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Intimate Partner Violence within Same-Sex Relationships

Posted by Sara Cooper | Jun 23, 2023 | 0 Comments

Violence in a relationship will always be a difficulty to navigate. Knowing where to go for help, leaving the relationship safely, and getting back to your own life are all big steps to take from a vulnerable position. Heterosexual relationships are the default example of examining intimate partner violence and its factors compared to same-sex relationships. It contributes to the stigma of the LGTBQ+ community, to not bring focus on community issues that also apply to them, and there are a lack of studies done on IPV within gay and lesbian couples. To clarify, the difference between the terms of domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) is that DV can be applied to anyone residing in the location or residence of the violence (i.e. children, roommates, long-term guests) compared to IPV, with the relation of romantic partners. It's as to why intimate partner violence will be used interchangeably with domestic violence. Both terms of violence also apply to: emotional, financial, mental, physical, and sexual abuse. Data and testimonials regarding IPV typically contains broad results which cannot always identify the exact form of abuse happening within same-sex relationships.

Overlaying the characteristics of intimate partner violence, there are many commonalities that both heterosexual and same-sex relationships face:

  • The pattern of abuse includes a vicious cycle of physical, emotional, and psychological mistreatment, leaving the victim with feelings of isolation, fear, and guilt.
  • Abusers often have severe mental illnesses and were themselves abused as children.
  • Psychological abuse is the most common form of abuse and physical batterers often blackmail their partners into silence.
  • Physical and sexual abuses often co-occur.
  • No race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status is exempt.

(Provided by the Center of American Progress)

As a national crisis, 1 in 4 women in the U.S. will experience intimate partner violence sometime in their life (and this is on the scale towards severe abuse unfortunately). Also, 1 in 4 men nationwide are more likely to be an abuser in someone's life. For the LGBTQ+ community, this is a reality that is way to common in enduring with. Based on research from the Human Rights Campaign known for conducting data on LGBTQ+ communities throughout the country, their studies show that gay men and bisexual women are more likely to experience extreme physical violence than their straight counterparts, including being beaten, burned, or choked.

Reasons of prevention within reporting abuse in gay and lesbian relationships stem much from society and their viewpoint on the LGBTQ+ community. Some examples are that individuals that are a part of the community may not be ready to come out and can be alienated from friends and family. Their workplace has the possibility of being notified of their case with intimate partner violence and are at-risk of being terminated from employment. There is also reluctance to contact authorities as revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity can conflict the biases of police officers involved. Their safety can become even more impaired and can be falsely reported. If seeking shelter outside of the primary residence, many short-term facilities or emergency stay-ins do not allow in men unless there are exceptions such as having children with them. Women's shelters unfortunately do not take in transwomen and transwomen of color, leading to very few resources to reach out to when in danger. The lack of assistance and active support for the LGBTQ+ community maintains this isolated setting when in a position that help is required in order to survive.

Long-term complications that go beyond either partner of the relationship include that abusers can threaten survivors from their children being taken away from them. The Center of American Progress discusses how in some states, adoption laws do not allow same-sex parents to adopt each other’s children, entailing that legal rights for the survivor would not be applied to them if divorce or legal separation were to occur. Outside the home environment, peers and loved ones that are also in the LGBTQ+ community can possibly view survivors as not people in solidarity within their own community, claiming their experiences to the stigma of same-sex relationships that society believes in. Any method of preventing more issues within homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia by keeping silent is a primary issue within the LGBTQ+ community that has been going on for years.

Here is more information obtained by the Center of American Progress regarding the age factor in intimate partner violence within same-sex relationships:

Age related determinants of IPV that impact younger adults, such as power imbalances from older partners, and fewer social and economic resources, may be magnified even further for LGBTQ+ young people, who may lack affirming and accepting parents, teachers, or mentors who can provide access to resources, programs, or support to help avoid or leave an abusive relationship. Higher rates of povertyeconomic insecurity, and homelessness /housing insecurity among LGBTQ+ people, particularly BIPOC LGBTQ+ people, transgender people, and bisexual people, can also contribute to increased risk of IPV, as abusers can capitalize on their partners' inability to afford to leave their home, job, or community.

According to the Center of American Progress, the generally accepted model of a male aggressor and female survivor cannot be easily applied when dealing with victims in same-sex relationships. Same-sex couples there- fore face certain impediments to having their domestic violence issues recognized and addressed that straight couples do not:

  • Authorities often lack the knowledge of how to handle domestic violence cases involving people of the same gender. An officer may mistake two males living together for roommates, for example. And officers may fail to report an incident of domestic violence since the two parties involved may be unwilling to divulge their relationship status. In some cases the victim will be detained instead of the aggressor because the latter was physically smaller.
  • Same-sex partners lack the resources needed to help them get out of abusive relationships. While domestic violence shelters appear to be increasingly responsive to the needs of lesbian victims, gay male victims are rarely admitted. Services for gay men are practically nonexistent.
  • Survivors of same-sex domestic violence lack the same legal recognition and protection as straight survivors. Currently, a patchwork of state laws exist that offer some protections to gay and lesbian victims of domestic violence. Some laws cover gay and lesbian victims explicitly in their anti-domestic violence laws, while others cover gay and lesbian victims though gender-neutral language. A federal law is needed, however, to provide uniform and comprehensive protections for all same-sex couples.

In 2022, the Biden Administration extended the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act to LGBTQ+ survivors. This act continuing its grant programs since 2013 provides non-discrimination protections that include sexual orientation and gender identity but is up for reauthorization in 2027. The continued inclusion of these characteristics provides valuable and life-saving resources to LGBTQ victims, expanding access of safety and preventing further gender-based violence.

We all have a civil responsibility to stop this national issue of IPV against LGBTQ+ individuals. Support from clinics, emergency centers, and legal support in using inclusive language, leading away from the assumption of IPV dilemmas applying only to heterosexual and cisgender identities. This inclusivity should also spread to shelters and programs that help IPV survivors. Issues that apply to the community and creating safe spaces for their processes and recovery need to be highly considered, especially as stigma from heteronormative society prevents reaching out for help.

Here is a physical outlook on the layers of intimate partner violence towards LGBTQ+ people, created by The Hotline. Click on this link to view:  LGBT-Wheel (

Supporting Documents:

Pattavina, A.; Hirschel, D.; Buzawa, E.; Faggiani, D.; Bentley, H. (2007). A Comparison of the Police Response to Heterosexual Versus Same-Sex Intimate Partner Violence. Violence Against Women, 13(4), 374–394. doi:10.1177/1077801207299206 

Rollè, L., Giardina, G., Caldarera, A. M., Gerino, E., & Brustia, P. (2018). When Intimate Partner Violence Meets Same Sex Couples: A Review of Same Sex Intimate Partner Violence. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01506

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