Domestic violence in same-sex relationships

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When one thinks of domestic violence, most would conjure up images of men beating on women. That image is reinforced by movies such as “Enough” or “Madea’s Family Reunion.”

Domestic violence is more than this, though. Domestic violence happens in same-sex relationships at roughly the same rate as heterosexual relationships.

Howard Loftin is a survivor of same-sex domestic violence, although he almost didn’t survive. “I was hospitalized every time he beat me. I could go on and on about all the times. My friends were afraid to come around. He slowly cut me off from everyone. I think the word needs to be out there that [same-sex domestic violence] exists. There are fewer resources for people in this position.”

According to statistics, roughly 30 percent of GLBT couples experience domestic violence. This is about the same percentage as heterosexual relationships. This statistic is thought to be underreported since many people in the community are not aware that services are available to them or may not wish to report incidents to the authorities.

“Within the last year, there were a little over 17,000 domestic violence reports [to the Metro Police Department] and there were 199 reported cases of same-sex domestic violence,” said Dr. Carol Gipson, crisis counseling supervisor of the Domestic Violence Division of the Metro Police Department. “A lot of times the officers will put the wrong codes on reports, so this number is probably a little low. 109 were two females, 90 were two males, so it was roughly split down the middle.”

Some people in same-sex relationships do not want to involve the police. Some victims are not open about their sexuality, while some have mistrust for people of authority. “Everybody is different. Going to the police is not for everybody,” said Captain Rita Baker of the Metro Police Department Domestic Violence Division. “It is intimidating for many. I would prefer if they came to us because of the resources we have, but I encourage them to come to our door at least for the counseling. It is free to any victim and any non-perpetrating family member, and it is all confidential. We are unique in how much the counselors work with the detectives. The detectives share with the counselors, but the counselors don’t share with the detectives.”

“If they come in for counseling, the information is confidential, and we adhere to the same ground rules for therapists,” added Gipson. “It is a different story for the detectives because all their reports are public record. This is why a lot people won’t file police reports.”

Filing police reports can lead to unfortunate consequences since they are public record. Gipson told of an instance of domestic violence where two men were in a relationship and neither was open about it.

“The victim was coming in for counseling. ‘The Tennessean’ got a hold of the story and published it because the suspect was involved in some high profile church work. They were exposing him, basically. The victim wasn’t even out to his family yet. ‘The Tennessean’ published the entire police report with his name, address, social security number, phone number, and everything. [The victim’s] mother found out about him being gay from the newspaper.”

“I do think that if it is violence in a same-sex relationship, that sometimes those victims have more trouble accessing services because of biases that people might have,” said Kathy England Walsh, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “I think it is the same way for a person of color for example. There are more layers they have to go through.”

This was true when Loftin needed help. After the last confrontation, Loftin was again hospitalized. This time the violence was so bad, the Houston police picked him up from the hospital. “[The police] said we will take you anywhere you want to go but we have somewhere we want to stop first. They ended up taking me to the women’s center. I had no idea where I was or what was going on at this point.”

They walked in and told the staff that Loftin was a domestic violence victim.

“They told the lady ‘He’s with a guy that when we arrest him, we are afraid he is going to hurt us. If you do not take him in he is going to be killed.’ The woman there said we don’t help men. The police said here’s your first. The police refused to leave until [the center] found a place for me. The director ended up coming up an hour later and said we can’t put him in the women’s shelter, but we can put him in a hotel. They put me in a hotel for three days under an assumed name and then I went to go stay with a relative.”

“Programs from time to time have struggled with how to provide services to GLBT individuals,” said Walsh. “Sometimes agencies, for whatever reason, were not aware they needed to provide services for men. It is an educational issue. We have to educate people about how to provide safe services. The policy is you treat everyone the same when they call. You will assess their safety. Does this person need shelter? If they do, you need to figure out how you provide that shelter. You can’t just tell a man to go to a homeless shelter, because then the perpetrator could show up. Before we had shelters, we used safe houses and we used hotels. If no one knows where the victim is going, a hotel can be a safe place for a couple of nights. These are the kind of things communities need to look at when providing services.”

“Some people want to say it can’t happen to me, because they think there is something different between themselves and a victim, but the truth is anyone can become a victim,” Walsh added. “We aren’t drawn to people who are abusive to us, sometimes it just happens you get into a relationship and the other person turns out to be abusive. It absolutely can happen to anyone. Any race, any class, any sex, any side of the tracks, it doesn’t matter. There is a lot of victim blaming. Why didn’t you leave the relationship the first time you were hit? We spend a lot of time blaming victims, and not enough time trying to hold perpetrators accountable.”

Next month: domestic violence in rural areas, the court systems, the truth about the laws, and the agencies that can help.

There are places that can help in times of need. If you or someone you love is a victim or you feel like you may be victimizing someone, the YWCA crisis line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call (615) 242-1199 in the Metro Nashville area and 1-800-334-4628 everywhere else. You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.