies to same-sex relationships.

Because LGBT relationships are different than heterosexual relationships, the power and control wheel needed to be reconfigured to reflect these differences.  Below is an image of the Power and Control Wheel which takes into account the differences in LGBT relationships.

LGBT Power and Control Wheel

LGBT Power and Control Wheel

Questioning the Feminism Theory of Domestic Violence

Many researchers rely on the feminism theory of domestic violence which states that patriarchal tendencies are a leading cause of domestic violence.  “Patriarchy allows men to dominate and control families.  Patriarchal formulations attribute family violence to male privilege and power in a society.  Through this lens, men beat women because they can get away with it.  Feminist analysis focuses on gender inequality and the damage done to women because of male-dominance beliefs” (Barnett, et al.)  Because the feminist theory states that male dominance of females causes abuse, the theory doesn’t stand within male-male or female-female relationships.

The image below looks at the gender identity of survivors of domestic violence.  As you can see, males are more likely to be survivors of domestic violence.  This facts fails to disprove the feminism theory because males are still more often identified as the abuser.  However, you can also see that males are not the sole abusers.

Challenges to Stopping LGBT Relationship Violence

  1. Authorities do not know how to handle domestic violence cases that occur between people of the same gender.
  2. Victims who identify with the LGBT community often do not have access to the resources to help them get away from the abuser.
    1. Lesbians are often able to find help at shelters, but male survivors have trouble finding resources.
    2. There is a lack of “mandated cultural competency training for organizations receiving federal dollars to implement domestic violence prevention or treatment programs”.
    3. A lack of federal laws that offer protection to survivors of same-sex domestic violence.
      1. There are some state laws that offer protection; however, no federal law.

Resources used in this blog post:

  3. Barnett, Ola W., et al.  Family Violence across the lifespan.  History and Definitions of Family Violence.  Chapter 1, pp. 20.

Prevention of Domestic Violence

What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is “a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors that adults or adolescents use against their current or former intimate partners to exert power and control.”  It is important to know that there is no single definition that fits all situations of domestic violence.  To the side, you will see the Power and Control Wheel.  This figure demonstrates the many different ways that abuse can occur.  
Power and Control Wheel

Power and Control Wheel

How Can We Prevent Domestic Violence?
As the wheel shows, there are different forms of domestic violence.  Recognizing signs of domestic violence is the first step in intervening in a situation of domestic violence.  However, prevention occurs before an intervention is necessary.  Prevention of domestic violence “refers to social support and education programs designed to stop family violence before it occurs in the first place.” In preventing violence against women,  we can stop serious mental, physical and sexual repercussions.
Stopping the Perpetuation of Violence: Changing the Role of the Media in Domestic Violence
The social learning theory has been used to explain why domestic violence occurs.  The social learning theory explains that people learn through observation.  While this theory might explain some incidences of domestic violence, no single theory explains all domestic violence.  The social learning theory comes into play in the media.  For example, “social scientists almost universally maintain that society’s acceptance, encouragement, and glorification of violence contributes to abuse in the family.  Such tolerance may have a spillover effect, raising the likelihood  of violence in the home.  Depiction of women in advertising and in video games, for example, often characterizes women as sex objects and as victims.”  And example of violence against women in the media is a Japanese-produced video game called Rapelay.  The aim of Rapelay is to stalk and rape a woman and her two daughters.  The image below is a still-shot from Rapelay and the female characters appear highly sexualized.  More disturbing images exist but
The female characters in the video game, Rapelay

The female characters in the video game, Rapelay

This ecological model breaks domestic violence down into multiple levels/influences.
  • The most outer level is called the macro level.  At the macro level, socioeconomic factors play the largest role in influencing domestic violence.  Many factors such as “exposure to violence, poverty and low socioeconomic status are considered risk factors.”  Unemployment is also considered a risk factor of violence against women.
  • The middle level is called the meso or mezzo level.  This level is also known as the community level.  These are neighborhoods that people live in and local institutions that a person participates in.
  • The inner-most level is called the micro level.  The micro level is also known as the relationship level and can include the individual.  At the relationship level, “adherence to rigid traditional gender roles and unhealthy relationships are considered risk factors.  Having peers that engage in violent behavior may normalize the use of violence against a partner.”  The micro level risk factors can also include witnessing abuse as a child or being abused as a child.
Identifying these risk factors is essential to ending violence against women.  These are not reasons for excusing occurrences of domestic violence.
Ecological Model of Domestic Violence

Ecological Model of Domestic Violence

Campaigns Preventing Domestic Violence
There are campaigns that exist that are aimed to prevent violence against women.  These campaigns focus on education in community-based settings, such as schools.  Some examples are:
  • For infants and preschoolers, ages (1-5), “education and social support for at-risk families.”  Look at the above risk factors for domestic violence.
  • For school aged and high school students, ages (6-17), “programs to educate young children about inappropriate touching; programs to educate junior high and high school students about violence-free intimate relationships.”
  • For college-aged adults, ages (17+), “programs on violence-free intimate relationships and rape.”
  • For adults, (all ages), “campaigns to promote awareness about family violence.”

These campaigns are wide-reaching and cost-efficient.  A national example of a prevention campaign is Teach Early, which educates young boys about the detriments of violence against women.

References for this blog post:

1. Teach Early.  Accessed on February 2, 2012 from:

2. Barnett, Perrin and Perrin.  Family Violence across the lifespan.  3rd Edition.

3. Lockhart and Danis.  Domestic Violence: Intersectionality and Culturally Competent Practice.