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LGBTQ+: Beyond A Patriarchal Understanding Of Domestic Violence

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Focus of Report

This report will be focusing on providing insight into some of the experiences of domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) within the LGBTQ+ community with the aim of expanding on explanations that go beyond a patriarchal understanding of the topic.

Recent statistics, as of March 2019, 4.2% of men and 8.4% had experienced domestic abuse (ONS, 2019), with 25% of lesbian and bi-sexual women ,49% of gay and bi-sexual men (Stonewall,2018) and 80% of transgender people experiencing IPV (Scottish Transgender Alliance, 2010). Of course, it must be noted that these will not be accurate figures as many survivors will not report their abuse for a number of reasons. Most commonly within IPV, the goals of the abuser are to maintain control over the relationship and/or their partners behaviour whilst trapping them within the relationship. There are themes of domestic abuse that are distinctive to LGBTQ+ relationships.

Firstly, abusers will take advantage of the culture of the LGBTQ+ community and use the threat of ‘outing’ their partner to family, friends, employers etc with the knowledge that acceptance is not always available. Reporting domestic abuse is difficult with survivors being faced with mistreatment, misunderstanding and judgement; LGBTQ+ survivors fear that disclosing their sexuality when reporting abuse will lead to further discrimination and misunderstanding of their experiences in a same sex relationship. Although modern policing and guideline have pushed to eliminate this misunderstanding by officers being trained to not presume the sex of the partner or that the relationship is heterosexual if not disclosed by the survivor.

This report will begin with an investigation into gender roles being used as an explanation for some abusive behaviours which will be followed by the failings of the gender paradigm and heteronormative bias/framework in DV, leading to the invisibility of a trans perspective. Additionally, LGBTQ+ representation of domestic violence (or lack of) in media and literature will be explored, which discussions around internalized homophobia within society and historical ignorance (mostly within law enforcement) with the acceptance of male dominance within society. The report will finish with a section of recommendations to better help LGBTQ+ survivors.

Gender roles and DV

Feminist conceptualization of Domestic abuse

A considerable amount of the research into domestic abuse (especially the original research) perpetuates a heteronormative framework of a heterosexual male offender and a heterosexual female survivor. This framework is based primarily on the biological view that men are more physically aggressive than women whereas women are more indirectly aggressive (Bjorkqvist,2018) and therefore are believed to hold a more dominant role in the relationship. This feminist conceptualization has denormalized men’s violence towards their wives and unveiled the patriarchy present in DV (Cannon&Buttell,2015) with a considerable amount of reported DV cases showing this male offender and female survivor. This acknowledgment in early research into IPV has helped shape and develop many of the policies we see today, such as the Violence Against Women Act 1996 and Women’s Aid.

What does this mean for survivors in ‘non-traditional’ relationships who do not follow this heteronormative framework?

By exclusively focusing on heterosexual relationships research has failed to accurately capture violence within same sex relationships, failing to capture different patterns of abuse and victim identities (Cannon&Buttell,2015). Firstly, this heteronormative bias ignores female perpetrators of violence; Buttell & Star (2013) demonstrate that women will use violence within relationships for a variety of the same reasons that males will, out of anger, retaliation and to gain control over their partners. However, with the portrayal of women being that they are less aggressive than males (Burke & Follingstad, 1999) this often makes survivors of female abusers ‘invisible’ due to societal disbelief that a woman could be severely violent.

Nevertheless, the assumption is that these findings are based on heterosexual women ,although gay and bi-sexual women may display violence for similar reasons, no distinction is made leaving very limited empirical research into the motivations of same-sex abusers (Cannon&Buttell, 2015). The same can be assumed for gay and bi-sexual men. Although, IPV literature is flooded with research on male aggression and male offenders a majority of the research is focused on heterosexual males and fails to explore the motivations for violence in male same-sex relationships.

With very little empirical research into the motivations behind DV in same-sex relationships it is impossible for effective treatment to be developed for the LGBTQ+ community.

LGBTQ+ Representation in DV

Homophobic Society

Homophobia has been prevalent within British society for centuries; homosexuality and relationships between men was not even legalized until 1967 with more restrictions than heterosexual relationships at the time. The first pieces of research into domestic violence were conducted in the early 1960’s (Snell,1964) with feminist approaches and frameworks (Dobash & Dobash,1978) developing in the 1970’s it’s highly unlikely funding would have been provided to research DV in same sex relationships at this time. Although lesbian relationships were never illegal in Britain, research was not conducted on these individuals until 1996 (Elliot, 1996) with policies (see section 2a) such has the Violence Against Women Act 1996 not including provisions for LGBTQ+ individuals until 2013 (Modi et al, 2014).

This lack of research into IVP in same sex relationships seems to still be impacting LGBTQ+ communities today, with research indicating that while ‘high rates of IPV occur within the LGBTQ+ community, domestic violence agencies and sexual assault centres report minimal service to LGBTQ+’ (NCAVP,2014; Gingras,2018). LGBTQ+ individuals in same-sex relationships have had their abuse trivialized and disregarded by law officials (Brown, 2008) because for some people domestic violence is only easy to understand when it follows the heteronormative framework of a heterosexual women being abused by a heterosexual male with more power than her.

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This internalized view of gender-roles and general stigma in society plays a major effect on the legitimization of abuse in same-sex relationships (Brown, 2008) leading to the damaging view that same-sex couples would not experience DV because the difference in power doesn’t exist like it does in heterosexual relationships (Brown,2008). The lack of understanding of their situation and the stereotyping of gender roles leaves many LGBTQ+ survivors of abusive relationships unwilling to trust authorities creating a barrier between them.

However, in spite of this, many organisations aimed at LGBTQ+ survivors now exist such as Galop, stonewall and broken rainbow who are able to offer safe spaces and relevant advice to LGBTQ+ individuals who have suffered IPV.

Media representation

Media portrayals of IPV and how the media portrays IPV has heavy implications for public perceptions of IPV (Carlyle et al, 2008) which may skew the publics perception of ‘at risk’ groups. Media representation can allow the public to distance themselves from the issue (Kozol,1995) by denying the normalcy of the abuse creating a dangerous attitude that domestic abuse only happens ‘to certain groups.’

Through recent years, popular media such as television, has been regularly broadcasting storylines that show IPV between characters to help raise awareness and to reflect the social reality that IPV can happen to anyone. These storylines, mostly always, involve a heterosexual couple however some tv shows have shown IPV between female same-sex relationships e.g. the L word. Whilst IPV being shown between same-sex couples in mainstream media is a step forward the way in which it is shown sadly perpetuates stereotypes and homophobic ideologies running with the narrative where ‘heterosexuality’ is presented as the ‘solution’ to IPV (Smollin, 2016).

Invisibility of Trans people and DV

Cisgenderism and Societal Transphobic attitudes

‘The majority of discourse, activism and intervention is located within the heteronormative framework (where heterosexual identity and practice are centred and privileged to the exclusion of other identities and practices)’, Rogers (2017).

Domestic abuse discourse is underpinned by a heteronormative framework which has created a heteronormative bias when understanding DV as a social problem (Donovan & Hester, 2014), societies ‘norm’ for domestic abuse has become physical violence between a heterosexual male and a heterosexual female (wherein the male is abusing the female) which neglects those outside of this narrative (Hester et al, 2012). Previously mentioned in section 2b, there is very little empirical evidence into IVP between same- sex relationships with heterosexual women presenting as the largest victim group of DV however national statistics gather data to binary conceptions of gender resulting in a specific lack of trans visibility in the statistics (Rogers, 2017).

This is known as cisgenderism which silences and invalidates trans people making it difficult to build a picture of trans peoples experiences of DV (Rogers, 2017). Studies into trans peoples experiences of DV are met with limitations because of small sample sizes; findings have suggested that half of respondents thought the abuse was ‘wrong but not a crime’ with 73% reporting transphobic abuse from a partner (Roch et al ,2010). It could be suggested that the heteronormative bias that underpins DV within society may prevent non-normative groups from recognising abusive behaviour from partners; Bornstein (2008), found that survivors had difficulty identifying their partners behaviour as abusive with many not accessing DV services for fear of homophobia and transphobia. Although, this should be suggested tentatively as research has shown a sense of normalisation from survivors in heterosexual relationships in terms of making sense of the abuse (Woods, 2001).

Fighting against the law

Laws working against trans peoples still exist to this day. It was only in 2013 that the DSM-5 officially dropped ‘gender identity disorder’ with ‘gender dysphoria’ being added finally recognizing that difference between birth gender and identity was not a disorder to ‘fix’ but to resolve the distress. Trans people are often overlooked in research the way they are overlooked in society. Societal transphobia and societal oppression were found in in a study by Winter et al, 2009 conducted on college students in which trans women were considered mentally ill and considered to not have the same rights as cis women. Dean et al, 2000, found trans people felt rarely welcomed and subjected to practitioner ignorance when attempting to seek help.

All of these factors work against trans people which marginalizes them within society, thus they can be used by their abuser to further isolate and control them. This is also seen in heterosexual and homosexual relationships in which the abuser using manipulation and violence to maintain control over their partner trapping them within the relationship. In some countries trans people experience less rights with many being discriminated against in terms of employment, housing and rights as parents (ACLU, 2020). Offenders of DV will use these against the survivor, with the threat of ‘outing’ them (seen in LGBTQ+ relationships) to gain financial control over the person or the use of a child to emotional manipulate the person in being unable to leave for fear of being homeless, unemployed or losing their child. These manipulation tactics are also shown in heterosexual relationships as a further means to control the relationship though coercive control (Tanha, 2010).


From the research available and the issues highlighted in this report I recommended firstly, more research to be conducted into IPV in LGBTQ+ relationships especially into trans and non-binary relationships and individuals. I believe to overcome the issue of small sample sizes; safer spaces need to be created for the LGBTQ+ community with officials trained specifically to handle domestic abuse in same sex relationships and trans people who experience DV.

Charities such as Stonewall and Galop need to be better funded and better advertised so people in LGBTQ+ communities know there are safe understanding spaces for them if they are needed which can be accessed without the fear of being publicly outed or mistreated . Finally, I believe better education needs to be provided to LGBTQ+ communities on the subject of domestic violence in regard to how to spot the signs and how to get help if they need it from trusted sources.


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