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  • Writer's pictureMuskaan Kapur

Silence No More: Addressing Intimate Partner Violence in Homosexual Relationships

While intimate partner violence (IPV) is usually considered to be in the context of heterosexual relationships, it is also important to understand the prevalence of IPV in same-sex relationships.

In today's world, where there is growing acceptance (if not complete) of the idea that love is love and should be embraced, it's important to acknowledge that there are still parts of the world that strongly oppose same-sex relationships. There are a variety of sexual orientations among individuals, and it is important to acknowledge that this diversity is an inherent part of human life. It is essential to acknowledge that love and friendship, regardless of sexual preference, can be complicated and sometimes fraught with difficulties. Unfortunately, intimate partner violence (IPV) is a reality that exists within same-sex relationships as well. In the era of the pursuit of equality and acceptance, significant strides have been made in recent years toward recognizing and addressing various forms of violence, including intimate partner violence (IPV).

IPV is commonly associated with heterosexual relationships, however, research has indicated that same-gender couples are as likely to suffer from IPV as heterosexual couples.

However, there has been a lack of studies addressing LGB individuals involved in IPV due to historical silence and stigma surrounding violence in the LGB community. Since 1980, several studies have looked at the incidence of IPV among same-sex partners. About 61.1 percent of bisexual women and 43.8 percent of lesbian women and 37.3 percent of bisexual men and 26.0 percent of gay men have experienced IPV in their lifetime.

One prominent theme is the silence and lack of public discussion around LGB IPV. Fears of stigma, marginalization, and negative reactions have hindered open dialogue and recognition of the issue. This silence has affected the ability to access research leading to misinformation and prejudice. There has been a significant invisibility of female same-sex relationships in society and the marginalization of research on intimate partner violence (IPV) within these relationships. Considering the stereotypical assumption that women can only be victims and never the perpetrators.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) encompasses various forms of abuse, including physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse. Physical abuse doesn’t just affect one gender or one gender’s role in a relationship. Both partners can be perpetrators or victims, and the dynamics of power and control can vary. Myths surrounding same-sex relationships, including the notion that consent is always present, can further complicate the recognition and reporting of sexual abuse. Emotional abuse is made worse by the unique issues that same-sex relationships face, like internalized homophobia or social stigma. Financial abuse is when one partner restricts the other’s money or assets. This can include withholding financial support, controlling bank accounts, or preventing employment opportunities. The violence can flow in both directions, it’s not necessary to have one perpetrator and another, the victim. But at the same time, the issue of mutual violence in same-sex relationships cautions against labeling the violence as mutual battering without considering the power dynamics and context in which the violence occurs.

There are factors that can impact IPV in same-sex relationships, for example- societal attitudes, minority stress, discrimination, internalized homophobia, gender roles, relationship dynamics, and intersectionality.

  • Homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia create an environment in which same-sex relationships are stigmatized, marginalized, and invalidated. These societal attitudes can undermine relationship dynamics, isolate individuals, and increase vulnerability to abuse.

  • Same-sex couples often face stressors, including hiding their relationships, facing rejection or discrimination, and struggling with acceptance from family, friends, or society. These stressors can increase tension within relationships and contribute to the occurrence of IPV. Sexual Minority Stressors (SMS) is a model developed by Meyer (2003) to explain the additional stressors faced by stigmatized groups that are not experienced by individuals outside the group. These stressors can be categorized as internalized (e.g., internalized homophobia, disclosure, stigma consciousness) or externalized (e.g., experiences of violence, discrimination, harassment).

  • Discrimination can lead to internalized shame, low self-esteem, and a sense of powerlessness, which can influence relationship dynamics and make individuals more susceptible to abuse. For both perpetrators and victims, there was a high level of stigma awareness associated with IPV, which may result in victims choosing to ignore abuse to protect themselves from the homophobic justice system.

  • Disclosure of one's sexual orientation was found to be positively related to the risk of physical and psychological IPV. Being openly out increased the duration of victimization by the partner, but it also reduced the time in LGB relationships, potentially lowering the chances of being involved in an abusive relationship. Perpetrators of IPV may use threats of outing their partners to exert control and intimidation. Individuals in same-sex relationships may internalize societal prejudices, leading to feelings of self-hatred, shame, and low self-worth.

  • Intersectionality within same-sex relationships can compound the effects of discrimination and marginalization, impacting the experiences of IPV. Factors such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, or immigration status intersect with sexual orientation and gender identity, shaping unique challenges and vulnerabilities within same-sex relationships.

  • Transgender individuals may face an even greater burden of IPV.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) in same-sex relationships can have profound physical, psychological, and emotional impacts on individuals. The impact of physical abuse extends beyond the immediate injuries, potentially leading to a diminished sense of safety and heightened fear for one's well-being. The trauma inflicted by IPV can erode one's emotional well-being and hinder the ability to trust and form healthy relationships in the future. The presence of abuse can create a cycle of violence, perpetuating negative patterns and eroding relationship satisfaction. Survivors may also feel trapped or unable to leave the relationship due to fear, financial dependency, or lack of support systems and it can all lead to social isolation, withdrawal from support networks, and a compromised sense of safety and security.

Fear of discrimination or non-understanding from service providers, the criminal justice system, or even friends and family can act as significant barriers to seeking help.

Concerns about "outing" oneself or one's partner may further complicate the decision to disclose the abuse and seek assistance. Fear of judgment, discrimination, or negative reactions from service providers, friends, family, or community members can discourage victims from reaching out for assistance. Victims may encounter misconceptions, biases, or inadequate responses, which can deter them from disclosing the abuse or seeking appropriate support. Geographic location, socioeconomic factors, or lack of awareness about available resources may further limit access to LGBTQ+-inclusive services.

It is essential to assess the cultural competency of these services to ensure they address the unique dynamics, experiences, and barriers faced by individuals in same-sex relationships. Cultural competency in support services for LGBTQ+ individuals involves understanding and respecting diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, relationship dynamics, and experiences of discrimination. It encompasses creating safe spaces, employing staff who are knowledgeable about LGBTQ+ issues, utilizing inclusive language, and incorporating intersectional perspectives.

  • Tailoring support services specifically for individuals in same-sex relationships is crucial to address the unique experiences and barriers faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. By creating safe and inclusive environments, tailored support services can help survivors feel comfortable and understood. These initiatives foster trust, provide appropriate assistance, and contribute to the overall well-being and safety of LGBTQ+ survivors.

  • The article "When Intimate Partner Violence Meets Same-Sex Couples: A Review of Same-Sex Intimate Partner Violence" emphasizes the need for enhanced training for mental health providers and the development of standardized guidelines for assessing and treating same-sex IPV. It also calls for comprehensive programs and services that cater specifically to the unique challenges faced by victims of same-sex IPV. LGBTQ+-inclusive policies within support services are equally important, ensuring staff members are trained on LGBTQ+ issues, fostering a non-judgmental environment, and addressing confidentiality concerns related to sexual orientation or gender identity. Assessments and treatments should consider LGB-specific factors, such as homophobia and heterosexism, while providing a safe and supportive environment. Treatment options may include individual mental health counseling, person-centered approaches, and group therapy, while interventions for perpetrators should be culturally relevant and specific to address issues of sexism, homophobia, racism, and classism.

India does not have specific laws addressing IPV in same-sex relationships. However, general provisions in the Indian legal framework, such as the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), can provide some protection to victims regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The PWDVA defines a "domestic relationship" broadly and includes people in domestic partnerships and same-sex relationships within its purview. In the event of domestic violence, victims have the right to contact the relevant law enforcement agencies or domestic violence support groups.

While the act is gender-specific in its title, its provisions can be applied to individuals of any gender who are victims of domestic violence. Men who experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in same-sex relationships can seek protection under the PWDVA if they meet the criteria outlined in the act. The act recognizes that victims can be of any gender and aims to provide assistance and legal remedies for individuals who face domestic violence.

In India, there are organizations and helplines that provide support to survivors of sexual abuse, including those who have experienced same-sex sexual abuse. The following are some of the sources that can be contacted:

  1. One Stop Centre (OSC): OSCs are government-funded centers that provide support and assistance to women who have experienced violence, including sexual abuse. They offer services such as medical aid, counseling, legal support, and temporary shelter. OSCs can be found in various cities across India.

  2. National Commission for Women (NCW): The NCW is a statutory body that works towards protecting and promoting the rights of women in India. They have a toll-free helpline (1800-102-2222) that provides assistance to women in distress, including survivors of sexual abuse.

  3. Childline India: Childline is a 24-hour helpline (1098) dedicated to protecting the rights of children. They provide assistance and support to child survivors of sexual abuse, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

  4. Sakshi: Sakshi is an organization based in Delhi that offers counseling, legal aid, and rehabilitation services to survivors of sexual abuse, including male survivors. They have a helpline (0124-2562336) that operates from Monday to Saturday.

Remember, it's crucial to report the abuse to the police as well, as they are responsible for investigating such cases and taking appropriate action.

LGBTQ+-inclusive policies extend beyond support services to include legal and justice systems, healthcare settings, and social services. These policies ensure that individuals in same-sex relationships experiencing IPV are protected, recognized, and provided with appropriate resources. LGBTQ+-inclusive policies promote equal access to justice, address systemic discrimination, and challenge societal stigma.

The impact of IPV on individuals in same-sex relationships is significant, it affects relationship quality, trust, and overall well-being, leading to long-lasting trauma and challenges in seeking help and support. The importance of tailored support services and LGBTQ+-inclusive policies cannot be overstated in creating safe spaces, fostering healing, and empowering survivors.

While progress has been made in understanding and addressing IPV in same-sex relationships, continued research, policy changes, and community support are imperative. Policy changes are needed to create inclusive and equitable systems that protect and support individuals in same-sex relationships experiencing IPV. At the same time we need to acknowledge that research on intimate violence in same-sex relationships is relatively new compared to studies on heterosexual partner abuse. Societal prejudices and limited government funding may have contributed to the under-researched nature of gay and lesbian battering.

Raising awareness, challenging societal stigma, and fostering community support are essential for creating an environment that values the well-being and safety of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Addressing IPV in same-sex relationships is a vital step towards creating a society that embraces diversity, promotes healthy relationships, and provides support for all individuals. By working together, we can strive toward a future free from violence and discrimination, where all relationships are based on respect, love, and equality.


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