The debate over same-sex marriage is very much on the cultural and political radar screen. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that this is one of the most significant civil rights controversies of the 21st century. It’s one of the major issues that LGBTQ activists and allies see as paving the way towards greater equality and acceptance. And one of the most powerful arguments used in support of same-sex marriage is the “similarity” argument – the idea that relationships are relationships, no matter what the gender of the two partners. Same-sex partners love each other. We laugh together. We share common interests. We argue. We go to work. We pay taxes. We raise children. In the words of a lesbian friend of mine, “we’re just as boring as anyone else.” And while research studies comparing same-sex couples to opposite-sex couples do reveal some interesting differences, there certainly is weight to the similarities argument. Sadly, while same-sex relationships are just as healthy as opposite-sex relationships, they can be just as dysfunctional as heterosexual relationships, too – and nothing drives that point home more clearly than the issue of domestic violence.
This past Thursday, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released its 2010 Report on Intimate Partner Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the U.S., which documents the incidence and repercussions of relationship violence in the LGBTQ community. Seventeen anti-violence programs in 14 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, New York, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin) collected and contributed data for the purposes of this report – and the results are sobering. For starters, since 2009, the number of reported incidents of intimate partner violence (IPV) has increased by 38% since 2009. Moreover, the report revealed the following:
- Incidents of physical violence have increased (as opposed to threats, stalking and harassment);
- Less than half of LGBT victims of IPV who sought an order of protection received one;
- More than a third of survivors were turned away from shelters;
- Survivors show increased reluctance to contact law enforcement.
Before we draw the conclusion that IPV is on the rise in the LGBTQ community, I think we need to back up a little. Until recently, IPV among same-sex couples went largely unrecognized. Police officers called to the scene of a domestic dispute didn’t necessarily take it seriously. Domestic violence agencies, safe houses, and crisis lines aren’t always equipped to deal with the unique issues that LGBTQ relationship violence presents. Because of that, many victims in the LGBTQ community are less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to report IPV (and it’s been well-established that women in heterosexual relationships are often reluctant to report the abuse as well, for various reasons). Even when they do report the violence, if law enforcement doesn’t view it as a legitimate issue and fails to take a report, then the incident won’t get recorded in the crime statistics. Given the vast underreporting of IPV in same-sex relationships, the “increase” in IPV documented by the new NCAVP report may not be an increase in incidents, but rather an increase in reporting rates. And that’s actually a good thing – if we can get a more accurate picture of the landscape of relationship violence in the LGBTQ community, then we are in a much better position to take effective action to address this violence. Clearly, more action needs to be taken – as reporting rates are increasing, interventions from domestic violence agencies and law enforcement are woefully inadequate.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Help spread awareness about intimate partner violence in the LGBTQ community.