Thursday, October 13, 2016

Changing Faces, Changing Spaces- We've Done This Before

For much of the history of scholarship and services on domestic violence, the crime has been viewed as perpetrated by males against females. This image informed policy and procedures for shelters, courts, police, and government. That image, however, must become more inclusive.

Research has shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals experience domestic violence at the same or higher rates than straight men and women. According to a Williams Institute study, bisexual women are nearly three times as likely as heterosexual women to experience sexual violence from an intimate partner. One third to one half of all transgender people will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Bisexual men are also more likely than heterosexual men to experience intimate partner violence. Because of research like this and increased requests for services for LGBTQ victims of violence, the face of domestic violence is changing and therefore services must change, too.

LGBTQ victims of domestic violence face additional barriers to reporting the violence and receiving services. Scholarship has shown that victims face intimidation, isolation, financial control, and other coercion not to leave or report their abuser. In addition to the techniques that all abusers use to control their victims, LGBTQ victims may face fear of being “outed” if they report the crime, higher likelihood of preexisting isolation from family/friends, and systemic homophobia/transphobia/biphobia in the criminal justice system. Lesbians and gay men who report rape challenge the system’s inherent stereotypes that abusers are male and victims are women. Simply put, the system is not made for LGBTQ victims, at least not yet.

How, then, can the systems we have in place for female victims better address the changing face of domestic violence? This will be an ongoing discussion in the coming years, but to start, agencies can:
·      Provide services regardless of gender (a requirement of agencies currently receiving Violence Against Women Act funding)
·      Allow victims to self-identify gender, ask for their pronouns
·      Classify victims for groups/programs according to their gender identity
·      Target outreach and education programs to LGBTQ communities
·      Develop & implement trainings for law enforcement, courts, and other criminal justice system partners on working with LGBTQ victims of domestic violence

The change will not come easily, but we have been through this before. Advocates fought for decades to increase awareness of domestic violence; to improve the way victims are treated by the criminal justice system; to create support networks, advocacy groups, and shelters to pick up where society has not; and to make domestic violence an important local, national, and international policy issue. It is imperative, then, that advocates and policymakers turn this decades of experience and knowledge to likewise improving the way that LGBTQ victims of intimate partner violence are treated by society and what services are available and accessible to them.

CVAC's LAAW Programs offer free services to victims of domestic violence regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. For more information, call 314-652-3623 or visit

Comments by Jessica M., Director of Advocacy and Community Services

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