One of the requirements for graduation at Hamline University School of Law is that students take a Seminar and complete a final paper. My class was on the subject of violence against women. As the majority of the class focused on violence orchestrated in straight couples, I decided to do my paper on violence in gay and lesbian relationships.
Domestic Violence: Not Just a Straight Issue
If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? In addition to being one of the most famous rhetorical questions, this question also illustrates that if something is not being actively studied, then it is very difficult to quantify. For many years, this was the case of domestic violence. Historically, women were regarded as property of their husbands and incidences of domestic violence were not responded to as if they were anything abnormal. As time wore on, the paradigm shifted; and many social scientists and law enforcement professionals began to see domestic violence as just that: violence. The social science community then began to study it and the criminal justice community then began to categorize it as a crime. The United States’ state legislatures and the United States Congress passed statutes defining domestic violence and categorizing it as a crime.
Although the passage of state statutes dealing with domestic violence was definitely a good start, many of the statutes fell short of protecting all victims of domestic violence. Specifically, many state statutes limit their scope to violence that occurs in marriage or violence between spouses. Although this categorization covers the majority of relationships, it leaves out a significant minority: people for whose relationship the state does not give the recognition of marriage; specifically, people who are involved in gay and lesbian relationships. In addition to the pain and fear that these victims of domestic violence face, they also must contend with additional societal pressures including homophobia, sexism, and the refusal by states to recognize their relationships as ones in which domestic violence can occur.
Domestic Violence Is . . .
Domestic violence is an unhealthy pattern of behavior in a relationship.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as “as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” (1) Intimate partners can be “current or former spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends, including same sex [partners].” (2) Domestic violence can also include violence between family members. (3)
“Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone.” (4) Domestic abuse can include a variety of behaviors insisting insults, refusal to provide spending money, physical abuse or assault, sexual abuse, and threats to the pets and property of the victim. (5)
Although not all relationships are alike, many relationships in which domestic violence exists follow a cycle of behavior called the Cycle of Abuse. The first stage of the cycle is the calm period in which no abuse is taking place and the abuser acts as if abuse never happened. As the cycle continues, it enters the second stage of abuse, the tension building period. During this period, the abuser begins to get angry more often, and the victim feels pressured to keep the abuser from losing his/her temper. Eventually, the tension reaches the third stage of actual domestic violence. This is known as the incident. If the victim is lucky enough to survive the abuse, the relationship enters the fourth state, the make up period. During this period, the abuser apologizes for the abuse and begs the victim not to leave. The abuser may blame the victim for the abuse or promise that it won’t happen again. If the relationship goes on as it had been, the cycle may begin again with the calm period. (6) Figure One details the Cycle of Abuse.
Domestic violence is a fairly common phenomenon.
Although the common stereotype may be that domestic violence is a phenomenon restricted to poor people who reside in a trailer park, domestic violence is actually a fairly common phenomenon. It affects people in all ethnic groups, social classes, geographic areas, age groups, and religious affiliations. (7) Recent surveys have shown that seventy-five percent of Americans know someone who has been a victim of domestic violence. (8) Even more troubling, fifteen percent of adult Americans surveyed stated that they had been a victim of domestic violence in the past. (9) Twenty-one percent of those surveyed said that they had experienced choking, hitting, or slapping in a relationship, and thirty-one percent had experienced name calling or being called bad names. (10) Nine percent reported that their partners forced them to have sexual intercourse and ten percent reported having the abuser threaten their friends or families. (11)
An analysis of the National Crime Victimization Survey prepared by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that intimate partner violence represented twenty-two percent of all non-fatal assaults reported by women and four percent of all non-fatal assaults reported by men. Even more troubling, domestic violence was the cause of thirty percent of all homicides of females and five percent of all homicides of males. Females between the ages of twenty and twenty-four reported the highest incidence of non fatal domestic violence. (12)
During the early 1990s, domestic violence was so prevalent that some commentators described it as being an epidemic. (13) Although this seems troubling on the surface, the late 1980s and the early 1990s were also a time of quite a bit of sociological study on domestic violence and many new federal and state laws dealing with domestic violence. The “epidemic” of domestic violence thus may have been due to doctors and sociologists looking for domestic violence instead of brushing it under the rug. Whether or not there were epidemic levels in the early 1990s, reported instances of domestic violence have steadily declined over the last decade. (14) The rate of domestic violence reporting has increased; although, between thirty and fifty percent (depending on the identity of the victim) of domestic violence incidents remain unreported. The most common reason that victims of domestic violence gave for not reporting i was that it was a personal or private matter. The two next most common reasons for not reporting domestic violence were to protect the abuser and fear of reprisals from the abuser. Worryingly for criminal justice professionals, around ten percent of victims did not report their abuse because they believed that the police would do nothing or that the police were ineffective. (15)
. . . Not Just a Straight Issue
For many years, gay and lesbian domestic violence was a falling tree in the forest that with very few people around to hear. Gays and lesbians victims of domestic violence remained silent and trapped in abusive relationships due to both the internal pressures of their abusive partners and the external pressures of a society that did not understand them, their relationships, and their needs. Today, some of these obstacles still exist but things are gradually getting better. Homosexual domestic violence is similar to heterosexual domestic violence but has a few key differences.
Like heterosexual domestic violence, homosexual domestic violence has an abuser and a victim. The abuser in a homosexual relationship uses the same control tactics that the abusers in heterosexual relationships do including verbal torment, physical abuse, and emotional abuse. Homosexual domestic violence can also result in the death of the offender or the victim. (16) Additionally, homosexual domestic violence exhibits the same cycle of abuse that is present in heterosexual domestic violence.
Unlike parties in heterosexual relationships; however, parties in homosexual relationships have to contend with the added pressures that come from being homosexual in today’s society.
Homophobia. Fear can be a very powerful thing. In abusive relationships, fear of the abusive partner can keep the victim of the abuse in the relationship far longer than outside observers would expect. Once the abuse reaches a level at which the victim begins to seriously fear for his/her life, fear of being killed by the abuser may lead the victim to seek help in leaving the relationship. Homosexual victims of domestic violence experience both of those kinds of fears, but also must face an additional kind of fear that is their own unique demon: homophobia.
Merriam-Webster Online defines “homophobia” as the “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.” (17) Society’s fear of homosexuals permeates every aspect of the social sphere, from family relations, to employment, to criminal law.
In homosexual relationships, the fear of being exposed as homosexual can keep victims in abusive relationships and dissuade them from calling the police. Abusers in homosexual relationships use society’s homophobia as a weapon to keep their victims in the relationship and to keep them from calling the police. This is because the concept of one’s sexual orientation is a very loaded issue, and being “outed” as being gay can be extremely traumatic for a person. In some cases, a person may not be out in all aspects of his/her life and may be fearful that if s/he is exposed as being homosexual that the exposure will lead to negative repercussions in his/her life. Many homosexuals will keep their sexual orientation a secret to avoid the stigma that homophobia can bring in family, work, and social life. (18)
Many gays and lesbians are not out to everyone they know in their lives. They may be out to their partners but not to their families or their coworkers. They may fear family rejection, issues at work, or notoriety in the community. People who are not homosexual often do not appreciate how traumatic being outed as gay can be for a person. Straight people do not have to fear that they will be exiled from their families, be subjected to ridicule, or lose their jobs for being outed as straight, but these are all very real possibilities for homosexuals. People can and have been disowned by their families and fired from their jobs for being exposed as homosexual.
Unfortunately, even if a victim of same-sex battering is able to surmount his/her fears of being outed and calls the police or goes to a shelter to be safe, s/he is not free of homophobia. Victims of abuse may experience discrimination from the police who respond to their cries for help. The police may ignore the abuse because the relationship is “immoral” or both parties may be arrested because the police see the relationship as “mutual combat.” For that reason, if the victim takes the step of seeking out a shelter, s/he may not be able to find one to take him/her in. For many years, battered women’s shelters barred lesbians out of fear that their presence would be divisive or arouse anger in the other residents if they learned that the victim was homosexual. (19)
The cumulative effect of all of this homophobia is to create a prison of sorts that keeps victims of same sex battering silent. They fear the negative effects of being exposed as homosexual in their communities and remain silent to avoid this stigma. If they do find the courage to report their abuse and ask for help, they face law enforcement officers that do not understand or take them seriously and domestic violence shelters that do not cater to their unique needs.
Lack of statutory protection. Homophobia may be a formidable obstacle for gay and lesbians victims of domestic violence to face, but it is primarily an informal type of discrimination between people.. This informal discrimination is not the only kind of discrimination that homosexuals face, however. Homosexuals also face institutionalized discrimination in the form of statutes that either deny them basic rights or refuse to extend to them the protections that assist victims of heterosexual domestic violence in escaping their relationships.
Perhaps the most divisive and dangerous form of institutionalized discrimination that homosexuals face is the failure of many states to recognize homosexual relationships as relationships that can have domestic violence in them. To date, seven states still define domestic violence in such a way that it can occur only in a relationship between a man and a woman. (20)
For example, the state of Indiana defines domestic violence as “ knowingly or intentionally touch[ing] an individual who . . . is or was a spouse of the other person . . in a rude, insolent, or angry manner that results in bodily injury to the person.” (21) Another example is the domestic violence statute of North Carolina, which defines domestic violence as
the commission of one or more of the following acts upon an aggrieved party . . . by a person with whom the aggrieved party has or has had a personal relationship . . . For purposes of this section, the term “personal relationship” means a relationship wherein the parties involved . . . [a]re current or former spouses [or] are persons of opposite sex who live together or have lived together. (22)
As a result of statutory definitions of domestic violence as only being between spouses or a man and a woman, same-sex battering is not recognized for what it is in these states. Police and the court systems then see domestic violence in same-sex relationships as either being assault between strangers or as mutual combat between two willing combatants. Victims of same-sex battering in these states; consequentially, may be unable to get referrals to domestic violence shelters or orders for protection from the police to help them protect themselves from their abusers.23 24 Figure Two provides an overview of the domestic violence statutes and why they may be a problem.
Beyond merely refusing to recognize homosexual relationships, some states go as far as attempting to outlaw homosexual sexual behavior through laws prohibiting sodomy, buggery, or crimes against nature. Laws of this kind serve to criminalize one of the most basic parts of romantic relationships: sexual relations. (25)
The legal situation for homosexual Americans improved somewhat in 2003 with the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas. In that decision, the Supreme Court held that a Texas statute banning homosexual sodomy violated the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. As a result, victims of same-sex battering no longer have to be as fearful of being arrested for sodomy by the same people they are asking for help.26 Lawrence v. Texas nullified most sodomy laws, but several states still have sodomy statutes on the books; however they just are not being actively enforced. The states that still have laws banning sodomy on the books today are Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. Figure Three provides an overview of the sodomy laws still in existence in the United States.
Although Lawrence v. Texas helped to ease some of the stigma that homosexuals face in the legal system of the United States, the fact that sodomy statutes remain on the books in some states is significant because it serves as a reminder that sexual intercourse between individuals of the same-sex is somehow abnormal. Statutes like this define types of sexual intercourse with a person who is not of the opposite sex as being “deviant,” buggery,” or a “crime against nature.” This harsh characterization of same-sex sexual conduct can give the impression that same-sex relationships are less acceptable and less deserving of state recognition.
After many years of refusing to acknowledge that it exists, social scientists and the LGBT community have recently begun to study the phenomenon in earnest.
Although social scientists began to study heterosexual domestic violence in the 1960s, they did not start to seriously study same-sex domestic violence until the early 1990s. Startlingly, members of the LGBT community refused to recognize that same sex domestic violence until the 1990s.
Non recognition by social scientists. To understand why social scientists did not study same-sex domestic violence, one must consider the assumptions and stereotypes about domestic violence that have dominated the field. According to one commentator, “[s]same-sex domestic violence also challenges our highly gendered (and heteronormative) understanding of domestic violence because it cannot be explained by reference to gender difference, the historical subjugation of women, or the private nature of family violence.” (27) Put differently, same-sex domestic violence does not match the historical conceptions of domestic violence.
Because it occurs between people of the same sex, gay and lesbian domestic violence does not match the common stereotype of a strong male beating up a weak female. When the couple in question is composed of two males, the stereotype regards both parties as being equally likely to be the aggressor; in contrast, when the couple in question is composed of two females, the stereotype does not see either of them as a likely aggressor because women can only be victims. A common side effect of this kind of stereotype is that both parties may be arrested for disorderly conduct or assault because the police officers responding do not recognize that one of the parties is the abuser and the other is the abused. (28)
Feminist theories relating to historical male oppression of females and females needing to empower themselves to escape domestic violence also do not do much for understanding same- sex domestic violence. In a relationship that is composed of two females, feminist theories are unable to determine which female is the aggressor and which one needs to be “empowered” to escape the abuse. When the relationship is composed of two males, there is no presumedly oppressed victim that needs to be “empowered” to escape the abuse. (29)
Another possible reason why same-sex domestic violence has not been actively studied is that homosexuals as a whole have not been widely studied. Unlike race, ethnicity, or religion, sexual orientation is not one of the criteria examined on the United States Census. During the 2000 Census, the United States Census Bureau was able to get a very rough estimate of the population of homosexuals by counting the number of people who identified themselves as living with a significant other of the same sex. (30) However, this is a very rough estimate and was believed to have only counted a fraction of the homosexuals in a committed relationship, and to have missed the homosexuals who were single or who were in a relationship but did not claim it on the census.
The fact that social scientists in America do not know how many gays and lesbians there are in the United States makes it very difficult to study them. Before a scientist can conduct a study, s/he must have a target population to observe. The lack of accurate census data makes it very difficult for scientists to find a target population to study.
Non-recognition by the LGBT community. Until the early 1990s, the greater LGBT community also refused to recognize the existence of same-sex domestic violence. To an outside observer, this long-term refusal to recognize same-sex domestic violence may seem shocking; however when one considers the primary message of the gay rights movement during this time, it does not seem as shocking.
Homophobia or the fear of it is at the root of the LGBT community’s refusal to recognize same-sex domestic violence. Fear of a homophobic backlash was one of the main reasons that LGBT activists refused to acknowledge that domestic violence existed in gay and lesbian relationships. During the heyday of the gay rights movement, LGBT activists argued that their relationships were peaceful and egalitarian and were not threats to society. The activists were almost trying to present their relationships as perfect and were concerned that particularly public instances of domestic violence would hurt the image of the LGBT community as a whole. (31)
Additionally, domestic violence in homosexual relationships contradicts what many gays and lesbians think about themselves. One commentator remarked, “Lesbian communities, for instance, may be reluctant for ideological reasons to acknowledge that women can batter other women, because to do so would mean shattering a utopic vision of a peaceful, women-centered world.” (32) Gay men who are victims of abuse face similar difficulties. There is a stereotype in the gay community that gay men are more evolved than their strength counterparts and are thus less prone to violence. Male victim of same-sex battering may also be affected by the paternalistic stereotype that men are strong and cannot be victims. (33)
Victims of same-sex domestic violence experience the same feelings of isolation that victims of heterosexual domestic violence experience; however these feelings are compounded with the stigma that the victims feel because they are homosexual. Victims feel isolated from the greater community they live in because they are gay or lesbian and feel even more isolated because they are in an abusive relationship.
During the early 1990s, social scientists and the gay community began to increase their awareness of same-sex domestic violence. One event that probably helped to participate this expansion of awareness was the 1992 trial of Debra Denise Reid in Massachusetts. Reid was standing trial for the murder of her lesbian partner and argued that battered women’s syndrome led to her actions. This was the first attempted application of battered women’s syndrome by a lesbian in Massachusetts and attracted quite a bit of attention in Massachusetts and in the greater United States. (34) This trial appears to have been a watershed moment in the LGBT community as the years following it were marked by an uptick in the number of scholarly articles written on the topic of homosexual domestic violence, many of them by researchers who were homosexual.
Charting the Way Forward
Expand the definition of domestic violence to include everyone.
Perhaps the most significant thing that should be done to improve the outcomes for the victims of same-sex domestic battering is to redefine domestic violence in state and federal statutes as violence between current or former intimate partners or current or former household members. Rewriting the statutes in this way would eliminate language that mentions current or former spouses, current or former marriage partners, or current or former intimate partners of the opposite sex and expand the class of possible victims of domestic violence to include people who are in same-sex relationships. Removing references to “marriage” or “spouses” would expand protection to all people who are not married, not just same-sex couples, who cannot marry at all in many states.
Redefining domestic violence in this way would benefit social scientists and the criminal justice system as well. Altering these statutes to include same-sex domestic violence would make it much easier for criminal justice professionals to recognize same-sex domestic violence when it occurs and, thus, enable them to respond to it appropriately. Additionally, the expansion of the definition of domestic violence would increase the probability that same-sex domestic violence is documented in crime statistics, making it easier for social scientists to identify and study it.
Victims of same-sex domestic violence would not be the only party involved to benefit from the redefinition of domestic violence: the abusers would benefit as well. Although redefining the crime of domestic violence in this way would expose abusers to criminal liability, it would also mean that these abusers would have increased assess to programs meant to help abusers of domestic violence manage conflict better. Abusers could receive referrals to anger management classes or classes on how to conduct themselves in a healthy way in a relationship.
Reduce the stigma of homosexuality so more victims of same-sex battering feel safer coming forward.
Homophobia or the fear of homophobia prevents many victims from reporting the abuse that they are receiving. Victims fear losing social stature or being exposed to ridicule because they are homosexual.
A good first step in reducing the stigma that homosexuals feel is requiring states to remove all sodomy statutes from the books. Although sodomy is an act that both heterosexual and homosexuals take part in, homosexuals are much more affected by sodomy statutes because homosexual couples do not have the option of taking part in sexual intercourse that is not sodomy. Same-sex couples do not have the option of penal-vaginal intercourse, and outlawing sodomy stigmatizes the types of intercourse that they are capable of (oral or anal sex). Even though the statutes are not technically being enforced due to Lawrence v. Texas, the fact that they are still on the books strengthens the categorization of homosexuality as amoral.
Beyond repealing sodomy statutes, states and federal laws should be passed to protect homosexuals from discrimination. Homosexuals should be included as one of the protected classes in federal court rulings and discrimination against homosexuals in employment and family law should be made illegal. Making these kind of changes would victims of same-sex domestic violence on an equal legal footing with victims of opposite-sex domestic violence and lessen the fear that victims of same-sex battering have of being outed.
Statutes pertaining to orders for protection or restraining orders should also be altered to protect victims of same-sex battering. Although such orders are no guarantee that the abuse will stop, they do show the victim that the criminal justice system understands and wants to protect him/her.
Obviously, changes like this will take time to occur. Homosexuality and government recognition of same-sex relationships are very contentious issues in society today and changing how society views homosexuals will take time. However, as the Civil Rights and Feminist Movements demonstrated, change is possible. All it takes is time.
Improve the response of the law enforcement community and domestic violence victim support organizations so they protect all victims.
To improve the outcomes that homosexuals experience once they take the step of asking for help, the law enforcement community and organizations that serve victims of domestic violence should modify their practices to better serve the needs all victims.
Law enforcement professionals. In the past, when they responded to situations where same-sex domestic violence was taking place, law enforcement officers would often have difficulty recognizing the situation as domestic violence and discerning the identity of the victim and the offender. Some officers would respond to this situation either by shrugging the situation off as mutual combat or arresting both parties for assault.
Instead of simply relying on stereotypes of who can be a victim and who can be an offerer, police officers should adapt a much more situation specific approach. They should be encouraged to ask questions of both parties to identify the relationship between them and get a better idea of what the situation is. Additionally, the officers responding should examine both parties to the dispute for injuries instead of assuming that the larger of the parties is the abuser. Finally, police officers should work to keep any societal stereotypes against homosexuals that they may have in check and allow their observations, not their stereotypes, to guide their actions. Modifications in the training process for officers and in the policy manuals may be necessary to keep police from falling into the traps that homophobia and domestic violence stereotypes can present.
Domestic violence service providers. To ensure that victims of same-sex domestic violence receive the services that they need, domestic violence service providers should examine and modify their policies to remove any policies that are affected by homophobia or domestic violence stereotypes. Programs that focus on female empowerment or on avoiding abusive relationships with men may not be useful to a victim of lesbian domestic violence. The operators of battered women’s shelters should work to make sure that their facilities are welcoming to women of all times, not just ones who are fleeing abusive heterosexual relations.
Perhaps even more urgently, organizations that provide services to victims of domestic violence need to create services that cater to male victims of same-sex domestic violence. There are very few services available to men who are victims of domestic violence, and abused men are often not welcome in battered women’s shelters. This lack of services leaves many victims of gay domestic violence without anywhere to turn for help. Creating services for male victims of same-sex battering will also help male victims of opposite-sex domestic violence because it will create a place for male victims of domestic violence to go.
Services for abusers. Beyond simply focusing on victims, domestic violence workers should also focus on the abusers in same-sex relationships. The criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence is currently focused on male abusers in opposite-sex relationships and this narrowness of focus leaves out the abusers in both gay and lesbian relationships. Programs that are catered to straight male abusers may be inadequate or dangerous to abusers in same-sex relationships. Placing a lesbian abuser in a facility meant for straight men exposes the abuser to danger from sexual or physical assault. In addition, any rehabilitation or counseling programs provided at these facilities may likely be inadequate to address the issues facing lesbian batterers. Likewise, gay male abusers may also be in danger in facilities meant for straight male abusers because of sexual assault or gay bashing.
Conduct detailed demographic studies of the LGBT community.
One of the main obstacles to providing services to the LGBT community is the fact that
the total population, geographic concentration, and demographic composition of the community is unknown. Sexual orientation is not one of the current criteria included on the United States Census, which makes it extremely difficult to discern how many homosexuals there are in the country and where they lives. This lack of information makes it very difficult to study the gay and lesbian populations and provide services to them.
Adding sexual orientation as one of the criteria in the census. The ideal solution to this problem would adding a question about the survey taker’s sexual orientation to the United States Census form that is sent to the American public to fill out. Making this a possibility would make sexual orientation something that can be easily quantified using the census data and would give people who are homosexual a feeling of recognition because they would be able to stand up and be counted. Unfortunately, there are some political obstacles in the way of making sexual orientation one of the criteria on the census. Opponents of adding sexual orientation would likely argue that doing so would legitimize behavior that they see as deviant and give recognition to homosexual relationships that they do not feel merit it. Some opponents may criticize adding sexual orientation as “politicizing” the census. These arguments may be able to be countered by emphasizing that a question that counts homosexuals would also count heterosexuals as well.
Conducting a large scale demographic survey outside of the census. Although the census may be the best option, surveyed conducted separately could be almost as effective in counting homosexuals if they are conducted with a large enough sample size and an even geographic distribution. Previous studies of the LGBT community have surveyed small groups of geographically concentrated people and, consequentially, delivered skewed results.
To conduct a survey that is scientifically valid, a large and geographically distributed sample size should be examined. A possible option would be to survey five hundred to one thousand people in every state. These people should be chosen at random from the population, possibly using the state in question’s driver’s license database. The questions on the survey should be similar to the census and should ask about the taker’s sexual orientation. If a random sample is taken from every state, the researchers conducting the survey should be able to collect a set of data that is representative of the entire United States.
Obviously, conducting a survey of this magnitude would be very expensive and would be very difficult for a researcher to do without outside funding. However, the benefits of the survey would be enormous. Researchers would finally have a valid estimate of the total population of homosexuals in the United States and social workers would be better able to target their services to the LGBT community. If a survey of this kind was conducted and included questions about domestic violence, researchers in this area would finally be able to develop a valid estimate of how common domestic violence is in the American population as a whole.
Educate the gay community and the greater American public about same sex domestic violence.
Although there are resources available that are devoted to educating the public about domestic violence, much of this information is straight focused and has little relevance for people in homosexual relations. Prime time television programs have even devoted story lines to a character coping with domestic violence. However, these materials and programs are primarily straight focused and do not mention same-sex domestic violence.
To educate the public about the characteristics of same-sex domestic violence and how it is similar to opposite-sex domestic violence, domestic violence counselors should create pamphlets and other informative materials describing how to identify when domestic violence is taking place in a relationship and how to properly respond to it. Increasing the understanding that the American public has of same-sex domestic violence will increase the odds that same-sex domestic violence is identified and will likely reduce the isolation that victims feel because the system will have shown them that it knows they exist.
Summary and Conclusions
Domestic violence is an abnormal pattern of behavior in a relationship that can affect both homosexual and heterosexual relationships. Domestic violence may in all relationships despite the parties in the relationship’s creed, ethnicity, race, age, or sexual orientation. Domestic violence in homosexual relationships is a particularly contentious topic because of the varying levels of recognition that states give gay and lesbian couples.
Homophobia or the fear of experiencing it does a lot to keep victims of same-sex domestic violence from reporting the abuse to the police. Victims may be afraid of being “outed” and having to face the negative repercussions that being seen as homosexual can have on their lives.
The definition that state statutes use for domestic violence is extremely important to a victim of same-sex battering. Statutes that define domestic violence as something that can only occur between a spouses or people of the opposite sex may marginalize gay and lesbian victims of domestic violence and fail to acknowledge domestic violence in homosexual relationships as domestic violence. The legal and social situation of victims of same-sex domestic violence is further complicated by the presence of sodomy statutes on the books in a few states despite the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas nullifying statutes of this kind. The continued existence of these statutes may further stigmatize homosexual relationships because the statutes purport to criminalize many homosexual sexual acts. If they do decide to get help, victims of same-sex domestic violence face stigma from the community in which they live and may have difficulty finding facilities that meet their unique needs because the battered women’s shelter system was originally created to handle straight domestic violence.
Although it was once a relatively ignored phenomena, same-sex domestic violence has seen an uptick in the number of studies conducted about it since the early 1990s. The ability of scientists to conduct these studies is hampered by the fact that sexual orientation is not one of the criteria studied on the United States. Consequentially, there is currently no valid estimate of the total population and geographic distribution of homosexuals in the United States.
To remedy some of these problems, researchers in this field need to work on expanding their understanding of the gay and lesbian communities. This can be done by conducting a broad-based survey of the country and asking the respondents to specify their sexual orientation. Ideally, this would be done using the census, but a privately conducted survey would work as well if done correctly.
People who respond to domestic violence, such as police officers and social workers, should be educated about same-sex domestic violence and the proper responses to it. This would increase the probability that the victim will be protected and the abuse will be stopped and decrease the probability that both parties will be arrested for assault. Domestic violence shelters should make an effort to create programs that meet the needs of gay and lesbian victims of domestic violence. Additionally, programs should be created that reflect the unique needs of gay and lesbian abusers.
Decreasing the stigma of homosexuality and increasing the quality of the societal response to same-sex domestic violence will improve the outcomes for both the victims and the abusers. The victims will be freed from the prison that homophobia and a lack of understanding create and the abusers will receive services and counseling that they need to correct the behavior. Altering society’s response to domestic violence to include all victims will emphasize the fact that everyone, whether they be gay or straight, has the right to be free from the threat of domestic violence.
(1) National Domestic Violence Hotline, What is Domestic Violence?, http://www.ndvh.org/get- educated/what-is-domestic-violence/ (last visited Nov 24, 2009); hereafter Hotline.
(2) Bureau of Justice Statistic, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S., http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/ intimate/ipv.htm (last visited Nov 24, 2009).
(4) Hotline, see note 1, id.
(5) Id at “Am I Being Abused?”
(6) Domesticviolence.org, Cycle of Violence, http://www.domesticviolence.org/cycle-of- violence/, (last visited Nov 25, 2009).
(7) National Domestic Violence Hotline, Abuse in America, http://www.ndvh.org/get-educated/ abuse-in-america/ (last visited Nov 25, 2009).
(12) Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S.: Victim Characteristics, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/intimate/victims.htm (last visited Nov 25, 2009).
(13) S.E. Lundy, Abuse that Dare Not Speak its Name: Assisting Victims of Lesbian and Gay Domestic Violence in Massachusetts, 28 New Eng. L. Rev. 273, 276-278 (1993).
(14) Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S.: Overview, http:// www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/intimate/overview.htm (last visited Nov 25, 2009).
(15) Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S.: Report, http:// www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/intimate/report.htm (last visited Nov 25, 2009).
(16) N.J. Knauer, Same-Sex Domestic Violence: Claiming a Domestic Sphere while Risking Negative Stereotypes, 8 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 325, 328-330 (1999).
(17) Merriam-Webster Online, Homophobia, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ (2009).
(18) N.J. Knauer, Same-Sex Domestic Violence: Claiming a Domestic Sphere while Risking Negative Stereotypes, 8 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 325, 337 (1999).
(19) S.E. Lundy, Abuse that Dare not Speak its Name: Assisting Victims of Lesbians and Gay Domestic Violence in Massachusetts, 8 New Eng. L. Rev. 273, 287-289 (1993).
(20) 71 A.L.R.5th 285 (1999). The states with the problem statutes are North Carolina, Arizona, Indiana, Delaware, Michigan, Montana, and South Carolina.
(21) Ind. Code § 35-42-2-1.3 (2008)
(22) N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50B-1 (2008)
(23) C.M. Da Luz, A Legal and Social Comparison of Heterosexual and Same Sex Domestic Violence: Similar Inadequacies in Legal Recognition and Response, 4 S. Cal. Rev. L. & Women’s Stud. 251, 276-278 (1994).
(24) Currently, the states of New York, Delaware, Montana, South Carolina, and Virginia have order for protection statutes that do not allow individuals in same-sex relationships to receive orders for protection. T.R. Pfeifer, Out of the Shadows: The Positive Impact of Lawrence v. Texas on Victims of Same Sex Violence, 109 Penn St. L. Rev. 1251, 1257-1259 (2005).
(25) T.R. Pfeifer, Out of the Shadows: The Positive Impact of Lawrence v. Texas on Victims of Same-Sex Domestic Violence, 109 Penn St. L. Rev. 1251, 1271-1273 (2005).
(26) T.R. Pfeifer, Out of the Shadows: The Positive Impact of Lawrence v. Texas on Victims of Same-Sex Domestic Violence, 109 Penn St. L. Rev. 1251, 1270 (2005).
(27) N.J. Knauer, Same-Sex Domestic Violence: Claiming a Domestic Sphere while Risking Negative Stereotypes, 8 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 325, 327 (1999).
(28) N.J. Knauer, Same-Sex Domestic Violence: Claiming a Domestic Sphere while Risking Negative Stereotypes, 8 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 325, 333-336 (1999).
(30) U.S. Census Bureau, Married-Couple and Unmarried-Partner Households: 2000, http:// www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/censr-5.pdf (2003).
(31) C.M. Da Luz, A Legal and Social Comparison of Heterosexual and Same Sex Domestic Violence: Similar Inadequacies in Legal Recognition and Response, 4 S. Cal. Rev. L. & Women’s Stud. 251, 268-269 (1994).
(32) S.E. Lundy, Abuse that Dare Not Speak its Name: Assisting Victims of Lesbian and Gay Domestic Violence in Massachusetts, 28 New Eng. L. Rev. 273, 286 (1993).
(33) Id at 287.
(34) S.E. Lundy, Abuse that Dare Not Speak its Name: Assisting Victims of Lesbian and Gay Domestic Violence in Massachusetts, 28 New Eng. L. Rev. 273, 273-274 (1993).