Updated: Nov 26
Since October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s fitting to address intimate partner violence between LGBTQ+ couples or partners.
Obviously, intimate partner violence (IPV) is detrimental to anyone who suffers as a survivor. LGBTQ+ people face and added challenge of being part of a marginalized, stigmatized group that has fewer resources than cisgender, heterosexual survivors of IPV. LGBTQ+ people survive IPV at rates that are equal to and higher than heterosexual partners, so it’s important to remediate the problem in all segments of the US population. This post outlines some of the challenges and barriers that LGBTQ+ people face in domestic violence situations.
According to Kar, Das, Broadway-Horner and Kumar (2023), prevention and awareness of IPV is geared mainly towards heterosexual and cisgender partners, which has led to an ongoing problem in the LGBTQ+ population. Without the resources and attention, any social or psychological problem can mushroom and continue to grow. Furthermore, with institutional oppression and lack of support, many LGBTQ+ survivors of IPV remain trapped in dangerous and psychologically damaging situations.
Comparing adult survivors of IPV in terms of age, gender identification, and sexual orientation.
In adolescents, 10% of the population has reported IPV in dating relationships. The rate is higher for cisgender, heterosexual adults, where the prevalence of IPV is relatively higher. Various studies estimate that around 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men have experienced severe physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Unfortunately, many of the statistics for LGBTQ+ survivors of IPV are significantly out of date. Studies that had been conducted since 1980 estimate the following breakdown of IPV in LGBTQ+ partnerships (Kar, Das, Broadway-Horner and Kumar, 2023):
Transgender women are more likely to be stopped, sexually violated, and face financial abuse than heterosexual, cisgender women in abusive partnerships. Compounding this, if an LGBTQ+ person has disabilities, they are 3 times more likely to face IPV from an abusive partner. Mental health problems account for 51% of this statistic, while 42% of the abused partners had physical disabilities, 4% had learning disabilities, 2% had deafness or were hard of hearing, and 1% had visual disabilities. LGBTQ+ partners who were people of color were more likely to experience IPV, while younger partners were more likely to be sexually violated by their partners.
What behaviors constitute IPV?
Intimate partner violence comprises a general term for physical violence, verbal and mental abuse, stalking, forced sexual intimacy, and psychological aggression. Verbal abuse includes insults, threats, aggressive behavior towards objects (e.g., throwing objects, punching walls), and humiliation I have seen LGBTQ+ partners be called crazy or given a diagnosis by the partner, so that the partner has already excused for mistreating their partner. For example, “you’re just too sensitive, you have X mental health diagnosis.” The abusive partner will usually justify their mistreatment and sometimes even put the responsibility onto the partner they are abusing.
Additionally, in LGBTQ+ abusive relationships, the abusive partner can control the other person by threatening to “out” the person to members of their family, spiritual community, friends, or coworkers.
What are risk factors for IPV in LGBTQ+ partnerships?
Some of the factors that negatively impact LGBTQ+ IPV survivors are barriers to reporting IPV; stereotypes and stigma; lack of access to LGBTQ+-friendly domestic violence resources; and the risk of being “outed” to family and friends who might not know that the survivor is LGBTQ+. Additionally, other marginalized identities such as being BIPOC, physically or mentally disabled, or economically disadvantaged compound the stress and challenges that LGBTQ+ survivors contend with. Immigration status is also a factor that can play a part in some cases (Waters, 2015).
Early exposure to IPV in a person’s family of origin can lead to becoming a perpetrator, if the person sees IPV as a desirable way to get what they want. Intergenerational exposure to IPV can also be a risk factor for being in such a relationship. Additionally, learned helplessness from substance abuse can be brought on by depression and other mental illnesses, which can also lead to being in an IPV relationship.
Traditional and rigid gender roles can predispose people to being in IPV relationships. Gay or bisexual men may still conform to male roles of repressing emotions and resorting to violence, despite being in same-sex partnerships. Because women are seen as nonviolent and nurturing, IPV may not be recognized or go undetected in same-sex relationships between women. IPV is shrouded in secrecy, usually.
Neither abusers nor survivors want to acknowledge what is happening, even if it means they could receive help. Add to this the stigma of being LGBTQ+ and there is even more reason for survivors to remain silent. Internalized homophobia and transphobia can also play a part in vulnerability to IPV.
Minority stress is another factor, owing to the stigma mentioned above, that can create vulnerability to IPV in relationships. Kar et al. (2023) describes minority stress as “the general stressors, there is a unique and chronic stress arising from social processes.” This minority stress adds to the burden that marginalized people cope with and the more stress people are under, the less healthy their functioning can become. Stress in general can contribute to poor coping, including acting out with violence and drug and alcohol abuse. All this can create a ripe environment for IPV.
Stigma creates vulnerability for LGBTQ+ IPV survivors.
With the recent COVID-19 epidemic, LGBTQ+ couples based on number of challenges along with the rest of the US population. These included food insecurity, economic instability, and depression. The political climate, that still persists to this day, is openly hostile in many parts of the USA towards LGBTQ+ individuals. This lack of support can be very isolating and create an environment where abusive partners can easily control and manipulate their partner.
Additionally, during the pandemic, access to social support and mental health treatment was very poor, for everyone but especially for marginalized sexual minorities. Therefore, the reduced access plus all the other problems that were happening during that time created increased vulnerability to mental health challenges and the chances of IPV occurring.
What can be done for LGBTQ+ survivors of IPV?
Some of the suggestions for primary care and other health providers include advocacy, screening, safety planning, awareness, and avoiding making assumptions about the gender and nature of a person’s relationship. Health care providers can also help survivors find support and resources to heal from the negative effects (including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and PTSD) of this harrowing problem. Psychotherapists can also provide trauma-informed care that is inclusive of all aspects of the IPV survivor’s identity, including gender, sexual orientation, race, SES, and disability.
Changes also need to be made at the systemic level. Obviously, more resources also need to be put towards making IPV prevention and intervention more inclusive, welcoming, and helpful to LGBTQ+ survivors of IPV. Police departments need to be educated and sensitized to the neat challenges of LGBTQ+ survivors, and to avoid hostility and indifference towards these vulnerable people when they seek help. The legal system needs to be geared towards helping all survivors of IPV more proactively, so that more survivors can successfully seek protective orders. Among same-sex partners who were survivors of IPV, only 36% sought protective orders. Emergency shelters need to be more gender-inclusive so that they are not denied emergency shelter.
If you are in a relationship that involves verbal, psychological, sexual or physical abuse, please make sure that you achieve safety. There are resources that can help you achieve this. If you are out of immediate danger, you can still reach out to LGBTQ+-affirming IPV resources like this one. It’s important to also find a psychotherapist who is both trauma-informed and is LGBTQ+ affirming, as this issue can be complicated and frightening. Nonetheless, healing is possible and you can have healthy support systems that treat you with safety, respect and dignity. If you have survived IPV and are now safely away from your abuser, and you'd like to get trauma therapy for your experience, please call 661-233-6771.
Bermea, A., Slakoff, D. And Goldberg, A. (2021). Intimate partner violence in the LGBTQ+ community. Primary care clinical office practice, 48:329-337.
Kar, A., Das, N., Broadway-Horner, M., and Kumar, P. (2023). Intimate partner violence in same-sex relationships: Are we aware of the implications? Journal of Psychosexual Health, 5(1): 13-10.
Waters, E. (2015). The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs LGBTQ and HIV–Affected Intimate Partner Violence in 2015. Https://avp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/2015_ncavp_lgbtqipvreport.pdf Retrieved October 21, 2023.