The response to LGBT domestic abuse survivors is nothing to be proud of
Friday 7th July 2017
During this year’s Pride Festival which culminates in the London Pride Parade this weekend, Women’s Aid urges everyone – while celebrating the hard-won rights of the LGBT community – to remember the challenges and inequalities that LGBT people continue to face, especially when it comes to domestic abuse.
While the vast majority of domestic abuse is perpetuated by men against women, domestic violence is nonetheless experienced within the LGBT community, yet LGBT survivors are neglected by the government, criminal justice system and other agencies.
Power and control are at the heart of domestic abuse, and gender is one of the most powerful levers that abusers use. We are still struggling to cling onto the hard-won feminist victory of identifying that gender is the key factor in the abuse perpetrated by men against women and girls. We must also fight for recognition that gender is also a key tool in the domestic abuse of LGBT people. Often gender and/or sexuality is used against LGBT people as a form of psychological and emotional abuse, from threats of ‘outing’ through to stigma attached to gender identities, for example.
According to research by Stonewall, one in four lesbian and bisexual women have experienced domestic abuse in a relationship, one third of them were abused by a man. Almost half of all gay and bisexual men have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse from either a family member or a partner since the age of 16.
There is limited research on how many transgender people experience domestic abuse in the UK, but a report by the Scottish Trans Alliance (STA) suggests that levels of domestic abuse experienced by transgender people are even higher. In this STA report, 80% of transgender people surveyed in Scotland had experienced emotional, sexual or physical abuse from a partner or ex-partner. This is a huge level of need, and even more frightening when you bear in mind the almost total lack of specialist support for transgender survivors.
This domestic abuse is clearly gendered with almost one in ten lesbian and bisexual women domestic abuse survivors explaining that their sexuality had been used against them, while a shocking 73% of transgender domestic abuse survivors revealed that they had suffered at least one form of transphobic emotional abuse from a partner or ex-partner, most commonly being made to feel ashamed, guilty or wrong about their trans identity or their past.
There is a desperate need for more specialist support. LGBT domestic abuse survivors have additional barriers in accessing support and justice when escaping abuse. One of these barriers is the historically hostile police response to the LGBT community seeking equality and justice, which has led to mistrust of the criminal justice system. According to Galop, the charity which runs the national LGBT domestic abuse helpline, LGBT people often need support before they feel able to call upon the criminal justice system and mainstream support services, because they fear that issues relating to their identity will be misunderstood or outright dismissed, or that they might receive a discriminatory response. Sadly, these fears are often borne out in reality, and far too many LGBT survivors are unhappy with the response they get.
Police reports are often the key factor in statutory agencies’ risk-assessment of domestic abuse survivors, which determines whether they are considered “high-risk enough” to be given access to specialist support services or other vital measures such as priority housing. Meanwhile, the chronic underfunding of specialist domestic abuse services, along with the inadequacy of the risk-management response, is leading to specialist services unable to do more than provide time-limited support for so-called “high-risk” survivors who have reported to the police. For all survivors, this means they are increasingly unlikely to get the long-term support that truly meets their needs. For LGBT survivors – even less likely to involve the police or fit into a blunt “tick-box” approach to assessment – the system is stacked against them.
LGBT domestic abuse survivors also face unacceptable challenges in accessing specialist refuge places. Women’s Aid’s latest report, ‘Nowhere to Turn: Finding from the first year of the No Woman Turned Away project’, revealed that there are currently no LGBT-specific refuge services in England and less than 1% of refuges provide specialist support to LGBT survivors. This lack of specialist refuge services is life-threatening, especially for gay men and transgender people fleeing domestic abuse.
Women’s Aid is fighting to raise-awareness of the gendered nature of domestic abuse and to ensure that support is available to all that need it, not only during Pride Festival but year-round. We ask you to join us in our fight to protect funding for specialist refuge services as well as our call for compulsory training to be rolled out to all working in statutory agencies and the criminal justice system on identifying domestic abuse, including coercive control, without heteronormative assumptions. Our Change that Lasts approach puts the needs and the strengths of the survivors at its heart and allows each person to be supported in a way that is as individual as they are. The barriers facing LGBT survivors make it even more obvious why it is so important.
During Pride, let’s face up to the simple fact that the response to LGBT domestic abuse survivors – across the board – is nothing to be proud of.
The National Domestic Violence Helpline run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge is a Freephone, 24/7 service for all women, regardless of sexuality, which has trained staff on hand to listen without prejudice: 0808 2000 247.
Galop’s National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline is run by and for LGBT people and offers practical and emotional support to LGBT people experiencing domestic abuse: 0800 999 5428.