Text Last Updated 25 June 2017
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What this is about
How domestic violence, sometimes called domestic abuse, is a problem in gay relationships, and how to handle it.
Domestic violence happens to too many people in society as a whole today in the UK. One million domestic abuse-related incidents were recorded by police in England and Wales in the year to March 2016. An offence had been committed in around 40 per cent of those reports. Estimates are that 1.8 million adults aged 16 to 59 reported falling victim to domestic violence over the previous 12 months. Domestic violence kills 100 women each year.
More than 160,000 victims of Domestic Violence in England withdrew their support for charges against their abuser in 2016, even after Police had determined that a crime had taken place – an increase of 40% over the previous year, based on data from 34 of England’s 39 Police forces. It is suspected that cuts to policing and services for the victims are pushing people back into dangerous and potentially deadly situations.
Domestic violence happens in gay relationships as well as straight ones. It was thought that the incidence of domestic violence in gay relationships was broadly on a par with the incidence in straight relationships. UK National Statistics calculated that 25% of gay relationships may feature domestic violence. The Stonewall research published in 2012 indicates that domestic violence in gay relationships is nearer 37%, and may exceed the level of domestic violence in straight relationships:
49% of gay and bisexual men have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse from a family member or partner since the age of 16, compared to 17% of men in general.
37% of gay and bisexual men have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse in a relationship with a man.
23% of gay and bisexual men have experienced domestic abuse from a family member since the age of 16.
78% of gay and bisexual men who have experienced domestic abuse have never reported incidents to the police. Of those who did report it, 53% were not happy with how the police dealt with the situation.
Regardless of the figures and estimates, it is much too frequent to be tolerated by society.
The usual portrayal of domestic violence is of physical violence. In fact, it may include mental instead of physical control, or denial, and there may also be some unique aspects which emerge in gay and lesbian relationships. Domestic violence does not have to be directed at partners; it can be directed at children and even parents.
From March 2013, the definition of domestic abuse in law was widened to cover psychological intimidation and controlling behaviour, and apply to victims under the age 18. It means acts such as preventing partners from leaving the house or having access to a phone could lead to a prosecution. The new offences came into effect from 29th December, 2015.
It is thought that most of the resources available to help the victims of domestic violence are only relevant to part of the problem.
Since 2005 UK Police are allowed to photograph the victims of domestic abuse to capture a record of any bruising or temporary injury. Gay couples and other unmarried couples are protected. Courts can already order suspected offenders to keep away from their partners but the government is trying to make such orders easier to enforce. Suspected offenders may receive a “yellow card”. If the yellow card is ignored there will be a possible jail sentence of five years.
The law makes common assault an arrestable offence, triggers multi-agency reviews in cases of domestic murder, as happens with child killings, makes breaching non-molestation orders an arrestable offence with up to five years jail, establishes a register for domestic violence offenders, forcing them to tell police when they change their addresses, as for sex offenders, provides a new offence of causing or allowing death of a child or vulnerable adult, introduces a ban on the media naming victims of alleged domestic violence in court cases in an effort to encourage more people to come forward with complaints and establishes a victims’ commissioner to speak up for the interests of victims.
In October 2013 the Government introduced new powers called Sexual Harm Prevention Orders. For more details about these, see our page on Age of Consent and Sexual Offences. Unfortunately by May 2017 there were press reports that Prevention Orders have not been particularly effective at restraining abusers in over 50% of cases where they have been granted.
All the above is all very well if it all works. Unfortunately the latest information we have is that despite more cases being reported, prosecutions have fallen.
Prosecutions for harassment fell by 9 per cent over the last financial year, despite the number of cases recorded by the police increasing by 13 per cent in the same period. The police recorded more than 54,500 cases of harassment in the financial year to 2013.
The majority of harassment cases are linked to domestic abuse. Of the 8,600 cases prosecuted for the crime in 2012/13, almost 60 per cent were linked to domestic violence.
Independent, 20 Feb 2014
Under 10% of victims of gay domestic violence report their abusers to the police because of fears of prejudice and being forced to reveal their sexuality, say Staffordshire Police, who estimate that reporting of gay domestic violence has doubled in the past year but that this is still only a small percentage of the actual number of cases taking place. National statistics indicate about a quarter of all people in same-sex relationships become victims of domestic violence while a fifth also suffer sexual abuse. Victims only come forward after they have suffered around 35 attacks.
“There are lots of reasons why victims don’t come forward but we know that confidence is increasing now. They have to face all the problems that heterosexual victims have, such as having nowhere to go and fearing financial independence, together with a lot of other issues that come along with being gay. For instance, a lesbian can find it difficult to go to a women`s refuge for help because they don`t want to be ostracised or seen as a threat by others. “Unfortunately the issue hasn`t been highlighted in the media and soap operas like it has with heterosexual relationships.”
Domestic incident co-ordinator Helen Appleby
“It`s a misconception that there is a butch one and a feminine one in gay relationships, the abuser is more likely to be the one who wants power and control over the other and that will not always be obvious. Previously, police officers wouldn`t have recognised a problem when attending a fight between a gay couple. It would just be logged as an assault, not as domestic violence. Sometimes if there is no box to tick on a form, it can be ignored. But we are now recording these offences and when we get a clear picture of what is happening will bring it onto the agenda and do something about it.”
Force hate crime officer PC Pete Rigby
The traditional strategy for dealing with domestic violence has been to remove the victim(s) to a place of safety but increasingly agencies dealing with domestic violence are trying different interventions. Sometimes removing the victim actually makes the situation worse or more dangerous and an intervention designed to address behavioural issues or to repair the relationship are actually safer for the victim.
Domestic violence in gay relationships can also develop into far worse situations including murder. The American city of Boston reports that since 2010, there have been seven killings as a result of domestic violence, a sharp increase from prior years when one to three such homicides were reported.
ILGA reports that many police, prosecutors, and judges lack the sensitivity and training to help gays, lesbians, and transgender people who are victims of abuse. Often, authorities fail to recognize who is the batterer in such relationships and who needs help. The consequences can be disastrous, leaving victims with few resources and empowering the abuser.
Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme has now been rolled out throughout the UK. It is designed to provide victims with information which may protect them from a potentially abusive situation, and is sometimes called “Clare’s Law”. The scheme allows the police to disclose information about a partner’s previous history of domestic violence or violent acts, and applys to all sections of the community, including the gay community.
Domestic violence and abuse bill
A draft domestic violence and abuse bill to establish a domestic violence and abuse commissioner and set out a legal definition of domestic abuse, was announced in the Queen’s Speech in June, 2017. As of 1 January 2018 it has not been introduced to Parliament.
Make yourself safer
There are things you can do to make yourself safer. These include:
Do not retaliate, it’s not safe and may make things worse.
Talk to someone on a helpline.
Contact the Police to see if they have information to disclose about your partner.
Keep a record of dates and times of all incidents. If you have been injured, get medical attention from Accident and Emergency or your GP and they will make notes of your injuries.
Keep your phone fully charged and on you at all times and your credit topped up in case you need to make emergency calls.
Mens Advice Line 0808 801 0327 (free from landlines and most mobile phones – limited hours.)
Tell a friend or family member about what’s been happening.
Keep your passport and copies of important documents in a safe place (with a friend or relative).
Think about telling your employer and especially welfare officer, or any other people you can trust, about your situation.
Always report the violence or criminal damage to the Police. Ask to speak to the Community Safety Unit or Domestic Violence Unit because there are officers who have appropriate training, experience to help.
Acts of Parliament
Respect, Undated: Male victims of domestic violence in same-sex relationships
Guardian, 1 Aug 2008: A scourge that touches everyone
Guardian, 4 Aug 2010: Government shelves domestic violence prevention scheme
ILGA, 9 Dec 2011: Gay Domestic Violence Alarms Boston
BBC News, 19 Sep 2012: Domestic abuse to include non-violent control
Parliament, 26 Nov 2013: Clare’s law: the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme – Commons Library Standard Note
Independent, 20 Feb 2014: Rise in cases of harassment – but prosecutions fall
BBC, 18 November 2014: Is domestic violence more common in same sex relationships?
Sydney Morning Herald, 30 May 2015: Domestic violence a ‘silent epidemic’ in gay relationships
Leamington Courier, 29 December 2015: New law on domestic violence and abuse introduced
I, 18 February 2017: Theresa May promises action to combat domestic violence