Tracking What You Don't Talk About: Intimate Partner Violence In The LGBT Community

By Crystal A. Proxmire

An 18 year-old high school senior is facing trial in Bloomfield, CT for stabbing his partner to death after what appears to be a history of manipulation and violence against him by the 27 year-old. Local news reports said the older man had been engaged in a sexual relationship with the teen for two years, and that when the teen tried to end it, he harassed him and outed him on Facebook.

On Dec. 6 the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) issued a press release about the intimate partner violence related homicide of Matthew Rairdon, in Westbrook, Maine. According to local media reports, Patrick Milliner shot Matthew Rairdon to death in Rairdon's apartment before turning the gun on himself and commiting suicide on Nov. 30. Media reports stated that Milliner was distraught over the end of their relationship.

In 2012 there were 21 reported homicides committed by LGBT partners - the highest number of intimate partner violence homicides ever reported by NCAVP.

"NCAVP is deeply concerned about the frequency of IPV related homicides and the lack of public attention these homicides receive," said Chai Jindasurat, co-director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy. "NCAVP calls on mainstream anti-violence organizations and LGBTQ communities to prioritize LGBTQ intimate partner violence as a critical issue affecting us all, and to join our efforts to prevent, respond to, and end this violence."

Tracking violence against the LGBT community is a daunting task. Tracking incidents of violence within the community is an even greater challenge. But NCAVP remains committed to understanding and preventing the problem of intimate partner violence (IPV). Their 2012 report, which was recently released, looks at violence in 20 states, including Michigan.

IPV has many names including domestic violence, IPV, dating violence, spousal abuse and/or partner abuse. It also has many victims. In 2012, NCAVP programs received 2,679 reports of intimate partner violence. This number does not reflect the scope of the problem, it simply tells the number of people who came forward and sought help or reported an event to an agency that tracks that data.

In Michigan there is only one organization that reports IPV statistics for the LGBT communty. Equality Michigan heard from 12 victims, four gay, four lesbian, and four heterosexual, with two identifying as transgender.

There are several barriers to reporting. "There is no question in my mind that it is definitely underreported. I would say the single biggest factor in underreporting is lack of knowledge and understanding that IPV actually even exists in our communities. There's the myth of 'mutual combat' i.e. a fair fight; the myth that women can't be batterers; and the myth that IPV doesn't exist in our communities," said Equality Michigan Victim's Services Director Yvonne Siferd. "There is also a certain amount of silencing within our communities because of the way we are often portrayed by mainstream media. We don't want to confirm the mainstream narrative of LGBT people as predatory. Another issue that is distinct from heterosexual domestic violence is that in the LGBT communities, we often share the same support systems as our partners which makes it even more difficult to talk about as the survivor risks losing that support system by talking to mutual friends who may not want to believe that their friend is abusive, thereby alienating the survivor even further."

Police Response Issues

Another problem is one seen in the police responses to reporting of domestic situations. According to the report, "The most alarming findings of 2012 are the reports of police hostility and misconduct toward LGBTQ-identified survivors. Of the six who reported IPV incidents to the police in 2012, two reported excessive force by the police, one experienced physical abuse by the police and three reported unjust arrests. This trend of police hostility toward LGBTA and HIV-affected people underscores an overall trend in increased police misconduct," the NCAVP report said.

In the recent Maine murder/suicide area LGBT agencies stressed the challenges. "Matthew Rairdon's homicide is a tragedy," said Kim Fountain, executive director of Vermont's RU12? LGBTQ Community Center. "All too often, LGBTQ domestic violence cases are not treated as such because officers lack the training necessary to identify the violence correctly. We are encouraged to see that Maine's law enforcement is treating this case as intimate partner violence."

Across the 20 reporting states there has been an increase in reporting of incidents to the police, although the number is still low. "In 2012 only 16.5 percent of all survivors reported information about interacting with the police, an increase from 2011 (10.7 percent). Of those who did interact, 54.3 percent of survivors reported the IPV incidents to the police. However in nearly one-third of the LGBT-specific IPV cases reported to the police (28.4 percent), the survivor was arrested instead of the abusive partner."

Only five percent of survivors sought orders of protection against their abuser, and in 76.7 percent of the cases these were granted.

Sorting out domestic conflicts can be complicated for the police, and even for trained advocates like those at Equality Michigan. "When someone calls about this, we first and foremost do our best to determine their status as victim or abuser, as many abusers identify themselves as victims. When we make the determination that someone is the actual victim, we do our best to provide referrals to LGBT affirming and competent service providers," Siferd said.

"Sadly, there is a severe lack of resources and affirming agencies in Michigan, so referrals can sometimes be quite difficult."

Agencies Need Training

New regulations require that agencies who receive funding from the Office on Violence Against Women provide inclusive services to LGBT people. This means that more agencies will be expected to serve the LGBT community, though it also increases the risk that survivors may reach out to an agency that isn't prepared to handle their specific circumstances.

"Most of these places are going to be accepting LGBT survivors without the appropriate training for their staff because they are now mandated to do so," Siferd said. "Equality Michigan is committed to reaching out to and working with these agencies to ensure that LGBT survivors aren't re-traumatized, but this is going to be a long process. There are a lot of very significant differences in terms of LGBT versus heterosexual Intimate Partner Violence - the way it manifests, tactics, etc.

"For example, in the traditional domestic violence model, there are a lot of assumptions based on gender, i.e. the woman is the survivor and the male is the abuser. This gets complicated when the survivor and abuser are of the same gender. For example, a lesbian abuser can easily take advantage of these gendered assumptions by 'playing the victim' so that she can locate her abused partner.

"Mirroring language rather than assuming sexual orientation or gender identity is one tool that intake staff can use to maintain open communication with all survivors, rather than the assumption that everyone is heterosexual/cisgender. Additionally, many shelters are not set up for male or transgender clients and don't know the first thing about their needs. Little things like language and bathroom accessibility can help make a place more inclusive, and are good starts, but what really needs to happen are in-depth and multiple trainings for all staff."

Equality Michigan provides trainings for nonprofits, IPV service providers and police departments in how to handle cases of IPV in the LGBT community.

HAVEN is an Oakland County based nonprofit that works to end violence in all communities. They provide support for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. In cases of LGBT IPV, Haven will refer victims to Equality Michigan for reporting, and HAVEN also does outreach to the LGBT community to educate them on the signs of abuse and how to get help.

Resources

Learn the signs of abuse at https://www.haven-oakland.org/get-help/step-by-step/is-this-abuse

Learn how to be a supportive friend to a victim of abuse at https://www.haven-oakland.org/get-help/support-victim

Report IPV and other acts of violence, discrimination, abuse etc at http://www.equalitymi.org/report.

To learn more about the NCAVP visit their website at http://www.avp.org/about-avp/coalitions-a-collaborations/82-national-coalition-of-anti-violence-programs


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