The system is failing LGBT+ victims of domestic abuse

11th September 2018

The system is failing LGBT+ victims of domestic abuse, a new report warns. 

Today SafeLives publishes Free to be Safe, a report highlighting the experiences of LGBT+ victims and survivors of domestic abuse, and what needs to change so that every survivor gets the support they need. 

SafeLives’ research shows that victims of domestic abuse who identify as LGBT+ are almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide, highlighting the urgent need for specialist support.  

Suzanne Jacob, Chief Executive of SafeLives, said:  

‘Domestic abuse is about power and control, and can happen to anyone, in any kind of relationship. For too long the narrative around domestic abuse has been about stereotypes, and this has prevented LGBT+ victims from accessing the support they need. We know that this needs to change.  

‘We hope that this report can begin to shine a light on the experiences of LGBT+ survivors, so that we can work together to make sure no one has to face domestic abuse alone. We won’t stop until every victim and survivor gets the right support to stay safe and well – whoever they are.’ 

We are missing opportunities to identify and support LGBT+ victims of domestic abuse  

Victims and survivors who identify as LGBT+ are not accessing support at the same rate as the general population, and are unlikely to report the abuse to the police. There are still too many misconceptions and stereotypes around what a ‘typical victim’ of domestic abuse looks like – meaning that too often LGBT+ victims are ‘hidden’, because no one has asked them the question.  

LGBT+ victims and survivors are experiencing high levels of risk and complex needs before they access support 

Despite the fact that LGBT+ victims and survivors are less visible to services, the evidence suggests that the abuse they are experiencing is often particularly severe. The prevalence rates for all types of abuse were higher for those who identified as LGBT+, particularly sexual abuse – 28% of LGBT+ victims had experienced sexual abuse at the time of accessing support, compared to 21% of those who did not identify as LGBT+. 

Additionally, LGBT+ victims reported much higher rates of complex needs. LGBT+ victims and survivors are: 

  • Almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide (28% vs 15%) 

  • More than twice as likely to have self harmed (32% vs 14%) 

  • More likely to experience mental health problems (51% vs 38%) 


LGBT+ victims and survivors need specialist support 

Discrimination and abuse against LGBT+ people in wider society means that specialist support is crucial. Every victim and survivor deserves support that understands and responds effectively to their individual circumstances. For LGBT+ people, this means an understanding of factors like family rejection, increased risk of homelessness and insecure immigration status. All of these factors can be used by perpetrators of domestic abuse to further isolate the victim and prevent them from accessing support. 

A person’s sexual orientation or gender identity can be targeted as part of the abuse 

Domestic abuse is about power and the abuse of power. For LGBT+ victims, this can mean threats to ‘out’ them to their colleagues or family, controlling how the victim presents and policing their sexuality. For transgender victims, the abuse can also include controlling their ability to transition by withholding hormones, and deliberate misgendering. For some LGBT+ people, an abusive relationship can feel ‘safer’ than an outside world which is hostile to who they are, leaving them with nowhere to turn. It’s vital that specialist support is available, letting every victim and survivor know that they will be believed and understood.  

‘There is a lot of shame and stigma around [being a bisexual woman]. And I think it’s easy to let that make you think, well, I feel bad about this, so it’s okay for other people to make me feel bad about it and use it against me.’ 

– Sophie*, survivor and bisexual woman 



*Name has been changed

Notes to editors  


SafeLives is a UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for good. We combine insight from services, survivors and statistics to support people to become safe, well and rebuild their lives.  

No one should live in fear. It is not acceptable, not inevitable, and together – we can make it stop. 

Domestic Abuse   

Every year in the UK, more than two million adults suffer some form of domestic abuse. Crucially, 85% of victims of domestic abuse seek help five times on average before they get effective support, and four out of five victims of domestic abuse do not call the police.  

About the Spotlights series 

Spotlights shines a light on 'hidden' victims and survivors of domestic abuse, who face additional barriers when accessing support. We bring together our own research alongside the work of other expert organisations, practice expertise and most importantly the voices of survivors. This report brings together the findings of our 6thth Spotlight, focusing on LGBT+ survivors of domestic abuse. Previous Spotlights have looked at older people, disabled survivors, young people, 'honour'-based violence and forced marriage, and homelessness.  

We are grateful to Stonewall and Galop for working in partnership with us on this Spotlight.