Several years ago, Kelly and I were walking our dog when I mentioned I hadn’t taken the laundry out of the washing machine. He feigned anger, and in response, I said, “Please don’t beat me.” It was all in jest. But the lesbian woman getting out of her car didn’t recognize that, and she came rushing to defend me, fists up and yelling for Kelly to leave me alone.
Her reaction confused us for two reasons: first, we had no idea someone had overheard our exchange; and second, the idea of violence in our relationship was completely and utterly foreign to us. In 29 years together, we’ve never raised a hand to each other. We never would.
Sadly, that isn’t true for all gay or lesbian couples.
A 2014 study conducted by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine uncovered some startling evidence about domestic violence within the LGBT community. The researchers examined data compiled from four studies, totaling some 30,000 participants. What they found shocked me: LGBT couples have consistently higher rates of domestic violence. In fact, 25 to 75 percent of LGBT people may be the victim of domestic violence.
The psychologists at Northwestern hypothesized that these higher rates may be the result of the couples having to deal with the additional stresses of being sexual minorities. What’s really disturbing is that same-sex domestic violence is so under-reported that experts fear rates may actually be higher.
Tragically, there are myriad reasons that same-gender domestic violence doesn’t get reported. The research I studied revealed a wide range of excuses to dismiss violence:
Ideas about masculinity: One excuse gay man-on-gay man domestic abuse is ignored is the preconceived notion about masculinity. There remains a belief that guys are prone to be more violent, that “real men” solve their problems with their fists. After all, when was the last time you saw Chuck Norris solve his problem by “using his words?”
Fear of the police: Some victims of violence don’t believe that law enforcement is concerned about them. There is some historical merit to this based on decades of blatant and aggressive homophobia on the part of many police forces. Remember the Stonewall Riots erupted to end police brutality. Even if the obvious homophobia has diminished, there are still very subtle examples. How would that Salt Lake City cop who made news for refusing to ride his motorcycle at Pride treat a gay domestic violence situation?
Life in the closet: Fear can be an effective silencing tool. If you’re not out to your family, your friends or your coworkers, the threat of exposure can be a powerful deterrent to seeking help. It is also an added level of abuse.
For parents, there is an entirely different, more sinister layer to domestic violence: the effects it has on the kids. Experts say that it can take years for a child to recover from witnessing continued domestic violence at home. Moreover, children learn relationship behavior from their parents. Experts note that children raised in a violent home are far more likely to be a perpetrator or victim of domestic violence than those raised in nonviolent homes.
If you or someone you love is experiencing domestic violence, please reach out. The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition is a great resource for finding help. Because not everyone can be saved like me – whether I needed it or not – by such a cool passerby, who misunderstood a couple’s joking around, but clearly understood that domestic violence is no laughing matter.
In my last two columns I incorrectly stated Dr. Jen O’Ryan’s company is called Double Talk Consulting. It’s actually Double Tall Consulting. Sorry about that, Jen!