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You Are Not Alone: ABA Releases Toolkit for Gay Victims of Domestic Violence

By L.K. Regan

Many gay men think that domestic violence is only a problem in straight relationships. But in fact, one-third to one-fourth of LGBT people will experience domestic violence—the same rate as women in straight relationships. While the violence may be just as common, its forms and the methods for tackling it can be different for gay victims. That's why last week the American Bar Association, working in collaboration with The National Gay and Lesbian Bar Association, released a toolkit for LGBT victims of domestic violence. Here's some of its special advice.

The toolkit, titled "What Rights Do I Have as an LGBT Victim of Domestic Violence?", lays out some potential differences between abusive gay relationships and their straight counterparts. In particular, the toolkit says, "Perpetrators of domestic violence in LGBT relationships may also use society's bias against their partner's sexual orientation or gender identity to abuse and isolate their partner." So, in addition to acts of physical violence, threats, or sexual assault, the authors warn LGBT people to look out for the following:

  1. Outing: "Threatening to 'out' or outing the partner's sexual orientation and/or gender identity to their family, employer, or community.
  2. AIDS Outing: "Threatening to tell or telling others the partner's HIV/AIDS status."
  3. Isolating: "Reinforcing fears that no one will help because she or he is lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender."
  4. Normalizing: "Telling the partner that abusive behavior is a normal part of [LGBT] relationships."
No matter what the legal status of your relationship—married, domestic partnership, or no legal status—you have legal rights if you are a victim of domestic violence, though these rights will vary by state. In most states, the toolkit points out, an LGBT victim of domestic violence can obtain a Civil Protection Order to keep the abuser at a distance. The specific constraints will vary by state, as will the name this document goes by, but it can provide a first line of defense against an abuser, though many gay people do not know that they can legally obtain one. The toolkit explains the different provisions, offers resources for obtaining a protection order, and gives alternatives for those who have trouble getting one.

The toolkit also addresses the common fear that police, far from intervening in a case of LGBT domestic violence, will actually harass the victim for being gay. The ABA acknowledges that, though progress has been made, "LGBT survivors still reasonably fear mistreatment by police and court systems." They suggest starting by contacting your local anti-violence program. "These are groups that work specifically with LGBT survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence and hate violence, and who can help you navigate the legal system," the authors write.

Finally, the toolkit addresses popular misconceptions about the results of police intervention in any domestic abuse case, including an LGBT one. In short, if you call the police, they will decide whether to press charges. There is no such thing as the "I'd like to drop the charges against my husband" scene from made-for-TV movies. Rather, the toolkit says, "A victim is a witness in the case, and not a party to it." It is not up to the victim to "prosecute" the abuser, and, the toolkit says, "Even if the victim does not testify, an abuser can be prosecuted based on other evidence, such as the police report." This should take some pressure off of victims who are inclined to feel responsible if charges are brought against their partners.

Given the prevalence of domestic abuse in the gay community, and the rarity with which it is addressed, this toolkit is a welcome document that every gay man in a violent or even turbulent relationship should read. The full downloadable pdf can be found here. If you are in need of immediate help, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7223), or the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (212-714-1141, or, at any time of the day or night.