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.


[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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