Lesbian and bisexual women
The majority of domestic violence is perpetrated by men against women, and certainly men are responsible for the most severe and repeated assaults, and for the vast majority of sexual assaults (Walby, 2004). However, domestic violence also takes place within same gender relationships. It is difficult to know the full extent of domestic violence in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, since statistical data are not yet available in the UK.
If you are lesbian or bisexual, you may have experienced abuse from another woman; or you may have been abused by a male partner or former partner, or by other family members. If you are from a Black or minority ethnic community, you may, as a lesbian or a bisexual woman, face particular hostility due to cultural reasons. Some religious communities are also very hostile to homosexuality, and may ostracise or abuse you if you form a close relationship with another woman.
As well as all the forms of domestic violence and abuse experienced by heterosexual women, if you are a lesbian or a bisexual woman, your abuser might also do some of the following:
- Undermine your sexuality.
- Threaten to 'out' you to family members, colleagues, employers or others.
- Prevent or try to prevent you from coming out if you want to.
- Force you to 'act straight'.
- Threaten to use the issue of your sexuality against you in court, when issues relating to your children (for example, residence or contact) are being decided.
- Force you to look for a 'cure' for your sexuality from a religious or medical practitioner.
Perhaps you have found it hard to recognise that you are being abused. Relatively little attention has been given to abuse within same-sex relationships, and it does not fit the usual stereotype of domestic violence. If you are experiencing violence from a partner or former partner of the same sex as yourself, or from other family members (perhaps because of your sexuality) you may be particularly reluctant to contact anyone for help for any or all of the following reasons:
- You may fear you will not be believed.
- You may anticipate hostility and homophobia from agencies.
- You may be reluctant to say anything because you know that it may be used to criticise or condemn all lesbian or bisexual relationships.
- You may be frightened your children will be taken away.
- You may want to protect your abusive partner from possible homophobia.
- You may fear condemnation and even ostracism from within the LGBT community for speaking out about the violence.
- You may think the law does not apply to you.
- You may think there is nowhere you can go.
- You may feel uncomfortable going to a refuge.
Following recent changes to the Family Law Act (as a result of the implementation of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004) those who are experiencing violence or abuse from partners or former partners of the same sex as themselves are entitled to the same rights as people who are being abused within heterosexual relationships. You are also entitled to protection from other 'related persons', which includes family members. For more information, you could see the sections on Your legal rights
, Getting an injunction
and Police and the criminal prosecution process
, and consult a sympathetic solicitor. If you are worried about your children, then you could look at the section on Children and domestic violence
It is particularly important to have a good and sympathetic solicitor if you have children, and are concerned that your ex-partner may use the issue of your sexuality to get residence of the children or to challenge your contact with them if they are staying with him/her. Rights of Women (ROW) may be able to help you. Telephone: 0207 251 6577; website: www.rightsofwomen.org.uk
. ROW also produces a free information leaflet on lesbian parenting.
There are very few services specifically for lesbian and bisexual women, and even fewer for transgender women. Most refuge organisations will, however, offer accommodation to women experiencing abuse from a female partner, and some projects have specialist services for lesbian and bisexual women or lesbian couples. These are listed in The UK Gold Book (produced by Women's Aid) or you can contact the Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Helpline on 0808 2000 247 (run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge).
is a charity dedicated to supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who are experiencing domestic violence. The service manages a helpline, and also advises mainstream organisations, and offers training on LGBT issues. The Broken Rainbow National Helpline offers a UK -wide confidential service giving information, support and advice on legal and housing options, safety and home security, and will make referrals to other services as appropriate.
Ring the Helpline on 0300 999 5428 (this is LGBT on a mobile phone) Monday 2pm-8pm, Wednesday 10am-1pm, Thursday 2pm-8pm.
Lesbian and Gay Switchboard Helpline:
0207 837 7324, every day 24 hours. London-based helpline offering confidential support, general and legal information for lesbian and gay people. Website: www.llgs.org.uk
Walby, Sylvia and Allen, Jonathan (2004) 'Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey' (London: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate).