When we think about domestic violence, by default most of us picture a man as the perpetrator and a woman as the victim. Indeed, this image has been largely programmed into our minds by cultural stereotypes of women as the “weaker sex.” While the majority of reported instances of DV are committed against women, the actual numbers suggest the imbalance isn’t as broad as we think. (According to the NCADV, 1 in 3 women are victims of some form of physical violence by a partner, compared to 1 in 4 men.)
However, another variable—once virtually ignored—may be playing into these statistics in a greater way than anyone had previously realized. Recent research shows that domestic violence within same-sex relationships may actually be more prevalent than in heterosexual relationships. Perhaps even more surprising: Female same-sex relationships may suffer higher rates of violence than their male counterparts.en, the actual numbers suggest the imbalance isn’t as broad as we think. (According to the NCADV, 1 in 3 women are victims of some form of physical violence by a partner, compared to 1 in 4 men.)
However, another variable—once virtually ignored—may be playing into these statistics in a greater way than anyone had previously realized. Recent research shows that domestic violence within same-sex relationships may actually be more prevalent than in heterosexual relationships. Perhaps even more surprising: Female same-sex relationships may suffer higher rates of violence than their male counterparts.
The Advocate reports on two significant surveys that for the first time pull back the curtain on violence in sam
The Advocate reports on two significant surveys that for the first time pull back the curtain on violence in same-sex relationships. The first, the National Violence Against Women survey, indicates that 35.4 percent of women living with a same-sex partner have experienced some form of physical violence, contrasted with 20.4 percent of men in same-sex relationships. Even so, when we compare these numbers with 20.4 percent of females and 7.1 percent of males encountering violence in heterosexual relationships, we see that the trend is much higher overall within same-sex partnerships.
The CDC’s numbers are even more discouraging. According to their National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey—conducted in 2010 and re-evaluated in 2013—the total percentages of lifetime violent acts (including rape, physical violence and stalking by an intimate partner) break down as follows:
• Lesbians—43.8 percent
• Bi-sexual women—61.1 percent
• Heterosexual women—35 percent
• Gay men—26 percent
• Bi-sexual men—37.3 percent
• Heterosexual men—29 percent
While gay couples represent a fairly small fraction of the population, this data reveals several troubling truths:
• More men are victims of domestic violence than once thought;
• More women are perpetrators of domestic violence than once thought; and
• Same-sex relationships in general appear to be more at risk of domestic violence than opposite-sex relationships.
Why Have We Not Known About this Problem?
Domestic violence has posed an ongoing threat to same-sex relationships for some time, but for many years the data has gone unrecorded, unreported or simply ignored. Why has it taken so long for these numbers to come to light? We can identify at least two possible explanations:
• Cultural bias. Just as cultural norms have typecast females as weaker victims, so researchers have for one reason or another overlooked the demographic of same-sex relationships for many years. It has just been in the past several years that these partnerships have gained mainstream attention and acceptance.
• Underreporting. Gay couples in general—and gay victims in particular—have a tendency to “suffer in silence” rather than report incidents of domestic violence in their households. The Atlantic recounts an NCAVP report that suggests only 16.5 percent of these victims actually report the incident to the police. This trend suggests even our current statistics may not be telling us the whole story.
Why Does Same-Sex Domestic Violence Go Unreported?
Every case is different, but various thought leaders have proposed a number of possible reasons why gay victims of domestic violence might hesitate to report it:
• Shame. Men aren’t “supposed” to be victims of violence, for example, especially at the hands of another man. The stigma of reporting it may deter some victims. This fear can be enhanced with gay couples in particular who do not want to give the community any more reason to shun them.
• Fear of not being taken seriously. Given the underlying prejudices against gay couples, combined with gender biases, victims fear the police won’t take their claims seriously. As Curt Rogers of the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Program tells The Atlantic, men are expected to “work it out” between them, while police simply don’t believe that women are capable of violence against each other.
• Fear of being outed. If a gay couple is not officially “out,” reporting the crime would effectively “out” both partners—something the victim may not wish to do.
• Not realizing it’s a crime. Some victims, especially those in historically unconventional relationships, don’t think to report acts of violence because they are unaware their partner is committing a crime against them, or that they have protections under the law.
Why the Risk May Be Greater within Same-Sex Relationships
Multiple factors may come into play to make same-sex relationships more at risk of turning violent. One possible explanation, according to Northwestern University, may be the simple fact that gay couples tend to live under higher levels of stress. Richard Carroll, a Northwestern associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, says, “Domestic violence is exacerbated because same-sex couples are dealing with the additional stress of being a sexual minority. This leads to reluctance to address domestic violence issues.”
Another possible explanation is that many gay people come into a relationship having experienced some type of violence as a result of their orientation. Multiple studies have shown that victims of violence in general are at greater risk of one day becoming abusers themselves.
If you have been arrested recently on domestic violence charges, whether you are in an opposite-sex or same-sex relationship, change begins with acknowledging the problem and seeking help. The veil of shame helps neither the victim nor the perpetrator. If you need legal representation for a domestic violence charge, we can help. Call our office for more information.