Amending NC Domestic Violence Policies Could Save LGBTQ Lives

Written by Lauren Pereira, Board Member of NCWU

Gender-related violence is a damaging and pervasive part of our society and no race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status is exempt from the occurrence of intimate partner violence. When many hear “domestic violence”, they may automatically think of a victimized and helpless woman and a testosterone-heavy violent man. This image disempowers women and creates a negative stereotype where A) women are always helpless victims, and B) men are always powerful and abusive. Not only is this stereotype bad for women and men alike, it also erases and silences any differing experiences of people or couples that do not identify this way. However, gender violence can also mean violence towards someone who is perceived to be inferior. Whether the inferiority is based off of the target person’s perceived biology or their gender expression/identity, all of this is gender violence. Gender violence and intimate partner violence can happen between LGBTQ people and couples, even if the violence does not look or seem the same due to a missing gender or sex binary.

In an effort to not dilute the extreme effect this has on women, here are some statistics that demonstrate how women are often the primary target of gender violence: Nearly 1 in 4 women in the US experience violence from a partner and, on average, almost 500 women in the US are raped or sexually assaulted every day, according to FuturesWithoutViolence.org. In 2013 alone, 960,000 domestic violence incidents were reported. These facts are disturbing to say the least but they are not news to most of us. Women and girls have been the target of such crimes for centuries.

Those who are a part of the LGBTQ community are not exempt from gender violence. It is estimated that 1 out of 3 people in a same-sex relationship have experienced intimate partner violence. This causes a serious problem because in most states including NC, same-sex couples are not afforded the same domestic violence legal protections as those in opposite-sex relationships because same-sex relationships are deemed illegitimate. This leaves many people at risk. Similarly, studies have concluded that gay and lesbian victims are more apt to fight back, possibly leading law enforcement officials to believe that the fighting was mutual, thus rendering the victim helpless.

While many similarities occur between opposite-sex and LGBTQ cases of intimate partner violence, there are some key differences that set LGBTQ occurrences apart. Some LGBTQ batterers may threaten ‘outing’ their partner which further isolates and silences the individual, according to the Center for American Progress. LGBTQ victims are also more reluctant to report abuse because there are fewer legal protections—such as immediate intervention, for example—and because by doing so they would ‘out’ themselves. LGBTQ victims may also be reluctant to report abuse because they may not want their relationship to be viewed as dysfunctional because of the scrutiny that is already placed on LGBTQ relationships. Also, when children are added to the equation victims may be threatened to lose their children if their state has no second parent adoption laws for LGBTQ couples. While all situations are equally important and demand immediate attention, it is important to identify how various identities such as LGBTQ identities reveal the complexities of intimate partner violence.

Acknowledging the complexities of intimate partner violence is important because as a society we often think and talk about gender violence and intimate partner violence in a heterosexual binary where men abuse women. Although this violence is disproportionately happening to women, we need to begin to think about all of the victims and survivors that are often silenced by this language.

Activists, researchers, and policymakers should take a look at intimate partner violence with a better analysis of gender, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity so that we may delve deeper into who is actually being affected and hurt in order to better protect couples from any background. In the state of North Carolina the laws do not protect same-sex couples from intimate partner violence. The language within the law implicitly states that only “opposite-sex” couples are granted the rights and protections against domestic violence. Even though North Carolina already defined marriage as between a man and a woman, the passing of Amendment One in 2012 solidified the language that same-sex couples in the state did not have legal protections. North Carolina would benefit from changing the language in the law that would include protections for same-sex couples. Opposite-sex couples aren’t the only ones who experience intimate partner violence, and it’s time for North Carolina to protect all of its citizens.