In the news, intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence, is usually framed around a story about heterosexual couples. However, in 2010, a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that intimate partner violence was almost equally or more prevalent in some LGBTQ relationships than in heterosexual relationships.
Intimate partner violence in LGBTQ relationships takes many of the same forms as those in heterosexual relationships, including assault, rape, economic abuse, and emotional or verbal abuse. However, in some cases, perpetrators also use bias or internalized homophobia to abuse and isolate a partner. For example, there may be threats related to outing a partner as to their LGBTQ identity or HIV status, telling the partner that nobody will believe him or her, or (in the case of early relationships) telling a partner that abusive conduct is a normal aspect of an LGBTQ relationship.
LGBTQ victims face numerous barriers in connection with receiving services associated with intimate partner violence. Due to the common problem of police harassment and mistreatment within the criminal justice system of LGBTQ individuals, particularly transgender individuals, many LGBTQ victims are reluctant to report intimate partner violence. Like victims in heterosexual relationships, those in same-sex relationships often feel shame about their situation and may initially make up a different narrative about what happened in order to avoid social embarrassment. This can make it harder to prosecute an intimate partner violence case.
On top of these other obstacles, many service providers have historically not taken LGBTQ victims seriously when they seek help or support, or speak in gendered ways that exclude LGBTQ victims. In addition to the problems of implicit bias and lack of training, shelters lack space and funding. 45% of LGBTQ victims have been turned away when they sought help from a domestic violence shelter according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. About 55% were denied protection orders. Not all states ensure that LGBTQ victims are able to access civil orders of protection at all.
Violence Against Women Act
In 2013, the president signed a reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA provides support to organizations that serve victims of intimate partner violence. This reauthorization prohibits any program that is funded by VAWA from discriminating against individuals due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. The law also expressly names the LGBTQ community as an underserved population in the area of intimate partner violence. Some observers believe that the Trump administration may not extend the authorization of VAWA, although the law remains in effect currently.
Civil Protection Order
If your partner abuses you, you have options under both civil and criminal law in most states. Almost all states allow a victim of intimate partner violence to request a civil protection order from a judge in cases of violence, harassment or stalking. A civil protection order is also sometimes called a protective order, a domestic protection order, or a no contact order. This requires your abusive partner or former partner to stay away from you. It can also order an abuser not to come to your house, seek counseling, stop contacting you or stop abusing you. It can also make temporary provisions for your children’s living situation.
Most state laws define intimate partner violence as abuse or violence between people in marriages or romantic relationships or familial relationships. However, some state statutes allow people who are living together to file, rather than requiring that the abuser and victim have an intimate or romantic relationship. You have to check your state’s laws or consult a shelter or an attorney to find out whether you qualify to apply for a civil protection order. If you request a civil protection order, you will likely have to come out about your relationship in court to obtain the order. One way respondents may defend against a claim of domestic violence is to contest the relationship.
An abuser who violates a civil protection order can be subject to civil or criminal contempt charges. You can call the police to report a violation by your partner. A prosecutor may pursue charges against the abuser.
If you are afraid for your physical safety or beaten by your partner, you can call the police. Your partner may be arrested, but it is up to the state prosecutor whether to file criminal charges. Once you involve the police, the decision about whether to file criminal charges is taken out of your hands. You cannot drop the charges, and you may be expected to testify as a witness. Even if you don’t testify, your abuser can be prosecuted based on a police report and other witness testimony.
When an abuser is charged with committing harassment or battery, a criminal court may place a restraining order against the abuser. Most states have criminal orders of protection available that keep the defendant from contacting the victim. When a defendant does contact a victim or attempt to get the victim not to testify, he or she may face additional criminal penalties or charges, such as a charge for intimidating a witness.