Every October, we recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This year, it comes at a time when domestic violence has been in the news. As we take in the media coverage of athletes and others involved in domestic violence, we need to reflect upon this epidemic that is plaguing our communities.
Despite pervasive and problematic stereotypes that are often perpetuated by the media, we know that domestic violence is not just an issue that affects heterosexual, cisgender women. According to a recent publication from Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, researchers found that LGBTQ individuals are at similar, if not higher risk of experiencing domestic violence than their heterosexual counterparts (LGBT Domestic Violence Report).
That information came as a shock to many members of our community, probably because we rarely see or hear about domestic violence within queer relationships. It’s not depicted on the news or Law and Order. No one is talking about domestic violence on Modern Family.
So it comes as no surprise that when LGBTQ people are in an abusive relationship, many of them feel that they have nowhere to turn. Isolation is one of the most common tactics used by a perpetrator to exert power and control over a victim, so many people who are experiencing domestic violence don’t have a strong support system. That can make it that much more difficult for them to leave their abuser.
In addition, just as it can be incredibly stressful to come out as LGBTQ, coming out as a survivor of violence can be extremely scary. LGBTQ survivors may face additional barriers and challenges when seeking medical care, reporting to law enforcement or trying to find a safe place to sleep if they choose to leave an abusive relationship.
This is why it is so important for all of us to have a basic understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence. At KCAVP, we work directly with LGBTQ survivors of violence every day, but one of the most common phone calls we receive is actually from a friend or loved one of someone who is in an abusive relationship.
If someone we care about reveals to us that they are experiencing abuse, it’s possible that we are the only person in whom they have confided, and that can feel like a pretty big burden if we don’t know what to do next. Domestic violence can be a very difficult topic to discuss in queer communities, but we need to move beyond our comfort zone in order to be supportive of the survivors we know.
The first thing that you should keep in mind when supporting a survivor of domestic violence is that leaving an abusive relationship is not easy. Asking someone why they don’t “just leave” may feel like a valid question in the moment, but in fact, it may come across as though you are blaming a victim for the abuse they are experiencing.
Leaving at the drop of a hat may not be safe for a survivor. They may have concerns about retaliation, stalking, financial security or any number of other things. If we send the message that leaving is the only solution that we will support, we increase the likelihood that our loved one may simply stop talking to us about the abuse, which furthers the power and control that their abuser has over them. You may not like every choice a survivor makes, but it’s critical that you remember that every decision needs to be their own.
Being a supportive friend can sometimes feel overwhelming, but here are some important and simple phrases I want you to remember that can really help.
“I’m so sorry.”
“I believe you.”
“It’s not your fault.”
Helping a loved one isn’t about being someone’s savior. It isn’t about stepping in and taking over the situation. It’s about letting a survivor know that they have options. It’s about helping them realize that they are not responsible for the abuse they have been enduring. It’s about listening and safety-planning. It’s about being by their side no matter what.
And always remember, none of us is alone in this. If you or a loved one is experiencing violence and needs help, please call KCAVP.
Victoria Pickering is education and outreach coordinator for the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. KCAVP’s vision is to end all types of violence in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. If you or someone you know needs support or services, please call KCAVP at 816-561-0550.“