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It’s Not Just The Women: The Hidden Victims of Relationship Violence

May 15, 2017

A few weeks ago, all of the seniors participated in a workshop run by the One Love Foundation called Escalation. We watched a movie about relationship violence, how it develops, and some of the warning signs. It also showed how love and violence can exist in the same space while at the same time being completely unrecognizable to an outsider. It showed the love story of a college student and her boyfriend– a love story that ultimately ended in her death as the relationship moved further and further into violent territory under the guise of loving protectiveness. It was powerful, engaging, and the producers did not shy away from the awful reality that is relationship violence. It was never sugarcoated.

 

After the movie, the seniors gathered in groups of 10-12 with two leaders, and the leaders led the rest of us in discussions about the movie and about what we would do if we were ever put in a situation where one of our friends might be in a bad relationship.

 

The movie and workshop had two major flaws, however: One, that it suggested that men were always the perpetrators of relationship violence, and two, it completely ignored the fact that violence can also exist in LGBT+ relationships. It is understandable that there might not have been enough time to cover these topics in the short time that was available for the workshops, but this makes it even more important that we talk about them here.

 

Over the course of their lifetimes, 1 in 4 men will be the victim of relationship violence. 1 in 7 men will be the the victims of severe physical violence, and 1 in 18 men “have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed” (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). These are not small numbers by any means, but they are overshadowed by the fact that those rates are significantly higher for women.

 

Another statistic from the NCADV says that “48.8% of men have experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior (being kept track of by demanding to know his whereabouts, insulted or humiliated, or felt threatened by partner’s actions) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” and that “4 in 10 men have experienced at least one form of coercive control (isolation from friends and family, manipulation, blackmail, deprivation of liberty, threats, economic control and exploitation) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

 

If all of these statistics are true and the numbers are as big as they are, then why don’t we hear about it more often? The erasure of violence against males has been mainly due to one thing: the social construct that is masculinity. The societal pressures that say that “boys will be boys” and to “man up,” “stop being such a pussy” and to just “suck it up” are some of the biggest reasons that men don’t report violence or leave the relationship. Some men are worried that they would lose custody of their children or their partner would hurt their children if they were to leave the relationship. Many men also lack the resources to confront their abuse and many also feel like they are at fault in the relationship. They are often the victims of more severe physical abuse than women because they have been labeled the “stronger sex” by society for generations.

 

“The idea that a woman can be the one who’s abusive throws a wrench in the traditional view,” said Tre’Andre Valentine, the Community Programs Coordinator at The Network/La Red, a Boston-based domestic violence support group specifically for LGBTQ people in an interview with The Atlantic. “The idea that only men can be batterers makes it a lot harder for men to get access to shelter.”

 

In a story published on the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria’s website, David (who chose to write under a fake name) said that “When in a temper, she often hit me but never on the face. I thought I deserved it because I was withdrawn and a bad husband – that’s what she kept saying. She forced me to have sex to become a good husband for her. I couldn’t leave because that would have meant leaving my children.”

 

If they don’t report the abuse, they go in living in their own personal version of hell. If they report the abuse, it is much more likely that they will be the ones blamed for it, not their partner, as men are most often viewed as the perpetrators of sexual violence. However, it is not just men who are overlooked when the topic of relationship violence.

 

The LGBT+ community is also overlooked. This is for a multitude of reasons– people in LGBT+ relationships make up a relatively small (but growing) percent of the population, LGBT+ issues are comparably new to large-scale discussion, some people still don’t consider LGBT+ relationships to have the validity of traditional heterosexual monogamy, etc…

 

However, many studies have shown that violence in LGBT+ relationships occur at rates that are comparable to heterosexual relationships, and despite this they lack the resources or the visibility that seems to be necessary to be included fully in programs like the One Love Foundation. Although it might be true that LGBT+ relationship violence occurs in a small percentage of the population, the dangers that come with that violence can be much greater.

 

The Center for American Progress cites that “Lesbian and gay victims are more reluctant to report abuse to legal authorities. Survivors may not contact law enforcement agencies because doing so would force them to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity.” This, as well as many other risk factors including the fact that “many gay men and women hide their abuse out of a heightened fear that society will perceive same-sex relationships as inherently dysfunctional,” lead many people in LGBT+ relationships to hide abuse even more than they might otherwise.

 

Harvey Barringer, the CEO of Broken Rainbow, an LGBT+ domestic abuse charity, said in an interview with Buzzfeed News that “About 85% of callers to our helpline have a partner that will use the threat of ‘outing’ them – to colleagues, family or kids – as a form of control.” In the same interview, Sam (her name was changed for privacy purposes) said “How do you say to your friends, ‘My girlfriend rapes me’ when their only mental definition of rape is a man forcing his penis inside a woman’s vagina? How do you say you were assaulted when it comes back to the idea of ‘that doesn’t count’? Well, it does count.” This kind of story is all too common, if you take the time to look for it.

 

Another man, Mark, said that “I didn’t have the balls to ring them up because it was embarrassing to be beaten up by my boyfriend.” Them, being the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard helpline, a hotline available in much of the UK.

 

The CAP also says that “Gay or lesbian batterers will threaten ‘outing’ their victims to work colleagues, family, and friends. This threat is amplified by the sense of extreme isolation among gay and lesbian victims since some are still closeted from friends and family, have fewer civil rights protections, and lack access to the legal system.”

 

The lack of access to legal representation and to resources to help LGBT+ people get out of bad relationships, and many states lack comprehensive laws to deal with relationship violence all together, heterosexual or not. There are no easy solutions to this issues, and many of the barriers to solving it lie within deeply woven webs of homophobia, sexism, lack of funding, lack of knowledge, and a lack of education and awareness that these issues exist. While government officials battle it out at the legal level, on the local and personal level we need to continue putting together workshops like Escalation and make sure those workshops are intersectional and inclusive, and that the people who run them know what they’re talking about and have the tools to be able to help people who are struggling with relationship violence. We need to learn to recognize the warning signs and when and where to get help for ourselves or for someone else should the need arise.

 

“It feels like a conspiracy of silence.” said Sam, at the end of the interview. Mark said that “It’s still there…The memories have never gone…” And they most likely never will.

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