It has always been true that those not part of the dominant cultural group are alienated from the rest of the social environment, one way or another. Abuse among partners is common in many relationships, either heterosexual or homosexual. However, many times, prejudice and discrimination are directly shown upon gay and lesbian partners, which makes it hard for them to report abuse by their partner, out of fear of failing the social stereotypes. Violence and conscious manipulation are human traits that cannot be classified based on gender. They can occur in any relationship, including among homosexual partners. Intimate partner violence includes humiliation, threats, force, and coercion, which are all particles of what is used to be called “domestic violence” (Island & Letellier, 1991), even though the original conceptualizations of the term “domestic violence” did not have homosexual relationships in mind (Letellier, 1994).
Abuse in Homosexual and Heterosexual Couples
Gay and lesbian partner abuse has both common grounds and differences, compared to violence experienced by heterosexual women. Research has shown that intimate partner abuse is distinguished by psychological, sexual, and physical abuse, and is more frequent among homosexual partners of a younger age, meaning before their 40s (Greenwood et al., 2002). Moreover, violence among homosexual partners can become more severe and frequent, and conclude to broken bones, cuts, and other injuries (McClennen et. al, 2002; Giorgio, 2002).
Interestingly enough, it is evidenced that the percentage of women that experience abuse or violence from their homosexual partner is higher than the equivalent percentage of heterosexual women (Tjaden et.al., 1999). However, this percentage is due to a different reason than originally though. Lesbians are more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence by both their female and male partners throughout their life time, because many homosexual women had prior intimate relationships with the opposite sex, before they became lesbians (Waldner-Haugrud, 1998). According to a study, half the women in the sample studied had previously had intimate relationships with men and women alike (Tjaden et.al., 1999). On the other hand, rates of physical violence among gay men are significantly higher than heterosexual men (Tjaden et.al., 1999).
Contexts that Contribute to Abuse and Domestic Violence in Same-Sex Couples
Abuse taking place in homosexual relationships is different from heterosexual relationships, given that societal homophobia could chain the abused partners and not allow them to reveal, or take a stand. For example, in a heterosexual relationship exposing one’s sexual identity to their family, societal cycle, or close encounters is not an option; hence, not a way to impose power and abuse one another. In heterosexuals this is a tactic to force the other partner to stay in the relationship and consent to the abuser’s requests and needs (Renzetti, 1992). This can become a great burden, especially among homosexual people that do not have their family’s support for their sexual preferences, which leads them to isolation and, of course, much more difficult to decide to walk away from an abusive relationship. A manipulative abusive partner could use that societal homophobia to his/her benefit and force the other partner to stick to the relationship or else face loneliness and isolation.
Other abusive tactics commonly met among homosexuals include behaviors distinguished by threats to reveal the AIDS/HIV status of their partner, or threats that have to do with the custody of their partner’s children, which could be seriously jeopardized if the sexual orientation of the parent becomes known to the public (Cruz, 2003). However, the prevalence of gay and lesbian partner abuse is difficult to determine, mainly due to the overall homophobic context. It is not by chance that large-scale studies researching the topic of domestic violence did not even consider including the gays and the lesbians (Cruz, 2003). People are just not ready or willing to know more about what is going on behind the closed doors of a homosexual couple, when the very same people would advise a heterosexual couple where domestic violence occurred to just break up.
Different contexts reveal the ways violence and abuse are fortified within societal structures that not only generate, but also help sustain inequalities. For example, drugs and alcohol could become the platform on which domestic violence is triggered within relationships (Island & Letellier, 1991). Indicatively, the use of methamphetamine among gay and AIDS groups is believed to be linked to the sudden increase in physical violence among homosexual partners (Gay City News, 2005). In a study conducted to determine violence in lesbian relationships, many women reported drinking alcohol and using drugs, in a variety of ways. In cases when both partners dove into alcohol consumption and drug use, it did not take long before their arguments reached physical violence levels. Other victim reported that they saw alcohol and drug use as the only way to cope with their partner’s abusive behavior while others reported that their partners would drink and become abusive, only to blame substances for their actions (Ristock, 2002).
A major social stigma that could trigger and normalize abusive behaviors within same-sex partners is AIDS/HIV. Research has shown that abusive partners used their partner’s health status to intimidate them (Letellier, 1996). What is more, they may even withhold their partner’s HIV/AIDS medication so the victim is totally dependent on them. That is a technique used to make the victim feel and believe that the only person on the world that cares and supports them is their abusive partner. A study has shown that more than half the HIV positive gay men were completely terrified by the thought of dying or becoming sick and be left all alone, which finally made them stay in abusive relationships (Merrill and Wolfe, 2000). Another factor that keeps homosexual HIV positive couples together, despite violence and abusive occurrences between them is the fact that they may have a joined income making survival a two-people business (Cruz, 2003). Finally, guilt deriving from reporting an HIV positive partner to the police is another reason why homosexual couples stay together and close their eyes to all domestic violence incidences (Cruz, 2003).
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