Twice this year I’ve gotten news that is always devastating to hear as a friend – someone I knew and cared about had become the victim of abuse. In both cases, they were gay men attacked by other gay men.
I found out about one friend in a phone call from a mutual friend, just a few weeks ago. He needed help on what to say. Oddly enough, I had recently found the card I got from Aaron Eckhardt at BRAVO after our segment on Trans*-targeted violence. When I took that card, I figured it would be to follow up on a story. I didn’t think I’d need to pass along that hotline number or read the signs written on the card wondering if those might apply to my friend. But, I did. And, they did. And i’m glad I had that card.
If you have never encountered intimate partner violence yourself, or through someone you love, it’s hard to change your perspective on what it looks like. We grew up with Lifetime movies of battered women and burly alcoholic or drug-addicted male abusers. And those absolutely, and sadly, exist today. But what I didn’t imagine is that gay couples, too, could experience abuse. Call it being naive, or social conditioning, or believing those marriage equality ads way too much, but I figured gay couples were more evolved than that. I was sadly wrong.
What we didn’t see, and we still rarely talk about, is the many types of abuse that happen among LGBTQ-identified people within intimate partner relationships. According to the October 23 report from National Coalition for Anti-Violence projects, a not-for-profit support organization for support providers and advocacy group, nearly 2,600 cases of LGBTQ intimate partner violence were reported in 17 states in 2013. 21 of those were homicide, and 76% percent of those homicides were gay men.
People of Color, Trans* people, young people and undocumented Americans also experienced higher risk for physical violence and/or harrassment and discrimination by an intimate partner. Osman Ahmed, NCAVP Research and Education Coordinator said those factors are sometimes used as tools of abuse and control. Ahmed explained that intimate partner violence is much deeper than the physical.
“It’s not just about physical violence” said Ahmed, who was one of the writers on the NCAVP study. “And, in some cases, it’s never about physical violence.
Ahmed stated that there are many types of violence in the scope of relationship. Controlling access to finances, friends, family medication, psychological abuse can all demonstrate intimate partner violence of a relationship.
And trans* identity, sexual identity, HIV-status and race/ethnicity themselves can spark unique types of abuse within LGBTQ intimate partnerships.
“All of these are very traumatic to survivors and freely restrict access to not only your community but to very specific and life-saving services that survivors can access, said Ahmed. “A broader understanding is very important. ”
Bringing that broader understanding is what NCAVP and it’s member organizations are working to do. Ahmed thinks that the work they’ve done helped to contribute to the recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, to include protections for sexual orientation and gender. And this year, for the first time, the CDC released data around intimate partner violence among LGB -identified people. But Ahmed says the federal government could do more, such increase focus on reporting and funding the efforts to combat IPV in LGBTQ communities. And include Trans* identified people in its reporting for intimate partner violence.
But the fact remains that the numbers we see cannot represent the total number of cases of intimate partner violence, especially among LGBTQ people. Since access to services to our communities is varied and can be inhibited by on one’s finances, location, “out-ness” , cultural barriers and other factors – we know that many instances go unreported. The report indicates that LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors are less likely to access medical treatment, seek shelter or apply for protection orders from their abusive partner.
That’s why as LGBTQ people, we need to help bridge the gap. Look for the signs, and be there for one another. If you know someone who has disclosed to you they are a victim of intimate partner violence, encourage them to report it. It may be difficult to talk about, but even one is too many people to die from intimate partner violence when we’ve fought so hard for the right to love.