Domestic violence in relationships and marriages has been a long-standing problem in American society. A lot of people have not realized that it is not just a problem for heterosexual couples. Domestic violence in lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships is just as prevalent. Lori B. Girshick, a Professor of sociology and women’s studies at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, states that we live in a society where “sexual violence is defined only in terms of male penetration and intercourse”(Griffin).
If this is true then it is easy to see why our society has difficulty understanding the problem with the atypical types of relationship abuse. We must also consider the issue of prevalence. Though statistical research is still spotty many researchers believe that abuse in the gay and lesbian community is as prevalent as it is among heterosexuals. Incidents of domestic violence involving gay couples in the New York City area increased 25 percent in 1998 from the previous year (De La Cruz).
A report by the National Institute of Justice which included a population that was 99 percent heterosexual found that 25 percent of women and 8 percent of men were at some point victims of an abusive relationship(Leland). There are many myths surrounding gay domestic violence. One of those is the general belief that women are not violent. Another involves a belief that the abuser in a relationship is more powerful. Violence in any relationship cannot be understood in terms of male, social and economic power.
In lesbian partnerships it is often the partner who appears to have more self-esteem and makes more money who is being battered. Studies have shown that the women who were assaulted were the ones who were more self sufficient, independent, less jealous and had higher incomes (Pearson 132). After looking at the numbers it’s important to notice that the victims are of all ages. In 1998 reported cases were 44 percent between the ages of 30-44, 21 percent were 23-29, 12 percent were 45-64, and five percent were either under age 22 or over age 65 (Garbo).
Based on this it appears that no one in the gay community is safe from the threat of domestic violence. Since this seems to be such a significant problem then it seems strange that we don’t hear more about it on the news or in our own communities. There is a great deal of speculation as to why these cases go unreported. According to an article in the July 14, 1995 edition of the online Jewish Bulletin of Northern California the gay community resists confronting abuse among its own members. They already face so many problems such as HIV and discrimination that publicizing the abuse would be like “airing dirty laundry”.
Lank) Another important reason these situations are not being reported is due to fear of the police and the courts. One example of this involved an employee of the New York City Housing Authority, Kathy Muniz who says her reports were not taken seriously. She says she was told by police that tomorrow she and her partner would ‘Kiss and make up’. She eventually got a restraining order against her partner (Leland). It is important to consider the reasons that police may have difficulty dealing with the cases. It can be difficult for them to know who is the aggressor and who is the victim.
Executive Director Connie Burk of the Northwest Network of the Bisexual, Trans and Lesbian Survivors of Abuse in Seattle estimates that often 75 percent of the victims are arrested sometimes along with their abusers (Leland). Taking all of these things into considersation it is difficult to begin to address solving this problem. Perhaps the first step is to break the silence. For years neither the homosexual nor the heterosexual community has wanted to discuss this issue. This was proven in 1995 when a forum on the subject was organized by the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project.
Despite two weeks of promoting the event only the two speakers, the temple brotherhood president and two of his friends along with one member of the press showed up (Lank). Once people stop being afraid to talk about it then we can move on to the next step which would seem to be lobbying for changes and laws to protect the victims in these situations. Dr. Susan Holt, the director of the Stop Domestic Violence Program at the L. A. Gay and Lesbian Center points out that the same sex domestic violence issue is still 25 years behind the battered women’s movement (Leland).
It appears progress is being made in some areas such as police responding more effectively to reports of domestic violence in same sex couples. Police in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Seattle have now been trained to deal with same-sex domestic violence (Leland). In addition, a 1998 survey of the victims of homosexual domestic violence reported that 42 percent of victims said that the police had treated them respectfully while another 30 percent said they were treated with indifference.
Only eight percent reported some type of abuse by the police (De La Cruz). This is only one small step to solving such a wide spread problem. In order to address the issue of same sex domestic violence, the silence surrounding the issue must be confronted. Awareness must be raised in the homosexual and heterosexual communities to ensure that the needs of the victims are being addressed. Until awareness is raised and a commitment is made to doing something about the problem then it is doubtful that little progress will be made toward solving it.