Because domestic violence has been traditionally viewed as something that happens only to heterosexual women, instances of same-sex domestic violence (DV) or intimate partner violence (IPV) in the LGBT community are often overlooked. People assume it just doesn’t happen.
But it does.
As reports consistently show, at least one out of four people in same-sex relationships will experience domestic violence during their lifetime, mirroring rates among heterosexual couples. Sadly, LGBT victims are frequently reluctant to go the police, often because of perceived stigma or fear that help for same-sex couples is not readily available.
It’s time to dispel the myths surrounding same-sex DV. Let’s look an all-too-common DV scenario involving a LGBT couple and explore how the victim in this situation can reach out for needed help and protection.
Kim & Elle
Kim lives with her partner, Elle, and Kim’s child from a previous relationship. Though she’s 32-years-old, Kim has never told her parents she’s gay because their religion doesn’t condone same-sex relationships. Her parents think she moved in with a female friend after her boyfriend left to save on costs.
Kim and Elle’s relationship, which started out fine, has become increasingly volatile. Jealous of Kim’s friendship with a male co-worker, Elle accused Kim of cheating on her. The more Kim denied it, the angrier and more suspicious Elle became. Then one night, things spiraled out of control. Their argument, which started with words, culminated in Elle pushing and hitting Kim. Concerned by the noise, the neighbors called 911.
The police showed up, but before Kim let them in, Elle warned her not to tell the officers what really happened. If she did, Elle promised to out her to her parents. As it that wasn’t enough of a threat, Elle, who also knows that Kim’s parents disapprove of her having a child without being married and are critical of her parenting, threatened to team with Kim’s parents to get custody of her daughter on the grounds that Kim – who takes medication for anxiety – is mentally ill, and an unfit mother.
Kim backed down and when the police questioned her as to what the noise was about, she said that she and her roommate were having a fight over a large utility bill that they couldn’t agree how to split. Elle agreed that it was just an argument over bills between roommates/friends and that they would get things sorted out and were sorry to have disturbed the neighbors. The police took their word for it, and since neither woman wanted to file a report, they left.
This fight is just the first of many to come. Terrified that Elle will make good on her threats, Kim has resigned herself to a life of walking on eggshells, and covering up bruises.
Overcoming Additional Hurdles
Domestic violence rates for same-sex couples may be the same as rates for heterosexual couples, but how DV expresses itself in same-sex relationships can differ from DV in heterosexual relationships in some key ways, including:
– As a means of control, the abuser threatens to “out” the other,
– Victims are reluctant to report abuse to the police if they’re in the closet,
– Victims are reluctant to report abuse because they don’t want to bring any more stigma to an already stigmatized population,
– Gay and lesbian victims are more likely to fight back than straight women, leading police to believe that the fighting was mutual instead of self-defense, and
– Gay men, like straight men, can face an additional hurdle when trying to protect themselves from IPV: finding a DV shelter that accepts men (note: they are out there; in New Jersey, call 1-800-572-7233 for assistance if you are a male seeking shelter).
In reporting crimes and seeking help for DV, it is essential for same-sex DV victims to understand is that the New Jersey Domestic Violence Prevention Act (NJDVPA), the set of laws governing crimes of domestic violence/intimate partner violence laws in the state, is completely gender-neutral and independent of sexual orientation.
According to the wide definitions set forth by the NJDVPA, victims of domestic violence protected by law include anyone who is at least 18 or is an emancipated minor. An accused abuser must be at least 18 or emancipated and must have a current or former domestic relationship with the victim as defined by the law. These relationships include: marriage; living together in the same household; dating; or co-parenting (meaning that they have a child in common, not necessarily that they ever actively co-parented, and including expectant co-parents if one party is pregnant).
What does all this mean if you are two same-sex adults living together in the same household in any context and an act of violence occurs? The law is there to protect you. Help victims of DV are able to obtain in NJ include:
Temporary Restraining Orders: If you are a victim of DV in the state of New Jersey, a first wave of protection can come in the form of a TRO (temporary restraining order), a court order that prohibits contact between parties. A TRO can be obtained at your local family court or police department. In Kim’s case, it can be reassuring to know that TROs can prohibit contact with other relevant and interested persons. This means that if Kim disclosed the information that Elle is threatening to contact her parents and out her as a form of coercion, a no-contact order with Kim’s parents could be included with the TRO.
Temporary Custody Orders: If you have children, and you believe they’re in danger, you can request a temporary child custody order, typically seeking full custody. You will need to include the children in your TRO request, and ask the court for a risk assessment. You will also need to explain why it’s dangerous for your children to have visitation with the abuser. In Kim’s case, she could provide details about Elle’s threats in regard to her situation should any custody issues take place in the future.
Temporary Support Orders: If your abuser is employed, the court can order emergency child support that can be paid through wage garnishment. All temporary orders can be granted without the defendant being present and can become final at a full hearing on a final restraining order (FRO) scheduled within ten days. You can learn more about child support laws here and find child support calculations here.
Shelter Help: Call your local domestic violence shelter and ask what services they offer to LGBT clients. If you aren’t satisfied with what they offer, ask for a referral to a domestic violence shelter in the largest city near you, which may be more likely to offer relevant services. In addition to the NJ DV Hotline, 1-800-572-7233, further assistance for LGBT individuals can be obtained by contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Getting Help For DV Doesn’t Require Outing Yourself: You don’t have to out yourself in order to get help if you choose not to. It is enough to identify yourself as a victim of domestic violence in order to receive assistance. Bottom line: Do what you need to do to feel safe. Domestic violence advocates and counselors know that you already in crisis, and won’t pressure you to answer questions you don’t want to answer about the name or gender of your abuser.
Are you in an abusive relationship? We can help. Please contact us to schedule your free and completely confidential consultation to discuss your legal rights and the protections you deserve.