Little research has been done into family violence in LGBTIQ relationships, yet anecdotal evidence suggests high rates. The family violence experiences of LGBTIQ people and the barriers they face in obtaining services are distinct from those of other victims/survivors of family violence.[1] LGBTIQ people may also experience distinct forms of family violence, including threats to ‘out’ them.[2] Family violence in the context of LGBTIQ people is commonly perceived as violence inflicted by intimate partners, ex-partners or previous heterosexual partners. Such a perception overlooks the fact that violence can be inflicted by siblings, parents and other relatives too.[3] 

 

The existing evidence supports the following picture that LGBTIQ couples experience the same, similar or even higher levels of family violence, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence as heterosexual couples.[4] What is currently known is as follows:  

  • in a national study 32.7% of LGBTIQ Australians reported having been in a relationship where their partner was abusive (same-sex or opposite sex partner).[5] One third of this group reported having been physically injured, but only 20% had reported this to police;  
  • in a Victorian study, one third of LGBTIQ respondents had been in a relationship where they were subjected to abuse by their partner: 78% of the abuse was psychological and 58% involved physical abuse or being hit. Lesbian women were more likely to report an abusive same sex relationship than gay men (41% v. 28%);[6]  
  • transgender people may experience significantly higher levels of emotional, sexual or physical abuse from a partner or ex-partner.[7] In addition, they are at a higher risk of violence from their parents[8] due to entrenched homophobia and transphobia.[9]   

It is important to adopt an intersectional lens when talking about family violence in LGBTIQ communities. Different layers of identities and experiences as well as social positions affect people in different ways.  For instance, for older people, there may be a heightened risk of homophobic-related family violence, particularly as they become more dependant. Other factors compound general homophobia or transphobia to both put LGBTIQ people at greater risk of family violence and decrease access to supportive services. These intersections include:   

  • LGBTIQ people who are from culturally and linguistically diverse and/or religious backgrounds may be in settings that uphold rigid gender roles and conservative views about sexuality, while also facing racism and xenophobia;  
  • LGBTIQ people living with a disability (21% of LGBTIQ people) may have more barriers to access services which in their turn may be less inclusive towards both sexuality, gender identity and/or disability.  

In addition, the LGBTIQ population’s disproportionate, life-long exposure to physical and verbal violence, sexual violence and discrimination can exacerbate people’s vulnerability to, and the impact of, family violence by:  

  • contributing to the cumulative impact of violence on people’s psychological and physical health and social isolation;  
  •  making it more difficult for LGBTIQ people to both recognise and leave abusive relationships involving partners, parents and other family members;  
  • giving people cause to fear and mistrust services, including health and community services, police and the legal system.  

In terms of specialised services for both victims/survivors and perpetrators of family violence there are significant gaps. Service issues for LGBTIQ people who experience family violence include:  

  • Exclusion of transgender women from support services for victims, including refuges and support groups;  
  • Lack of support for gay, bisexual and transgender men;  
  • Lack of support for lesbian/bi women and transgender women.   

Service issues for LGBTIQ people who have been violent include: 

  • Lack of culturally safe, behaviour change options for gay, bisexual or transgender men who have been violent towards their current/ex partners; and  
  • No program options for lesbian, bisexual or transgender women who have been violent towards their current/ex partners.[10] 

The level of awareness of LGBTIQ experiences and needs is limited among police, in the courts, among service providers and in the community generally. As a result, LGBTIQ people can feel invisible in the family violence system.[11] 

 

There is now stablished evidence that family violence is the leading cause of homelessness in Australia[12], and reasons for LGBTIQ people homelessness follow the same pattern. Young LGBTIQ people are at higher risk of homelessness than their peers: Victorian research suggests that same sex attracted young people are disproportionately more homeless than opposite attracted young people.[13]  LGBTIQ young people often become homeless because of family conflict due to their gender, sexuality, and/or intersex variations. Sydney-based organisation Twenty10 estimates that 70% of homeless young people overall leave home to escape family violence and relationship breakdowns.  

 

GALFA LGBTI Homelessness Research Project[14] concludes from the collected data that LGBTI young people who have experienced homelessness are at higher risk than their cisgendered heterosexual counterparts of bullying at school, poorer mental health, experiences of trauma and childhood abuse, substance abuse issues, survival sex, STIs and HIV, multiple experiences and longer periods of homelessness.  

 

Systemic and comprehensive changes on the levels of policy, law and community attitudes are required to reduce violence against LGBTIQ people more broadly and family violence in particular. Governments should provide sustainable and adequate funding for the development of LGBTIQ-specific resources, programs and targeted community education campaigns and identification of research priorities and effective prevention strategies.  Other much-needed reforms include: service providers to adopt inclusive practices; better data collection that includes sex, sexual orientation and gender identity; and training on LGBTIQ for all services and agencies.  

  

Resources:  

  • ACON: www.acon.org.au 
  • ACON’s DFV in LGBTIQ relationships ‘Say It Out Loud’: sayitoutloud.org.au 
  • Another Closet (2015)
    The LGBTIQ Domestic Violence Interagency has produced a resource titled Another Closet for LGBTIQ people who may be experiencing domestic or family violence. It also has information for people supporting an LGBTIQ friend or family member who is experiencing abuse, contains information on what domestic violence is, what to do if you are experiencing abuse, tips for making a safety plan, information for how to support a friend or family member and the details for some referral services in NSW.
    www.anothercloset.com.au 
  • One Size Does Not Fit All (2011)
    ACON’s gap analysis of NSW domestic violence support services in relation to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities’ needs.
    One Size Does Not Fit All 
  • Calling It What It Really is (2015)
    A report into lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, intersex and queer experiences of domestic and family violence
    Click here to download 
  • Bring Violence Out Of The Closet
    Bring Violence Out of the Closet is a print resource was produced by the NSW Police to assist the LGBTI community to report domestic and family violence. It provides an outline of what to expect when you make a report to the police, clarifies key roles and offers details of referrals for additional support. 
  • LGBTI Domestic Violence Toolkit
    The LGBTI Domestic Violence Toolkit is a resource for agencies and service providers supporting LGBTI victims of domestic violence and their families. 

 

 References cited: 

[1] See: safe steps Family Violence Response Centre and No To Violence (2015) Joint submission into the Royal Commission into Family Violence: Family Violence and LGBTIQQ Communities; Drummond Street Services and the Victorian AIDS Council (2015) Joint submission into the Royal Commission into Family Violence: Family Violence and LGBTIQQ Communities.  

[2] State of Victoria, Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and recommendations, Parl Paper No 132 (2014–16).  

[3] Dr Philomena Horsley (2015) Family Violence and The LGBTIQ Community Submission to The Victorian Royal Commission Into Family Violence On behalf of Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne   

[4] Chan, C. 2005, Domestic Violence in Gay and Lesbian Relationships, Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse  

[5] Pitts, M, Smith, A, Mitchell, A, Patel, S 2006 Private Lives: A report on the health and wellbeing of GLBTI Australians. Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria and the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne  

[6] Leonard, W., Mitchell, A., Patel, S., Fox, C. 2008, Coming forward: The under-reporting of heterosexist violence and same sex partner abuse in Victoria, Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, La Trobe University, Melbourne  

[7] Scottish Transgender Alliance, 2010 Out of sight, out of mind? Transgender people’s experiences of domestic abuse, Scotland  

[8] Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, Report and Recommendations (2016) vol 5, 144, 143 citing Marian Pitts et all, Private lives: a report on the health and wellbeing of GLBTIQ Australians (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, 2006), 51-52.  

[9] Dr Philomena Horsley (2015) Family Violence and The LGBTIQ Community Submission to The Victorian Royal Commission Into Family Violence On behalf of Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne  

[10] Dr Philomena Horsley (2015) Family Violence and The LGBTIQ Community Submission to The Victorian Royal Commission Into Family Violence On behalf of Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne  

[11] State of Victoria, Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and recommendations, Parl Paper No 132 (2014–16).  

[12] Spinney A 2012. Home and safe? Policy and practice innovations to prevent women and children who have experienced domestic and family violence from becoming homeless. Final report no. 196. Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. 

[13] Rossiter, B, Mallett, S, Myers, P, Rosenthal, D 2003 Living Well? Homeless young people in Melbourne, Parity, 16(2), 13-14 

[14] GALFA LGBTI Homelessness Research Project (2017) Stage 1 Report LGBTI Homelessness: Preliminary findings on risks, service needs and use. Available at http://www.lgbtihomeless.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/LGBTI-Homelessness-Stage-1-Report-Preliminary-findings-on-risks-service-needs-and-use.pdf