Partner violence in LGBTQI relationships

Amanda Lyons

8/03/2018 1:52:30 PM

It is often difficult for those experiencing intimate partner violence to seek help, but it can be especially challenging for people in the LGBTQI community.

Power dynamics within relationships are not necessarily determined by gender.
Power dynamics within relationships are not necessarily determined by gender.

Last year’s amendment to Australia’s Marriage Act, allowing same-sex couples to marry, has seen many within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community excitedly preparing for weddings. But acknowledging equality of all relationships, regardless of sexual orientation, also enables a light be shone on their dark side.
According to Dr Philomena Horsley, a medical anthropologist and lecturer at the Centre for Women’s Health, Gender and Society at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, existing research indicates partner violence is just as prevalent in same-sex relationships as heterosexual, with further investigation needed to better understand the issue.
There is international data suggesting that transgender people and bisexual women might experience an even higher rate of violence [than heterosexual people] in intimate relationships, but both groups are often just lobbed together under the LGBTQI label,’ she told newsGP.
It is now widely known that incidences of family and intimate partner violence are under-reported due to a range of complex factors and barriers to seeking help. It is perhaps lesser known, however, that the same applies to LGBTQI people, with a number of further additional barriers.
Dr Horsley has found that because of strong level of heteronormativity in wider culture, in which intimate partner violence is understood to largely occur between a man and a woman, many LGBTQI people experiencing such violence may not even recognise it.
‘We often get comments, for instance from a woman, saying “But I’m in a relationship with a woman, we’re equal, there aren’t power dynamics so this can’t be a situation of abuse”,’ Dr Horsley said.
According to Dr Vincent Cornelisse, a GP and sexual health physician with a special interest in LGBTQI health, power dynamics within relationships are not always determined by gender.
‘Just because a man looks like he is quite muscly and goes to the gym and could not possibly be beaten up by anyone, doesn’t mean that he cannot be a victim of partner violence,’ he told newsGP.
However, even recognition of what is happening is not always enough for LGBTQI people to overcome barriers to seeking help, due to the historical limited recognition of their relationships.
‘There is a fear they can’t get help anywhere because [their relationship is] not recognised, or because their experiences of homophobia or transphobia have been so lifelong that they have a deep distrust of any services, whether it’s GPs or family violence-specific services,’ Dr Horsley said.
‘There’s a lot of complexities that are different to opposite-sex relationships.’
There have been a number of campaigns and services launched throughout Australia in recent years to combat family and intimate partner violence and promote the message that it can occur across all demographics. Dr Cornelisse believes LGBTQI patients need to be included in these considerations.
‘As with partner violence within heterosexual partnerships, it is important just to keep it on the radar, be aware of what your own assumptions around partner violence might be, and not have any preconceived ideas about what kinds of people are affected by partner violence,’ he said.
Dr Horsley also emphasised the need for GPs to have awareness of and sensitivity to the specific needs of LGBTQI people.
‘This person may be unsure of whether or not they’ve got the GP’s support and understanding,’ she said. ‘It requires an awareness of intimate partner violence and a sensitivity to the fact that the patient may be fearful of accessing services, or believe that services may not be a safe place.
‘So if GPs can be active and affirmative in their support and make it clear that the patient’s sexuality or transgender status is not the issue, the violence is the issue, that’s really important.’
It is also crucial for GPs to be aware that, in the cases of LGBTQI patients, not all available services may be appropriate for referral.
‘For example, there are refuges that are not welcoming of transgender women, and counselling services that don’t see they have a role or the right skills in counselling same-sex relationship violence,’ Dr Horsley said.
‘It’s very useful if GPs have some familiarity with the services in their area or with the national phone call services they might be referring to.’
Resources for GPs

  • QLife – a national counselling and referral service for LGBTQI people, available online and over the phone.
  • Say it out Loud – an online resource that provides information, education and support about relationships for the LGBTQI community.

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Charlene Chideme (nee Kembo)   9/03/2018 12:21:23 PM

Thank you for shedding light on a topic that I must honestly say I had never considered, falling prey as described to the notion that domestic violence and abuse predominantly occurs in heterosexual relationships. What an eye-opener.