Why domestic violence in LGBTQ communities could result in victims becoming revictimized

When police arrive at the scene of a domestic violence incident involving a heterosexual couple, it’s usually not difficult for them to determine the primary aggressor.

Dr. Denise McCain, director of the Prince George’s County, Maryland, Family Justice Center, said it’s because, “Generally speaking, you see that the male in the relationship is larger, stronger. More often than not, the female is the victim.”

McCain said there may be signs of bruising, and the woman may be more emotional. When police arrive at the scene of a domestic violence call involving two gay men, though, in many instances, law enforcement has a hard time identifying the primary aggressor.

Detailing the differences during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, she said oftentimes, both parties are arrested, “which means the victim is being revictimized in that situation.”

Although research indicates people in the LGBTQ community are just as likely as heterosexuals to experience domestic violence, they are less likely to report the experience to police because they fear being discriminated against.

“They’re uncomfortable,” McCain said. “They don’t believe they will be helped.”

Domestic violence is about power and control, no matter the sexual orientation or gender identity of those involved, but Dr. McCain said there is another fear that prevents people in abusive LGBTQ relationships from coming forward: the fear of being outed.

She said oftentimes, people involved in same-sex relationships are “in the closet.” The abuser will use that as a threat, which she said “puts them at jeopardy of losing their friends, family and even their job.”

Dr. McCain advises survivors to know their rights, know what’s legal and what’s illegal and what they are entitled to.

She said the Violence Against Women Act explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Make sure the court system, law enforcement, and anyone in the criminal justice system are adhering to those rights,” McCain said.

She also suggests survivors seek out organizations that are culturally sensitive and that they understand domestic violence is not limited to heterosexual relationships.

As such, the Family Justice Center has rainbow triangles on every staff person’s door, indicating that they are sensitive to the orientation of people in their communities, McCain said.

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