Two weeks ago the blog was about an Elephant in the room or as one editor at GA Voice called it: “Did you see the elephant in the room during the raid on the Eagle?”
In case the readers missed it, the point of the blog is that homophobia was at the heart of a police raid on that quiet bar in Atlanta.
So this week as the whole Eagle mess took another turn as if it were some kind of horror soap opera, I was looking for something different to write about. I posted on my Facebook page a request for topics and was caught off guard by this particular request: “queer-on-queer violence (mental, emotional, and/or physical)”
It seems last weeks Elephant might have been the bigger African vs. the Asian variety but regardless the room is getting a little crowded.
This is a subject that does not get much press or community attention but as some research this afternoon made clear this is definitely an elephant in the room and it seems we have good reasons and are doing a good job of ignoring it.
According to “An Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection” it is like an onion with several layers.
“Domestic violence in the GLBT community is a serious issue. The rate of domestic violence in same-gender relationships is roughly the same as domestic violence against heterosexual women. As in opposite-gendered couples, the problem is likely underreported. Facing a system which is often oppressive and hostile towards those who identify as anything other than “straight”, those involved in same-gender battering frequently report being afraid of revealing their sexual orientation or the nature of their relationship.
Additionally, even those who attempt to report violence in their alterative relationship run into obstacles. Police officers, prosecutors, judges and others to whom a GLBT victim may turn to for help may have difficulty in providing the same level of service as to a heterosexual victim. Not only might personal attitudes towards the GLBT community come into play, but also these providers may have inadequate levels of experience and training to work with GLBT victims and flimsy or non-existent laws to enforce on behalf of the victim.
Although much advancement has been made in the provision of services, the enforcement of the law, and the equality of protections available to those in GLBT relationships over the last decade, it is important for you to be aware of your rights and options as they relate to your attempt to escape an abusive relationship.”
See there are indeed 2 elephants in the room and while they are not exactly the same they are surely related.
According to what I was able to find 1 in 4 men are victims of “queer on queer” violence or more traditionally called “domestic violence”. Friends this is a very disturbing figure and one which should give us pause.
According to Dr. Amy Menna, who wrote “Gift From Within – PTSD Resources for Survivors and Caregivers”, our community has a serious problem.
“The number of studies designed to measure domestic violence in the LGBT community pale in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts. However, studies indicate the prevalence to be equal between the LGBT community and the heterosexual community. Results from the National Violence Against Women survey indicated that gay males are more at risk than gay females. Approximately 23% of gay males studied reported to having been raped, physically assaulted, and / or stalked by another gay male. Slightly more than 11% of gay females also reported the same circumstances. With a victimization rate of approximately 10 to 25 percent, the statistics for either being abused or knowing someone who has been abused is alarming.”
Sadly there is not a whole lot of data for the women in our community so if this seems like I am concentrating on the men it is not because it is not happening in the women’s community. It is in fact found in both communities and the damage caused to everyone involved is staggering.
“GAY MALE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & REASONS VICTIMS STAY” by J. Michael Cruz (Journal of Men’s Studies), March 2003, No. 3, Vol. 11, p. 309) gives us a glimpse of what is happening;
The limited research that has examined the dynamics of gay male domestic violence (see for example, Merrill and Wolfe, 2000) has found that most experience pushing, shoving or grabbing, with other forms of violence occurring with decreasing prevalence – restraining, punching or hitting, and slapping. The reasons, in previous research, that gay men have given for staying in relationships in which they are being abused include: hope for change, love, fear, lack of assistance, loneliness, loyalty and lack of knowledge regarding domestic violence. Gay men have been found to define domestic violence in similar ways to Heterosexual women with an emphasis on power and control (see Cruz and Firestone, 1998); with some additional factors such as control, jealously and internalized homophobia. Gay men’s constructions of masculinity have also been found to have an impact on gay male domestic violence as well as some of the reasons that gay men stay (Cruz, 2000).
As I write this I am aware there are three potential types of readers. First are those who are victims; second are those who were victims; third are those concerned enough to care and to learn and to help, but were never victimized themselves.
My hope is by then end of this blog each group will find the dignity, freedom from fear and compassionate acceptance each of us deserve and have a right too.
Most of us think of domestic violence as physical assault, but in fact it is far more then that.
Dr. Amy Menna gives the following definition; “…domestic violence is when one seeks to control the thoughts and behaviors of the other partner. It is about power and control. It entails a pattern of violence where one seeks to control the thoughts, beliefs, or conduct of their intimate partner as well punishing the partner for resisting their control. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation. It often includes physical violence where one person believes they are entitled to such control. Domestic violence often carries no visible signs. Although physical and sexual abuse is common, many types of control are non-physical such as emotional, psychological, or economic abuse.”
· Yelling, screaming, name calling, or other methods of shaming
· Threatening to “out” the other partner
· Threatening to tell someone about their partner’s HIV status
· Isolating the partner from family and friends
· Discouragement of independent activities such as work or taking classes
· Accusations of infidelity
· Constantly criticism of partners weight, physical appearance, or abilities
· Using children to gain control by blatantly undermining partners parenting decisions
· Controls all decision making (i.e. going out to eat or to where to live)
· Hitting, kicking, or pushing the partner
· Throwing things
· Breaking things
· Harming pets
· Cornering the partner
· Punching walls
· Making the partner engage in sexual activities that he or she is not comfortable doing
· Inviting a third party without the consent
· Creating video tapes of the partner doing sexual acts then blackmailing them by telling them they are going to show them to others
· Forced sex
· Refusing to wear protection when one’s HIV or STD status is either positive or unknown
· Any acts of aggression or violence during sex without consent
· Control of all the finances
· Withholding money and/or credit cards
· Forbidding the partner to have anything in his or her name
· Putting all debt in the partner’s name
· Making the partner account for every penny
· Preventing the partner from working at a job
· Sabotaging the partner’s employment
I can assure you after 25 years of activism and advocacy in our community, the afore mention behaviors are chronic and progressive; they do not go away without intervention.
As one reads down the list it becomes apparent as to why this is a difficult situation to address in the LGBTQI community.
LAMBDA a non-profit, gay / lesbian / bisexual / transgender agency dedicated to reducing homophobia, inequality, hate crimes, and discrimination by encouraging self-acceptance, cooperation, and non-violence, has these points as to what makes this even more difficult for the LGBTQI community:
· It is frequently incorrectly assumed that lesbian, bi and gay abuse must be “mutual.” It is not often seen as being mutual in heterosexual battering.
· Utilizing existing services (such as a shelter, attending support groups or calling a crisis line) either means lying or hiding the gender of the batterer to be perceived (and thus accepted) as a heterosexual. Or it can mean “coming out”, which is a major life decision. If lesbians, bi’s and gays come out to service providers who are not discreet with this information, it could lead to the victim losing their home, job, custody of children, etc. This may also precipitate local and/or statewide laws to affect some of these changes, depending on the area.
· Telling heterosexuals about battering in a lesbian, bi or gay relationship can reinforce the myth many believe that lesbian, bi and gay relationships are “abnormal.” This can further cause the victim to feel isolated and unsupported.
· The lesbian, bi and gay community is often not supportive of victims of battering because many want to maintain the myth that there are no problems (such as child abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, etc.) in lesbian, bi and gay relationships.
· Receiving support services to help one escape a battering relationship is more difficult when there are also oppressions faced. Battered lesbians and female bisexuals automatically encounter sexism and homophobia, and gay and bisexual men encounter homophobia. Lesbian or gay people of color who are battered also face racism. These forms of social oppressions make it more difficult for these groups to get the support needed (legal, financial, social, housing, medical, etc.) to escape and live freely from an abusive relationship.
· Lesbian, bi and gay survivors of battering may not know others who are lesbian, bi or gay, meaning that leaving the abuser could result in total isolation.
· Lesbians, bisexuals and gays are usually not as tied financially to their partner, which can be a benefit if they decide to end the relationship. However, if their lives are financially intertwined, such as each paying a rent or mortgage and having “built a home together”, they have no legal process to assist in making sure assets are evenly divided, a process which exists for their married, heterosexual counterparts.
· The lesbian, bi and gay community within the area may be small, and in all likelihood everyone the survivor knows will soon know of their abuse. Sides will be drawn and support may be difficult to find. Anonymity is not an option, a characteristic many heterosexual survivors can draw upon in “starting a new life” for themselves within the same city.
So where do we start? How can we help? What are the resources?
We start by helping an individual who is in a domestic violence relationship via communication and support. Here are some ways to support an individual in a domestic violence situation that have been gathered from several sources;
· Reach out to them. Ask them what type of help they WANT. What they need might not be what you expect.
· Believe them and keep whatever you’re told confidential. More important than anything else, you must maintain their TRUST. If you take actions on your own, even with the best intentions, you may endanger them, and lose their trust.
· Don’t blame them. The abused person is NOT responsible for being hurt and does not deserve to be abused. Wanting the keep a relationship alive is NOT the same as wanting to be abused.
· Take the time to talk privately with your friend or co-worker. Each person needs to tell their story in their own time and space.
· Provide opportunities for them to talk about what’s happening. Ask about suspicious bruises or fights that you know about.
· Validate feelings. Your friend may feel hurt, angry, afraid, ashamed and trapped. Don’t minimize or try to “talk them out of” what they are feeling, even if you don’t understand it or think it’s irrational. What they are feeling and experiencing is reality for THEM.
· Understand that it is difficult to leave a home or someone you love, and that your loved one may go back several times. Remember too that leaving is the most dangerous time as the overwhelming majority of domestic violence murders occur when a victim is trying to leave and within the first 6 months after they’ve actually done so. Your friend has the most information about the abuser, and THEY are the best judge of when and how to best make a break in the safest way. Remember that your friend’s solutions may not be the same as yours.
· Help them plan how to stay safe when violence happens, and for longer-term possible courses of action they might take.
· Avoid badmouthing the abuser or pressuring the victim. This can backfire! Victims may pull away and alienate themselves from those who are trying to help. Instead, help the victim to build confidence in themselves and what actions THEY may be able to take for themselves.
We can also help the batter by referring them to Men Stopping Violence (MSV) is located at 2785 Lawrenceville Highway, Suite 112, Decatur, Georgia 30033.
We can further help by encouraging our places of worship and community support groups to become aware and enlightened to the seriousness of this issue.
Pastors can and should be more then passive prayer partners; in fact we should be raising this subject from our pulpits at a minimum.
As a community we can advocate and support programs in our community that train, educate and promote awareness and action around this issue. We can encourage the political leaders in our community to pass laws, which will offer an easier and a clear legal route for help.
Finally and maybe most importantly we can help those caught in this vicious cycle and ourselves as well by claiming and acknowledging we are of great worth, our dignity is sacred and we have the right to live without fear of being abused in our all our relationships.
As to the resources in Atlanta either locally or via the web here are a few:
http://www.thehealthinitiative.org/index.php for women
http://www.meetup.com/Imanis-Corporation/ for women
http://gmdvp.org for men
If you are experiencing domestic abuse get help today. If you know someone you suspect is experiencing domestic abuse don’t ignore it.