Domestic violence and the LGBTQ community

Ways to get out and get help

This October marks the 30th anniversary of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Although domestic violence is a serious public health problem, there still remain misconceptions about the victims and the perpetrators of domestic violence. Oftentimes, there is a perception that domestic violence occurs among partners of the opposite sex; however, research indicates that domestic violence among same-sex couples occurs at similar rates to domestic violence among opposite-sex couples. It is estimated that one out of four to one out of three same-sex relationships have experienced domestic violence. By comparison, one in every four heterosexual women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime. And those are just the instances that are reported, and do not include experiences of domestic violence where men are the victims.

Despite studies that show domestic violence impacts opposite-sex couples at a similar rate as same-sex couples, LGBTQ victims struggle to seek and obtain the services and protections needed to become a survivor. The patterns of abuse of opposite-sex and same-sex domestic violence are generally similar and often include: psychological and physical abuse; physical and sexual abuses often co-occur; and no race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status is exempt. Unfortunately, although the patterns are similar, LGBTQ victims may lack access to the same legal protections.

For example, in South Carolina, until a recent state Supreme Court decision, people in same-sex relationships were not afforded the same legal protections against domestic violence as opposite-sex couples. The law defined “household members” as a spouse, former spouse, people with a child in common, or men and women who are living or have lived together, but does not include unmarried same-sex couples. In the majority opinion, the Court wrote, “…we cannot find a reasonable basis for providing protection to one set of domestic violence victims — unmarried, cohabiting or formerly cohabiting, opposite-sex couples — while denying it to others,” and the decision deemed a portion of the state’s domestic violence law unconstitutional. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage, other states have also addressed this issue, and the gender-based language of its laws.

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The decisions of courts and the amendments to state laws are an important advancement in protecting  LGBTQ victims of domestic violence, but it is only one step in addressing this serious public health problem. Whether you suspect a friend or family member is suffering from domestic violence, or you live in an unsafe, abusive environment, please know you are not alone. If you feel your life or the life of your child is in danger, it is time to seek help, make a plan, and leave. Here are some steps you, or your friend or family member, should take:

Call 911: If you or your child is in immediate danger, call 911, and do not hesitate to do so. Victims and survivors of domestic violence sometimes hesitate to ask for emergency assistance for a number of reasons. Whatever your reasoning may be, it is imperative that you do not rationalize away your need for help. Remember “better to be safe than sorry.” When you fear for your or your child’s safety, call 911!

Seek Help and Talk to Someone You Trust: Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or income. Both women and men can be victims of domestic violence. Talk about what is happening with family, friends, neighbors or co-workers. If you do not feel comfortable speaking with someone you know, there are organizations that can help. To get help or for more information about domestic violence, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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Make a Safety Plan: A safety plan is meant to keep you and your children safe. It addresses a number of issues that victims of domestic violence face while in a relationship, planning to leave, or after leaving. Since each victim’s situation is unique, your safety plan should address your particular needs. In general, when making a safety plan, ask yourself the following questions: who can I call, where can I go to be safe and what should I include in my emergency bag (i.e., money, clothes, copies of important documents and copies of keys).Be sure to gather any documents or evidence you will need before attempting to get a protective order. Once you have a plan in place, leave.

File Your Complaint for Domestic Violence Protective Order Sooner Rather than Later: The longer you wait, the harder it is to preserve evidence, and it could appear to the court that you are not actually in fear. Judges may question the severity of the situation and whether you are afraid of the abuser if there is a delay between the incident and filing. Be thorough and organized in filling out a Complaint for a Protective Order. Magistrates and judges get hundreds of these requests each month and they have very limited time in which to make decisions on all these cases. Provide as much detail as you can on the complaint, but do so in a manner that is detailed and organized. Include specific dates and summaries of events so the court has a basis for granting the relief requested. Because LGBTQ victims may lack access to the same legal protections, you may need to seek the assistance of an attorney.

Domestic violence among same-sex couples is a serious public health concern and, depending on where the victim resides, LGBTQ victims may encounter additional challenges in seeking and obtaining the services and protections needed to become a survivor. As we enter into the 30th anniversary of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we need to combat the misconceptions about the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and raise awareness to change these perceptions. If you, or your friend or family member, are a victim of domestic violence, take action, and work towards becoming a survivor.

info: Amanda Brisson Cannavo is a family law attorney with Sodoma Law, P.C. She holds bar admissions from North Carolina and South Carolina, and is a member of Charlotte Women Attorneys.


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