LGBTQ intimate partner violence: Institute boosts visibility of survivors

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Having LGBTQ-centered, culturally relevant services can mean the difference between life and death for queer survivors of intimate partner violence, says LA LGBT Center Chief Impact Officer Tarra Russell-Slavin. Photo by Shutterstock

Roughly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7  men in the United States report having experienced physical violence from their intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the CDC. However, for some LGBTQ communities, that number can be much higher. 

A new national institute could help address the problem. The Los Angeles LGBT Center has partnered with the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and In Our Own Voices, Inc. to launch the National LGBTQ Institute on Intimate Partner VIolence.  

Funded by a $2.25 million grant from the federal government, the institute will deliver training to help agencies provide LGBTQ-specific intimate partner violence (IPV) intervention and prevention services. 

The LA LGBT Center’s Terra Russell-Slavin discusses how the institute will help LGBTQ survivors of violence. 

What is the difference between the terms “domestic violence” and “intimate partner violence (IPV)?” 

There’s very little difference between the two. [IPV] is really trying to make clear that we're talking about violence happening within a person, whether you're dating or married to a domestic partner that you're basically intimate with. Sometimes domestic violence includes broader categories of family violence.

… We started using intimate partner violence many years ago, often because LGBTQ people were excluded from the category of domestic violence — sometimes even legally

How prevalent is IPV in the LGBTQ community and how does it differ?

Data has consistently shown that LGBTQ people experienced intimate partner violence at rates similar, and in many cases higher, than non-LGBTQ people. 

Transgender folks, bisexual women and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) LGBTQ folks are a particularly high risk.

One national survey says that 61% of bisexual women will experience intimate partner violence over the course of their lifetime. Yet, LGBTQ people aren't accessing supportive services, and they continue to face barriers when accessing services.

What will the institute do?

Our goal is to be able to create state-of-the-art training and technical assistance to enhance LGBTQ programs and mainstream domestic violence programs. [We will work with] all sorts of service providers from health care providers, mental health providers, law enforcement and civil legal services. [We want to] ensure that LGBTQ survivors will have increased access and receive better, more appropriate LGBTQ culturally responsive services.

How do culturally responsive services for the LGBTQ community differ from other services?

One is when people are entering into services, are they being asked [relevant] questions, are they being identified as LGBTQ, are they being misgendered or not being treated with respect, and [is there] an assumption that the abuser in the situation is going to be a cisgender heterosexual man? 

It's also understanding the way that bias and the way in which society has really continues to mistreat LGBTQ people as a result of discrimination. That plays out in intimate partner violence, because that becomes tools that batterers can use to maintain power and control.

Why is it important to have LGBTQ-specific IPV services? 

I don't want to overstate it, but it can mean the difference between life and death.

We know that people in intimate partner violence situations are murdered in these abusive relationships. What we hear is that when someone reaches out for services … if the response at all feels hostile or they [feel] they’re being judged, it makes it just so much more difficult to leave. Sometimes they're not even eligible for the services.

That can mean going back to their abusive partner who has told them that no one's going to provide support, [and] that they're not going to be taken seriously.

Or it's possible that they might reach out for assistance from law enforcement and because of the lack of assessment and the higher rates of dual arrest in LGBTQ relationships, they may also end up being treated as the perpetrator.

I’ve heard stories of people being turned away and told by law enforcement, that because they were women, why would they need protection from a spouse who was also a woman? Or [stories of people] who were in emergency rooms and not separated from their abusive partner because [the situation] wasn't read as IPV. 

Also [stories of people] being turned away from shelter or services that have historically been deemed womens-only spaces. The reality is that over the years about 50% of the survivors I worked with were men. 

What’s the vision for the institute over the next five years? 

We're right now trying to launch training for mainstream domestic violence providers and LGBT organizations to just create additional access points [for survivors].

Another piece about this is just the invisibility of LGBTQ survivors. We want to be able to get information out there to decrease that invisibility, and let LGBTQ people know that they're not alone and that there are services out there. We want to ensure and help provide that linkage to care. 

I would also say research. The reality is that there still remains so little research on LGBTQ communities as a whole, and especially LGBTQ survivors. We've often been excluded from national studies and we're just starting to see some of that data.




Tara Atrian