Practice blog

Criminal justice responses to LGBT+ domestic abuse

Tiana Kooner is a third year Sociology and Criminology student at Cardiff University, currently writing a dissertation on the perceptions held by policy and practice stakeholders (such as charity workers) towards the services available to LGBT+ victims of domestic abuse. In this blog, Tiana describes some of her findings and recommendations to make services more inclusive. 

With the legalisation of same sex marriage, decriminalisation of gay practices and an ever increasing popularised mass media portrayal, it can be argued that the LGBT+ community are much more active, empowered and protected than they were in the past. But is this representative within the criminal justice system? When did you last see a same sex domestic violence poster put out there by the police? With no official statistics currently being collected on domestic abuse occurring within LGBT+ relationships, as well as the government’s focus on violence amongst women and girls, where does this leave victims who are not female or not heterosexual? This led me to think about the LGBT+ community and how their experiences of utilising domestic abuse services may differ.

From previous research it is already known that only a small minority of LGBT+ people report domestic abuse incidents to the police and with those who tend to report, the majority are unhappy with how their case was dealt with. This has meant that many victims prefer to seek out support from the third sector.  This trend is reflected in my research; 7 out of 8 participants showed a preference for third sector forms of support, due to beliefs that they are more likely to be believed and provided with specialist help than if they sought help from the criminal justice system.

However, it can be seen that there is an anomaly when it comes to incidents reported to Hampshire police, where the LAGLO (lesbian and gay liaison officers) scheme is implemented. As it was found that there was more likely to be a preference to turn to the police than what would normally be the case. The respondents saw this response as a result of the force “…proactively respond[ing] to victims of same sex relationships…”. 

Whilst it is still largely recognised by participants that there are a lot of barriers preventing all victims from turning to the police, it was also found that the age of the victim could play a role in influencing the decision to report. The research highlighted that those who were older and had past negative experiences with officers, were even less likely to confide in the police.

Whilst all respondents noted that efforts are being made to increase awareness and a wealth of services are being provided by the third sector, it can be argued, especially in terms of the criminal justice sector, that more still needs to be done towards equal and inclusive services.

Over half of the respondents still highlighted the large focus on tackling domestic abuse within heterosexual couples.  Whilst this is still extremely important, it shows that not enough light is given to those who do not fit the male perpetrator/female victim dynamic. This ‘cultural blindness’ was highlighted by a participant who worked on a domestic abuse homicide case, which was not actually recognised as domestic abuse due to it involving two gay men. This in turn, may further discourage LGBT+ victims to seek help or to even recognise that they have been subjected to domestic abuse.  We need to encompass all victims in order to make sure that “…no victim is turned away” and whilst it can be seen that progress is being made, there is still a lot more that needs to be done.

Suggested recommendations by participants:

  • Increased awareness in order to encourage more to come forward and report and also know where they can get help
  • More literature and pictures of diverse people
  • The rainbow flag or other signals to show the services are LGBT+ friendly
  • Education of the community and professionals. This can work with awareness raising in order to break down barriers victims may feel
  • Commissioning specialist services. For commissioners to show they are interested in helping and providing all inclusive services
  • Work to address perpetrator behaviours in LGBT+ relationships
  • More multi-agency approaches (for example between the police and charities but also housing associations, immigration workers etc.)
  • More support and services for bisexual and trans victims in particular, who may face more difficulties when it comes to accessing services.
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Suzie*'s story: a trans woman's experience of domestic abuse

Suzie* is a trans woman who, after experiencing domestic abuse, sought support from Independent Choices in Manchester which offers an LGBT+ service in partnership with the LGBT Foundation. Here she recounts her experience of domestic abuse and of meeting with Tiffany, an LGBT+ Idva.

Picture this. You’re in a marriage, one which you feel you were forced into – by family, friends and Society as a whole. You have a respectable job, a nice home and a ‘good wife’ but you are then put under immense pressure to follow suit and have children like all of your other friends. This isn’t want you wanted, but you do it anyway to keep everyone happy. To outsiders, you have the perfect life. But from a young age, you’ve always felt as if you were born into the wrong body… You’ve wanted to tell someone but have been too afraid so you internalise the pain. Life goes by, and whilst everyone around you seems to be happy in their own lives, you feel as though you’re falling deeper and deeper into a state of despair. In secret, you begin wearing your wife’s clothes, and talking to other trans people online and you become immersed in this ‘fantasy’ lifestyle which you so desperately wish was your own. You begin talking about coming out, online friends encourage you to reach out… to tell someone closest to you, to make that first step.

You have spent years imagining living as the person that you really are. You enact a conversation in your mind a million times over, of telling your wife how you feel until one day you feel confident enough to actually say it out aloud.

'I am transgender.'

And it falls on deaf ears. You say it again, and she laughs and walks off. You hear her in the kitchen on the phone talking to your sister and you can feel the fear running through your veins. What will your family say, will they tell anyone else? Will your colleagues find out? How will your children feel? Will you lose them?

Your wife has always been very dominant. She’s in charge of the finances because you can’t be trusted to get it right. She chooses who you spend time with and criticises any friends you had before her so over time they disappear. She chooses what you wear “you’re not allowed to wear pink, because you look like a fucking puff”. And for an easy life you adopt a submissive role.

But things get worse.

Life is spent feeling as if you’re walking on egg shells. She’s moody, and irritable and it’s easier to have sex than to tell her you don’t want it because you’ll be ridiculed and accused of being queer. Your mobile phone is monitored, she checks the itemised billing every month and questions every unknown number. She checks your sat nav history and if you’re a couple of minutes late all hell breaks loose. She constantly tells you to man the fuck up, and stop being such a submissive Sally.

She hits you. Once, then again and almost every day and you feel so weak inside. Your dad takes you to one side and tells you to get a grip, to be a man and act like one. There are no trannys in our family he says. And that he says is never gonna change.  But you’ve said it out loud now.  The fire that burns so brightly inside you is the only thing that is keeping you alive. 

You try to talk to your wife again, and tell her that you can’t carry on like this. She tells you that if you make that choice, you also choose to lose your home, your children and your family and that she would rather kill you than bring shame on the family. You feel suicidal, you want this to end.

Then one night, you stumble upon a website Greater Manchester Domestic Abuse Helpline. Then you find information about their LGBT Service. It tells you that you can get help, that you’re not alone. Does that include ME? You scribble down the number and the next day you buy a pay as you go phone and you call the number and someone answers. You break down as you tell them your story.

This is the first time that someone has actually listened, their voice is soft and accepting and it makes you feel safe. You arrange to meet up, to talk about your options – before this conversation you didn’t even know that you had any. You meet an LGBT Idva, she tells you her name is Tiffany and she asks you yours. You hesitate, but quietly tell her your name is Suzie and she smiles.  You’ve never said it out loud before and it feels so liberating.

Tiffany explains what Idva means and what support she can offer you. You’ve seen advertisements before, about domestic abuse services and refuges but you didn’t realise that the help they offer was open to someone that identified as transgender. You ask if they’ve helped anyone in this capacity before, they explain that its more common than you think and that although 80% of transgender individuals have experienced some form of abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner, only 60% recognised the behaviour as domestic abuse. Wow, you never even realised that you were part of that statistic. Together you and Tiffany look at your civil and criminal options, and she tells you that she will support you in reporting the abuse to the police.

You decide for your own safety that seeking a refuge space is the safest option right now. Do refuges accept individuals from the transgender community? And if they do, how will other people that live in the refuge react? Will you be accepted or will you be discriminated against? Are you strong enough for all of this? There’s so much to think about. Tiffany calms any fears you have and you begin to feel empowered. You complete a DASH together and it just magnifies how much abuse you have tolerated. This can’t carry on.

Tiffany explains the Marac process, and suddenly you feel as though you can finally see the light. Together, you ring a refuge out of the area that is trans inclusive, you explain your situation and they tell you that you have been accepted. Finally, you can live as Suzie – you can feel safe and you can start to envisage a life that you never thought you’d be able to live. Things aren’t always going to be easy, but you know now that you aren’t going to be alone.

*not her real name

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Barriers to accessing services for LGBT+ victims and survivors

Galop are the LGBT+ anti-violence charity, and run the national domestic abuse helpline for LGBT+ people. We are delighted to have Galop as our specialist domestic abuse partner for our Spotlight series. This blog is from Dr Jasna Magić – Galop’s LGBT domestic abuse research and policy officer – and Peter Kelley, manager of their London-wide domestic abuse service.

Presently, there are no official ONS statistics reported about experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people with domestic violence and abuse that would establish a UK-wide picture. Evidence however suggests LGBT+ people experience equal or even higher prevalence of domestic violence and abuse, compared to heterosexual women. Studies found between 25% to 40% of LGB people report at least one incident of domestic abuse from a partner, a family member or someone close to them in their lifetimes[1]–[3]. Trans individuals may be even at a higher risk; research suggests between 28% to 80% of trans people had at least one experience of domestic abuse from a partner or a family member[3]–[5].

There is no doubt that domestic abuse in the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community is a serious issue. However, despite high levels, it remains acutely underreported and LGBT+ survivors are disproportionally underrepresented in specialist domestic abuse services. For instance, less than 2% of all domestic abuse survivors accessing Idva services in England and Wales, identify as LGB[6] and  78% of gay and bisexual men and 80% of gay and bisexual women who have experienced domestic violence have never reported incidents to the police[1], [2].

While there are universal barriers to accessing specialist services, LGBT+ people can face additional challenges which are different to those experienced by heterosexual, cis women and men. Existing evidence[7] as well as our own experience suggests that LGBT+ people face a range of distinct barriers on a personal and systemic level, which often prevent them from getting the support they need. Personal barriers most often relate to LGBT+ people’s perception of self and the abuse and their perception of the support system. In contrast, systemic barriers relate to the way services are designed and delivered that may result in them being less accessible and inclusive for LGBT people.

Galop is an LGBT+ organisation working with victims/survivors of domestic violence and abuse. Our experience suggests that LGBT+ survivors might feel unsure of, or are reluctant to disclose their relationships and identity with non-LGBT+ organisations. LGBT+ survivors also often believe that non-LGBT services are ‘not for them’ and fear and/or anticipate being misunderstood or discriminated against by services. This fear is often rooted in significant experiences of discrimination due to sexuality or gender identity, which may include family rejection, hate crimes and previous experiences of discrimination. These experiences may inform a belief that service provision is a priori prejudiced and may result in concerns around disclosure of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Our experience also tells us LGBT+ people are particularly reluctant to report and engage with the police and are not likely to opt for cooperation or criminal justice outcomes in the context of domestic abuse.

LGBT+ survivors may also fail to recognise and acknowledge their experience as abuse. Domestic abuse is often discussed as problem of ‘weaker heterosexual cis woman abused by a physically stronger man’[8]. This narrative may influence a survivor’s perception of the abuse and result in a belief that domestic abuse doesn’t occur in same-sex or trans relationships. LGBT+ survivors might also be reluctant to talk about the abuse or seek help, to protect their abusive partner or family, avoid rejection and denial from their peers and keep their ties with what is often the only support system they know and feel accepted by. Negative self-image, guilt and other complex intersecting issues such as mental ill-health or uncertain immigration status make it difficult for them to leave the abusive situation.

We are noticing an increased awareness and interest from service providers to enhance their knowledge on unique experiences and tactics of abuse as experienced by LGBT+ people. However some of the systemic barriers, such as lack of knowledge and understanding around the spectrum of gender identities and sexualities and visibility and representation of LGBT+ issues within service delivery and provision, still exist. Both gaps can result in services not appearing competent and/or welcoming to adequately address the needs of LGBT+ survivors and encourage them to come forward.  

Often services lack appropriate interventions and outreach to LGBT+ victims. For example, available information on publicity materials and websites about domestic abuse support will refer exclusively to heterosexual cis women as victims/survivors and men as perpetrators. While we recognise this is often the case, the lack of visibility and representation of LGBT+ victims (and perpetrators) might negatively affect the decision of LGBT+ survivors to access help and support. Services might also lack established partnerships with LGBT+ organisations and specialist services, which may result in lack of appropriate referral pathways and lack of knowledge on the available support and resources. Specifically relating to both trans women’s and trans men’s experiences, services may continue to be offered or declined based on the victim’s sex assigned at birth rather than their gender identity.

What’s clear from the work Galop has developed over the years is that LGBT+ victims of violence and abuse often benefit from access to specialist LGBT+ services. Victims and survivors don’t have to explain who they are and can have trust and confidence in the service. LGBT+ DVA services are more able to provide appropriate help and advice as they have built up a wealth of experience and understanding of LGBT+ victims. The LGBT+ sector faces significant challenges to providing such services. The existence of LGBT+ victims and survivors are rarely acknowledged in DVA/VAWG strategies and there are few specialist LGBT+ DVA services across the UK. Existing services can often lack sustainability due to lack of continuity in funding. In addition, LGBT+ services can lack the resources to develop expertise to fully support the needs of victims and survivors. For example, there are very few LGBT+ Idvas. It’s crucial that commissioners and those delivering services recognise and respond to LGBT+ victims and survivors of domestic abuse and violence, and ensure that the expertise developed by specialist services isn’t lost.

Encouraging domestic violence and abuse services to be more responsive to the needs of LGBT+ people should not be seen as incompatible with initiatives tackling gender based violence and violence against women and girls. Understanding that LGBT+ people’s experiences of domestic violence and abuse can also be rooted in gender inequality and deep-rooted social norms, attitudes and behaviours that discriminate against and limit women and girls across all communities, can invigorate and meaningfully inform the endeavours striving to end all identity-based violence.

 

References:

[1]         J. Fish and R. Hunt, “Prescription for change: Lesbian and bisexual women’s health check.,” 2008.

[2]         A. Guasp, “Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health Survey,” Stonewall UK, London, 2011.

[3]         K. Browne, “Count me in too: LGBT Domestic Violence Summary.” University of Brighton, Spectrum, Brighton, UK, p. 2, 2009.

[4]         C. Bachman and B. Gooch, “LGBT in Britain: Trans Report.” Stonewall UK, London, 2018.

[5]         A. Roch, G. Ritchie, and J. Morton, “Out of sight, out of mind? Transgender People’s Experiences of Domestic Abuse,” LGBT Youth Scotland, Equality Network, Scottish Transgender Alliance, 2010.

[6]         SafeLives, “Insights Idva national dataset 2013–14: Adult independent domestic violence advisor (Idva) services.” SafeLives, 2015.

[7]         S. Harvey, M. Mitchell, J. Keeble, C. McNaughton Nicholls, and N. Rahim, Barriers Faced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in Accessing Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment, and Sexual Violence Services. Cardiff: NatCen Social Research, 2014.

[8]         C. Donovan, R. Barnes, and C. Nixon, “The Coral Project: Exploring Abusive Behaviours in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender Relationships Interim Report,” University of Sunderland and University of Leicester, 2014.

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Managing counter-allegations

Luke Martin is a consultant primarily focusing on working with male and LGBT victims of domestic abuse. Luke worked as an Independent Domestic and Sexual Violence Advisor (Idsva) for eight years. He has also worked extensively for and with Respect, including on the national helpline for male victims of abuse, The Men’s Advice Line. Luke currently trains on SafeLives’ Idva accreditation course, DA Matters (a change programme for police responders) and Respect’s ‘Working with Male Victims’ training programme. Luke has consulted for organisations such as SurvivorsUK, the national male rape and sexual violence service and worked on campaigns such as the Home Office’s ‘This is Abuse’ campaign.

One of the more common challenges for those coming in to contact with domestic abuse is counter-allegations, where both parties allege that the other is abusive. For those less experienced in working with domestic abuse it can be easy to fall in to the trap of believing this is so, and that they are ‘both as bad as each other’.

Johnson (2004) speaks of several different typologies of domestic abuse, including bi-directional abuse. After publishing he was approached by several academics evidencing that if professionals dedicated time and had a good understanding of the dynamics of abuse they would almost always identify a primary victim and primary perpetrator and that in fact bi-directional violence was at the least very rare if it exists at all.

So why do counter-allegations throw us so much? Often because it is purely one person’s word against another. As curious humans we like evidence. We might automatically look to the physical evidence of injury. The difficulty of this arises when our victim might use violent resistance (Johnson). A victim might retaliate with violence because they might feel it is their only option. They might also use violence to instigate a violent attack, understanding their own cycle of abuse and wanting to trigger an incident rather than spending hours or days feeling like they are walking on egg shells waiting for an incident. This may cause difficulty when a perpetrator doesn’t retaliate, but instead reports the use of violence to the Police.  Police would generally stick to a Positive Action Policy enforcing the primary victim to be arrested as the perpetrator in this offence. We are aware that victims frequently don’t report their experiences of abuse to the Police so this may be the first time the Police become aware of this couple. This feeds into a power and control dynamic where the primary perpetrator might use withdrawing their statement to control the victim or continue to abuse.

We commonly see professionals identify bi-directional violence in cases that might be identified as complex needs, where we see substance misuse and/or poor mental health. Again, it is important that we understand that a victim under the influence of substances or struggling with their mental health may have lower inhibitions when using retaliatory violence or abuse. This could then lead to an incident escalating and becoming more violent than it may have been previously, increasing the risk to our primary victim.

Bi-directional violence is also often misidentified in cases of same-sex domestic abuse. Again, this stems from professionals not being able to identify who does what to whom. When we speak of domestic abuse we talk of a power imbalance and the perpetrator taking control from the victim. However, we commonly associate this with male abusers and a female victim, which research tells us is the most common form. This then challenges our perception when we have two men or two women in a relationship and one is using abusive behaviour. Some professionals make the assumption that the more ‘masculine’ or ‘butch’ must be the perpetrator, and the more ‘effeminate’ be the victim as this fits with our societal perception of gender norms and abuse. The challenges we might see here are, again, victims who might use some form of violent resistance and professionals feeling they don’t necessarily have the skill set to identify a primary perpetrator.

In cases of counter-allegations we look for fear, our victim is more likely to express some fear of their partner or fear of consequences and might report feeling like they are walking on eggshells. We might also look at who might take responsibility for incidents; victims might justify their partner’s abuse or take responsibility for antagonising or not having done what is expected of them. Perpetrators might tell a professional that they have used abusive behaviour but might justify their use. We also look for the level of detail someone might give us; perpetrators are more likely to be vague whereas victims might give us a great amount of detail, if they are not in a state of shock. Where physical violence has been used we might look for injuries that are in line with the description of the incident given. When looking at coercive and controlling behaviour we might explore what somebody’s day normally looks like, or what happens when there is an argument? How is it resolved?

Although it can be challenging for us as professionals when presented with counter-allegations, with the appropriate understanding and training we can identify the power dynamic and our primary victim. By doing this we can increase safety and manage risk. Always start from the point that the abuse is never equal and oppositional, even if that is how it is presented to you in the first instance.

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Like a Supernova: Why a volunteer project built a tool for the global LGBTQIA+ community

Michelle, a volunteer with the Supernova Project tells us more about this ambitious and pioneering global initiative. 

“The name Supernova came to me when I was watching a Brian Cox documentary on the cosmos. Something flashed in my head when I learned that Supernovas (i.e. the last stage of the death of a star) are the only place in the entire universe that are hot enough to produce complex molecules such as carbon. And carbon forms the basis of all known life. It was quite beautiful that this seemingly awful thing is happening as a star dies, but it’s only through that can we truly gain life. And as a victim of familial abuse myself, it resonated a lot with me — the idea of life beginning at the end of something.”

– Maryam Amjad, founder of the Supernova Project

 

The standard narrative of domestic abuse in a romantic relationship goes a lot like this: a stronger male physically assaults a weaker female. Fearing for her life and/or paralyzed by love for her partner, the female doesn’t leave; she instead holds fast to the idea that it was a “one time thing” and “it won’t happen again.” Most recently, we’ve seen it with Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård on the mini-series Big Little Lies, but also with Rihanna and Chris Brown; with Liverpool FC’s Jon Flanagan and his girlfriend Rachael Wall. It is a powerful narrative, and an important one to discuss – but it’s hardly the only one. Enter the Supernova Project.

The Supernova Project falls under the wider organisation, Chayn, a “volunteer network tackling gender based violence globally by creating intersectional survivor-led resources on the web.” Although Chayn carries a lot of information resources about domestic abuse, we identified the need to create resources specifically for the LGBTQIA+ communities so that their experiences were also reflected, therefore empowering LGBTQIA+ individuals to recognise any patterns of abuse in their own relationships.

The Supernova Project is a volunteer-led initiative that aims to sharpen the idea of what domestic abuse looks like in LGBTQIA+ relationships. To be sure, it does, at times, resemble that which is described above. A 2010 American study, The National Intimate Partner Violence Survey, found that 26% of gay men and 38% of bisexual men experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, relative to 29% of heterosexual men. They also found that a staggering 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women had experienced the same thing, compared to 35% of heterosexual women.

So what is it about queer relationships? Quite telling is the share of LGBTQIA+ respondents who experienced psychological aggression within an intimate relationship: 63% of lesbians and 76% of bisexual women, along with 60% of gay men and 54% of bisexual men, compared  with 48% of heterosexual women and men, reported experiencing this kind of violence in their lifetimes. One reason for this is the constant threat of outing, which is less common in heterosexual relationships due to the relatively small taboo of being part of a straight couple worldwide. Particularly in non-Western nations, the consequence of sharing the existence of a relationship with one’s loved ones can be life-threatening - for example, the primary punishment for homosexual behaviour in Pakistan is death. The hiding or withholding of hormones which a transgender person may take as part of their transition or gender expression is also a form of abuse which cis-gendered individuals are unlikely to be subject to.

The secrecy with which LGBTQIA+ relationships must be carried out can lead to enhanced feelings of isolation amongst abuse victims, even more so than already exists in heterosexual couples. Though we are not currently in a position to offer any location specific services, the Supernova Project understands the importance of accessing local services, and endeavours to signpost to different organisations across the world who may be able to offer more personalised support to individuals who need it. Further, we have included a “Leave this site” button, which immediately redirects users to a different webpage. This feature may be critical to the safety of users who are looking at the website in secret and may need to leave the site quickly if someone, such as their abusive partner, suddenly looks at their screen.

The Supernova Project launched in July 2017, and received wide press coverage upon its launch. There is, as ever, always more to do. The Supernova Project is an entirely volunteer run initiative and we are always looking for volunteers to help with tasks such as building relationships and partnerships with relevant service providers; gaining coverage in the media; developing new resources for different groups within the LGBTQIA+ communities and more! Our volunteers come from a multitude of different backgrounds and experiences and we welcome volunteers from any country, (professional) background, of any age, gender and sexuality. We only ask that you fall in line with our values of providing non-discriminative help to the LGBTQIA+ community regarding information and support to survivors, and their friends and family, of domestic abuse.

If you are interested in volunteering for the Supernova Project, please email us at team@chayn.co

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