This type of violence is more common than people realise: one in three LGBT people are or have been victims of violence perpetrated by their partner or ex-partner – a percentage that approaches that of women in heterosexual relationships.
Domestic violence and intra-family violence within couples affect every segment of the population.
Abuse is not limited to heterosexual couples. Lesbian and transsexual women are victimised in exactly the same way as women in heterosexual relationships.
The main difference is that the taboos and prejudice created in our communities in response to homosexual relationships and other unconventional types of relationship are killing people who experience violence perpetrated by their partner.
However, the number of reported cases is substantially lower than the number of cases reported by women who are or have been in a heterosexual relationship.
Clearly, there are multiple reasons why a victim of domestic violence might not report the incident.
These include the individual not wishing to reveal their sexual orientation or the type of relationship they are in, or the fear of the implications this may have within their family or social circles.
There are various similarities between domestic violence in a heterosexual couple and in a same-sex couple: these include emotional, physical, sexual and financial violence, and exercising control over friendships.
However, domestic violence within same-sex couples also has several unique characteristics.
In London, there are a number of organisations that aim to support Latin American women. One of these is Latin American Women’s Aid (Lawa), where we have experience of supporting women in our community who have experienced domestic violence at the hands of their same-sex partners. And we have found that filing a complaint and deciding to leave an abusive relationship represent huge challenges for women in the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer and intersex) community.
The motivations pushing LGBTQI women to keep their silence, hide their needs and perpetuate the myth that domestic violence does not exist in their relationships may be attributed to several factors.
One of these is forced outing, which refers to a survivor’s partner constantly threatening to expose them to their family, friends or colleagues, or in other spaces in which they interact. This constant threat of exposure is a useful mechanism to exercise control over the survivor and deny them any form of self-determination.
There is also the fact that domestic violence receives very little recognition within the LGBTQI community.
Very scant information exists regarding domestic violence in same-sex relationships. A lot of the information available focuses on the experiences of women in heterosexual relationships, leading to a generalised belief that domestic violence only occurs in heterosexual relationships.
This excess of information on heterosexual relationships results in the experiences of the LGBTQI community becoming invisible, and in the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence not being treated with the respect they deserve.
Another factor is the fear of seeking help that is highly prevalent among survivors, because they are scared of reaction or rejection by third parties such as family members, friends and the police, among others.
Most are victims of homophobia (hatred of homosexuals), transphobia (hatred or transgender or transsexual people) or biphobia (hatred of bisexuals). They also prefer to stay silent because they are frightened of being rejected by those outside their close social circles.
Otherwise, some may want to tell their story and seek help, but the services available to them are unaware of the characteristics and manifestation of domestic violence in certain communities, particularly the LGBTQI community. This results in the survivor not receiving a service that meets their needs.
In our experience working with women in the LGBTQI community, we have realised the importance of supporting them and providing them with a service suited to their needs and circumstances. We believe that language should not prevent people from seeking help. That’s why LAWA offers services and advice in Spanish and Portuguese so that are able to they feel safe and tell their story in their mother tongue.
We have created a safe, confidential space where no woman is judged on the basis of her sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or immigration, educational or employment status.
Countless obstacles have been overcome and significant progress has been made by and for the LGBTQI community. However, cultural and sexual prejudice and the lack of information on the topic have turned survivors of domestic violence into unknown victims and the rest of society into the silent witnesses of a deadly taboo.
That’s why we believe that the more Latin American women in the LGBTQI community break their silence regarding their experience of domestic violence, the greater the role they will have in their own integration with the community, and the more they will recognise their power and opportunities for change in their journey towards self-determination, showing that the deadly taboo can be broken.
LAWA, which will celebrate its 30 birthday on 6 October, is an organisation led by Latin American women that works with other societal actors to end gender-based violence. Within the latter category, domestic violence is one of the major challenges facing our Latin American, Afro-descendant and minority ethnic community.
* Victoria Gutiérrez: Violence against Women and Girls Co-ordinator, Lawa.
* Jael Garcia: Co-ordinator of the Women Weaving Change Programme, Lawa.
Photos: Pixabay – (Translated by Roz Harvery)