Practice blog

LGBT Young People’s Experiences of Domestic Abuse

Janice Stevenson is a Development officer for LGBT Youth Scotland. In this blog, she writes about the work done by the project Voices Unheard to better understand LGBT young people’s understanding, knowledge and experience of domestic violence.

The Voices Unheard project was established by a group of young people from LGBT Youth Scotland. Using a peer research approach, the group sought to find out lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people’s understanding, knowledge, and experience of domestic abuse in their families and relationships. The findings of this initial investigation have enabled Voices Unheard to engage with service providers and help them to increase their knowledge and understanding of LGBT young people’s support needs when experiencing or witnessing domestic abuse.

The research highlighted a lack of recognition of abuse amongst LGBT young people. Participants were asked about their experiences of controlling behaviour from partners or ex-partners, and although 52% reported having had experienced some form of abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner, only 37% of the young people recognised this as abuse. The media often depicts negative portrayals and stereotypes of same sex relationships, meaning that LGBT young people are not aware of what a healthy LGBT relationship looks like.

Perpetrators of domestic abuse and people who sexually exploit children and young people can and do use stereotypes and gendered expectations as tools of abuse and control; telling LGBT young people that they are ‘not a real gay man, lesbian woman, bisexual person etc if they fail to live up to the stereotype. Young people can feel pressured to engage in certain types of sexual activity or to express their sexual orientation or gender identity in stereotypical ways in order to ‘prove’ their LGBT identity, which contributes to the normalising of abuse within LGBT relationships.

As well as experiencing abuse within their own relationships, young people also described their experience of living with domestic abuse, where 61% of the respondents had witnessed some form of abuse in their families. If a young person is witnessing abuse in their families they are less likely to feel safe and confident within their home, creating additional barriers to ‘coming out’. 79% of the young people who took part in the research believed that someone who had witnessed domestic abuse in their family or home would feel less confident to ‘come out’ as a result. It is therefore vital that services and agencies that work with young people experiencing domestic abuse provide safe and positive places for young people to talk about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBT young people also face additional barriers to seeking support. They may not be ‘out’ as an LGBT person to family or friends, making it difficult to utilise their own support network. 47% of the young people said that fear of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia from service providers would make them less likely to access domestic abuse support services. They also shared concerns about confidentiality; specifically, concerns about being outed by services to family, or through other referrals.

Transgender young people were concerned that services would not be inclusive of them and recommend that clarity about inclusion of transgender and gender variant young people is made clear in literature, websites and promotional materials.

Following their research, and through extensive engagement with the domestic abuse sector in Scotland, Voices Unheard and the LGBT Domestic Abuse Project have developed some key recommendations to help domestic abuse services to be more inclusive. These include;

  • Be clear that your service is inclusive of LGBT people in literature, website and promotional materials
  • Clarity over what support services offer to LGBT people – particularly transgender inclusion
  • Advertise flexible opening hours to accommodate young people who may struggle to access services during office hours
  • Provide remote services, such as telephone, email and online support
  • Provide clear examples of LGBT domestic abuse in case studies/ stories on websites, in literature and promotional materials
  • Access appropriate training; without the correct training, staff may not be able to support LGBT young people in the way that they need
  • Have clear links with other organisations, including LGBT services,  and be able to make referrals
  • Ensure you use gender neutral language at all times, such as using ‘partner’ rather than husband or wife

Further information and resources are available from the LGBT Domestic Abuse Project or from Voices Unheard

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Supporting GBT men: The Dyn Project

Dyn, meaning man in Welsh, is a project in Cardiff offering support across Wales to gay, bisexual, trans and heterosexual men who have experienced domestic abuse. Collette Eaton-Harris met with Simon Borja and Carol Stringer of the Dyn Project to find out more about the services they offer.

Collette: Can you tell us how the Dyn Project started?

Simon: The Dyn Project was launched over 10 years ago in 2006. The project started up on the back of the Women Safety Unit.  We were approached by James Rowlands (currently domestic abuse, sexual violence and VAWG coordinator, Brighton, Hove and East Sussex) who was studying at Cardiff University at that time, with a proposal of setting up a service for male victims.

At that stage we didn’t know what Dyn should look like, what the barriers for men accessing support were, what the data would indicate or where the need was, so it was kind of starting from square one.  There were so few male services, it was difficult to have a clear idea of the model.

We managed to get some funding from Welsh government and we started a pilot project.  Very much of the focus in the early days was whether we should have a service which was for all men, or whether we should only be for gay, bi and trans men.  I think one of the assumptions people still make with the Dyn Project is either that we only work with gay, bi or trans men, or that we only work with heterosexual men. Actually we work with all men regardless of sexuality or whether they are cis or trans men.

Collette:  And do you have an idea of how many men are accessing your services annually?

Simon:  Yes, I’d say we get about, between 200 and 250 come to us through the advocacy service in Cardiff, that’s men who can access one-to-one support.  We get about between 700-800 calls to our helpline for Wales, so through that we’re offering support for men who are calling us from across Wales. 

We do get some calls from England which are then referred to the Men’s Advice Line.

But we’re actively working with easily, I’d say, between 600-700 men per year.  So, we don’t just constantly signpost men, so we do direct work with men, we do safety planning, risk assessments, we liaise with the police, give them housing advice. So we’re not just saying, “okay David, thanks for calling us, why don’t you contact so and so in your area?”  We’re doing a lot of ground work and the background work as well.

Collette: Can you say a bit more about what that direct work entails?

Carol:   Well I’m an IDVA, an independent domestic violence advisor.  I answer the helpline calls, I support clients face-to-face, I do all the safeguarding, I put all that in place, and I advocate for them. I’ve been here for three years with Safer Wales, and it’s going from strength to strength.

When a client comes in I’ve got no idea of his sexuality so I tailor the support I offer to the needs of the client. It’s about the client and what they want and what they expect from the service, and I’ll tailor it to that.  I’ll say to them I’m not here to judge, I’m not here to make any judgment on them whatsoever, all I ask from them is complete honesty when they’re completing any assessments with me.  A lot of what they tell me they don’t recognise as abuse.  We complete a self-assessment and when they read it back they’ll go, “oh my God, I didn’t realise that was abuse at all, I didn’t realise that was abuse”.  Anything that’s threatening or that makes you feel uncomfortable, or physically hurts you, or makes you feel bad, is deemed to be abusive and in a relationship that shouldn’t happen. 

Another part of the work is thinking about who is at risk and in what way. When the referral comes through to me I read that and look for any safeguarding issues around that client; tendency for depression, self-harm, whatever it might be.  Then I will check with relevant agencies, i.e. probation, or if they’ve come from another area, that police force area, to see if this client and the perpetrator are known to those services, and in what capacity they’re known. 

It’s important to do background checks so that you’re not helping a potential perpetrator to perpetrate.  You don’t want to give the perpetrator tools to equip them to become better perpetrators.  My goal is to safeguard and listen; and find that right support and put everything in place for that person to stay safe, and anybody else around them.  You know, a perpetrator needs to be safe, he may be perpetrating but he still needs to be safe.

Collette: It’s unusual for many domestic abuse services to get large numbers of referrals for male victims, so I was wondering what barriers you find your clients have come across before they’ve found your service?

Carol:   Definitely, homophobia, I can’t believe it still happens in this day and age to be honest.  I recently supported a client, he was out of area, he called me and I completed a risk assessment. It wasn’t domestic abuse that he was going through, it was homophobic abuse.  The neighbours were threatening him, they were really aggressive to him, they were really abusive. He was absolutely petrified to be in his own home.  I advocated for him with housing in another area, making the calls, telling them that this guy is not safe in this house. He had experienced domestic abuse, but at this particularly time it wasn’t domestic abuse that was the pressing issue.  He was in fear for his life because of homophobic abuse.  He’d had somebody actually threaten him with a shot gun and he was frightened to go home. So I had to find somewhere else for him to go to be safe. Even though it wasn’t domestic abuse, I didn’t just say to this guy, “well that’s not domestic abuse, I’m sorry, I can’t support you”, it’s about the safety, it’s about keeping everybody safe, and taking those steps, and helping them to make those changes to keep themselves safe as well.

Simon: I think lots of men, and this is very common, don’t recognise that they’re a victim of domestic abuse. I think as well, if we think of heterosexual men it could be issues around masculinity and pride, but with gay, bi and trans men, I think we see much more fear of being outed, disclosing who they are. And confidence in the police; because that’s another thing for us, most of our referrals do come from the police.  So, if gay men don’t present at the police they might not know about the Dyn Project.

Collette:  And is low confidence in the police something that is changing for GBT men?

Simon:  I think it’s something that’s changing and I think that we’re very careful as a project, even doing a podcast like this, we don’t keep saying the same line as, gay men won’t present to a service, gay men think no one believes them, because that can further this fear of not being believed. 

We want to be a bit more proactive because actually, we do support GBT men. We’ve got 235 referrals, about 20-30% of them would identify as gay or bi men.  We do have some experience of working with transgender men, but the majority of our service users are gay or bisexual. So we do get gay men who access the service, who want the service, who want the support. But even then a lot of men will come here, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, not expecting support, not expecting help, that’s quite consistent.

Collette: So, their experience previously has been that services are not able to work with them directly but just refer them on?

Simon:  Just refer them on. Or they’ll experience something like minority stress, believing that there aren’t people out there that will help you, that people will laugh or ridicule.  With domestic abuse, because the majority of victims are women, it’s what’s seen in the media, what’s known; “this is what heterosexual men do the heterosexual women”.  So, GBT men don’t fit into that narrative, that storyline.

Carol: Yes and it’s also professionals who sometimes don’t recognise abuse in same sex relationships. I worked with a man who went to London to try and source support around housing, he was a very high-risk victim of domestic abuse.  And when he approached this service in London, it was like they didn’t believe he was in a relationship with a man.  They wouldn’t accept that he was in a gay relationship. He felt very outraged.  He was made to feel very small and belittled.  He ended up coming back to Cardiff where he wasn’t safe because they wouldn’t accommodate him there, and I think that’s an issue.  There are people out there still working in public services that are not accepting of GBT individuals or their experience of domestic abuse.  When the person behind the counter spoke to my client, he said, “oh your friend”, it wasn’t his friend, it was his partner, and that’s still happening out there, even in the professional sector, and I think that’s really sad.   Even though the client was saying, “we were partners, we were in a relationship, we’ve been living together for seven years”, this person behind the counter just would not accept that they were in a relationship and just kept referring to his partner as his friend, and it just really upset and hurt this client.

Simon: We did some work at BBC Wales in November last year. We managed to get two case studies of two men who wanted to share their experiences.  And specifically as a project we wanted to target GBT men as kind of reaching out, because we know most of our referrals are heterosexual men.  We know that there are many GBT men out there that are just not aware that they’re in abusive relationships, so we wanted to use that story, those case studies to reach out to men to come forward.

Collette: What advice you would give to projects who are thinking about their provision for GBT men?

Carol: For us, it is a men’s service, regardless of sexuality. If you’re a man and you’re experiencing domestic abuse in any way, shape or form, we’re a service that can offer you support, it’s about keeping them safe, and it’s important that you put that across to men so they feel able to approach you.

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Making domestic abuse services accessible to LGBT+ people

Aaron Slater is a SafeLives accredited Service Manager, based at Sacro, and is responsible for Fearless, a domestic abuse support service for anyone who identifies as a man or as part of the LGBT+ community. Running since 2015, Fearless is a partnership between Sacro, LGBT Youth Scotland, Shakti Women’s Aid and the Men’s Advice Line. A team of nine domestic abuse caseworkers provide one-to-one support across 19 local authority areas in Scotland. It is funded by the Big Lottery Fund until 2019.

Creating domestic abuse services that are truly accessible to the LGBT+ community isn’t as straightforward as a statement of inclusion on a website. In fact, there can be something inherently passive about simply stating that a service is inclusive. Inclusion doesn’t mean that the needs of the LGBT+ community are moulded into the service that already exists. True inclusion and accessibility means that the service is adapted to fit the needs of the community. The process needs to be pro-active, not passive.

Statements are not enough

A good starting point for any service should be a frank discussion about what LGBT+ inclusion means for them, especially single sex services. There is great diversity within the LGBT+ community itself, with intersecting identities and expressions. If you are inclusive of Trans people, what does this mean to your service, and does this inclusion cover all the support interventions that are available to cisgender people? What about gender non-binary people and those not protected under the Equality Act?

Unpicking the rainbow

Once you have a sense of what LGBT+ inclusion means for your service the process of improving accessibility can begin. Set up a project group or identify champions within your service to take a lead role in this piece of work.  Start out by establishing a benchmark. Compare your intake data for the past 12 months to general population datasets, identifying where your gaps are. Create an improvement plan that frames accessibility not as something that gets clients through the door, but as part of their entire journey with your service, and beyond.

Accessibility is a process

LGBT+ people will be more likely to engage with your service if you are explicit in identifying them in your promotional materials. If there’s any ambiguity in your outward messaging, then there is a risk that LGBT+ people will revert to the default that they are not included. Donovan and Hester highlighted the ‘public story’ as an obstacle to LGBT+ people recognising domestic abuse and seeking help. As domestic abuse services, we can challenge these perceptions through clear and inclusive messaging.   Make sure that the language and imagery you use across all your materials is consistent with your position as being LGBT+ inclusive. Be aware of how gendered pronouns are used to describe victims and perpetrators as this may alienate people in same sex relationships, creating an impression that LGBT+ inclusion is an ‘add-on’ rather than the core of what you offer.

Don’t just tell LGBT+ people that they are included in your service, show them

Consider your client’s journey through your service. There are small but effective changes that you can make to improve accessibility and engagement:

  • Empower staff by having a clear policy on LGBT+ inclusion and support this with training and development. First impressions count, so everyone in your service should be confident in providing a consistent response.
  • Create an online survey to engage with the local LGBT+ community and understand their experiences and needs, and use this to inform your practice.
  • If you have the budget, create specific leaflets or posters, and if money is an obstacle create online resources for use on social media and your website.
  • Display promotional material in LGBT+ spaces, but not exclusively. Many LGBT+ people won’t use LGBT+ only spaces.
  • Confidently ask about sexual orientation and gender identity at intake. It takes the burden of having to ‘come out’ away from the client and will help build confidence in your service.
  • Don’t make assumptions. If a male client refers to a female partner don’t assume he is heterosexual, he could be bisexual.
  • Ask people what pronouns they prefer. It isn’t offensive to ask the question, and you could include this as standard in your intake forms for everyone.
  • Work collaboratively with local LGBT+ organisations. Consider doing a training swap, or deliver drop-in clinics together in LGBT+ spaces. Use the expertise available locally.
  • Respect the right to privacy of LGBT+ people who are not out, especially when undertaking multi-agency work.
  • Be aware of specific risks to LGBT+ people without making generalisations or stereotypes that could lead to them disengaging. The SafeLives Dash has guidance notes on each risk indicator that include specific dimensions relevant to LGBT+ people. 
  • Don’t create an expectation that you cannot fulfil. Be mindful of how you use the term ‘LGBT+ inclusive’ and the diversity of identity in this community.
  • Get specific feedback from your LGBT+ clients on how you could have improved accessibility.


*’LGBT+’ in this blog may refer to the wider LGBT+ community or to individual identities within the community, depending on how it is applicable to each service

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Trauma-aware practice and strengths-based working: the benefits of Outreach training

Briony has been working in the Learning and Accreditation team at SafeLives for five years, training on our Idva, young people’s practitioner and outreach courses. Here she talks about the benefits of our upcoming Outreach Expert training course taking place in May for anyone working in the domestic abuse sector.

Last week I was back in the training room delivering the first block of our Foundation training for Outreach Workers. This is the second time we have run this course, following a successful pilot last year. Although we originally developed this training with the needs of those doing outreach work in mind, what has become clear since the pilot is that this course can help to develop practice for any role in the sector. It covers trauma-aware and responsive practice, strengths-based working, resilience building and holistic needs-based support planning, which are all incredibly useful skills for anyone working with those affected by domestic abuse, regardless of their job title.

This year, we are really excited to be working with expert specialist services such as Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA), Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) and the Domestic Abuse Money & Education (DAME) project, to ensure that we are giving the most up-to-date information on supporting clients around complicated issues such as housing and economic abuse.

I spoke recently to a learner who attended last year’s pilot. I asked her how she felt the training had influenced her practice in the year since she began that course and this is what she told me:

"The whole course was fantastic. In particular, I found the trauma work really useful and I have used a lot of the material when working with my clients. It is important that they have an understanding of the impact of trauma on the brain.

"The way the information and materials were presented was extremely easy to understand and it helped me on a personal and professional level. The information provided around legal orders has also helped me offer a more productive service to my clients; within a week I had supported a client to remove her ex-partner off her tenancy.

"I came away from the course feeling much more confident. I had always provided a professional service to my clients but after the course I feel that my support is more comprehensive, allowing me to think outside of the box when presented with complicating factors. I always think back to session discussions and refer to my handbook."

We have the 4-day Expert version of this course running in May, for those who have previously completed one of our 12-day courses, and there are still subsidised spaces available. For any Idvas, Ypvas or other practitioners looking for CPD to enhance their practice, I would really recommend they consider this.

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Sexual violence in GBT relationships

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. 

Figures from the Men’s Advice Line show that men in same sex relationships are more likely to disclose experiences of sexual violence and abuse within intimate relationships. It is unclear as to whether this is because men in same sex relationships are more likely to experience sexual abuse, or because they feel more comfortable talking about it.

To some extent we see men in same sex relationships experiencing sexual abuse in a similar way to that experienced by heterosexual women. Men might experience unwanted touching, sexual assault or rape within their intimate relationships. What we might also see is more experimental or risky behaviour. Whilst working as an Idva and Isva I supported men whose partners encouraged them to access a sex scene that they did not feel comfortable with. This may have been sex at saunas, chemsex parties or encouraging or initiating threesomes or group sex. As with much abusive behaviour, victims often engaged with the request to appease the perpetrator and manage the risk of harm to themselves.  

Gay and bisexual victims might be encouraged to use party drugs, or may have chosen to use substances of their own volition. This may have also formed part of a grooming process that we might see with an older perpetrator and often younger, more vulnerable victim. Drugs such as ketamine, G (GHB), mephedrone and crystal meth are being used, inducing a euphoria and reducing inhibitions to such an extent that the user might have little idea who they are having sex with, let alone if it were safe. Perpetrators might introduce the use of these substances in the intimacy of their own homes, on a one on one basis with their partner then might encourage the victim to access these substances for free through chemsex parties.

Of concern is that when substances are used, a sexual assault or rape may take place and the victim not know. Substance use might also stop victims feeling able to disclose sexual assault or rape; there are many societal myths and victim blaming attitudes associated with victims being under the influence of drink or drugs. This is only compounded when the assailant was an intimate partner as it doesn’t fit the ‘image’ of who perpetrates sexual offences.

Historically HIV status has been used as a form of abuse, including disclosing someone’s HIV status. In 2017 the case of R v Rowe saw a young man purposely infecting other gay men with HIV, some of whom identified as being in a relationship with Rowe. However, with the increase in access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) we are progressing in managing the transmission of HIV – although we might see withholding medication as a form of abuse.

We might see the use of experiential power in same sex relationships. This might be more prevalent in first relationships but could be used at any point. Experiential power is the use of experience to dictate how something should be. Somebody who has been out as a gay or bisexual man has more involvement within the LGBT scene or a wider network of LGBT friends, and might use that experience to set the rules of the relationship. When we explore this in the context of sexual abuse this might include introducing third parties in to the relationship, encouraging unprotected sex  or introducing sexual practices that the victim might not feel comfortable with.

Across the board our education system is failing young people in teaching them what healthy relationships look like. For those areas that are doing this well, it predominantly focuses on heterosexual relationships. Young LGBT people, as with all young people, are increasingly looking to porn to educate themselves on what their relationships should look like, and we know that this is not healthy. Gay porn often shows sex taking place between several people, modelled on a dominant and subservient relationship which impacts on young G, B and T people’s experiences of healthy sexual relationships.

As well as education on healthy and unhealthy relationships, it is vital that we increase routine questioning around domestic and sexual abuse. More and more sexual health clinics are carrying out routine questioning as are many health departments. However, professionals can feel ill-equipped in dealing with these kinds of disclosures. It is at this point that additional training might be required. Local authorities as well as local domestic and sexual abuse services might offer training in upskilling workers to support such disclosures.

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If you're a man experiencing domestic abuse, you can call the Men's Advice Line on 0808 081 0327.

Galop run the national helpline for LGBT+ people experiencing domestic abuse: 0800 999 5428