October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and LGBT people are just as likely to experience abuse or violence from an intimate partner as anyone else.
“It’s an important time to remember that domestic violence impacts the LGBT community and is as prevalent as it is in non-LGBT communities,” says Terra Russell Slavin, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s deputy director of Policy and Community Building.“The issues still remain far too invisible.”
The Center is home to the nation’s largest and most comprehensive LGBT domestic violence program. Its STOP Domestic Violence and Domestic Violence Legal Advocacy Project offer the services of LGBT specialists including certified counselors and mental health professionals and attorneys.
Susan Holt, program manager of the STOP program, says the violence and abuse can be physical, sexual, psychological, or financial. It is a pattern of behavior in which a partner or former partner tries to control thoughts, beliefs or actions.
“It’s very important for people to understand that they need to see someone who has experience and knowledge and training in working with LGBT domestic violence,” Holt says.
STOP offers such services as survivors’ groups, a court-approved batterers’ intervention program, youth groups, crisis counseling, partner abuse prevention groups and workshops, and referrals to LGBT sensitive shelters and legal services.
“Domestic violence in our community doesn’t look like it does in the heterosexual community,” says Holt. “We have a country, a world full of service providers who don’t really understand the complexities and differences that are unique.”
Developing a Safety Plan
Mary Case, manager of the Center’s Legal Advocacy Project for Survivors, advises that anyone who is in immediate danger call 911. However, an LGBT person who is not in immediate danger can contact the Center to develop a safety plan.
“Every safety plan will look differently for every LGBTQ person, because each experiences different risk factors, including the fear of outing identities like gender identity, immigration status, HIV status, and sexual orientation,” Case explains.
“It can be highly lethal for someone to leave an abusive relationship without a safety plan that considers all of the risk factors their relationship,” she adds.
In addition to specific safety planning, the Center supports clients experiencing domestic violence with referrals to LGBTQ inclusive emergency shelters, advocacy with law enforcement, protective orders, and victims’ compensation.
There are also consultations with attorneys around the dissolution of partnerships, immigration, financial issues, and legal questions around marriage and custody.
“LGBTQ individuals who are in relationships that are legally recognized have all of the same rights as non-LGBTQ people,” Case says. “We work closely with our clients to determine what they feel would be the safest legal options, and then support them in their process.”
Violence Against Women Act set to expire
A deadline is looming for extending the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the first and only federal legislation that includes non-discrimination protection for both sexual orientation and gender identity.
WAWA provides funds that go towards the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. It established the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted.
“The act is important to the LGBT community because it is the nation’s most direct response to what we consider gender-based violence,“ explains Slavin, who is a member of a steering committee pushing for VAWA to include sexual assault prevention and additional protections for victims.
The steering committee is also fighting to avoid any rollbacks from what is currently covered in the act. VAWA was first enacted in 1994 and receives about $500 million in funding each year. It must be reauthorized by Congress every five years. It expired in September but was given a two-month extension and is now due to expire on December 7.
VAWA had bipartisan support when it was reauthorized in 2000, 2005, and 2013 but a bill pending in the House of Representatives from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee currently has no Republican co-sponsors.
If VAWA does expire this year, it won’t be the first time. In 2011 supporters held out as they fought for the inclusion of LGBT provisions which were added when reauthorization finally came in 2013.
The battle over reauthorization comes just as the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations. The debate over Kavanaugh deeply divided the nation and came at a time when the Me Too movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault continues unabated.
Slavin acknowledges that the current political environment makes the battle over VAWA reauthorization “really hard.”
“The same group of people responsible for the hearings are in charge of reauthorization,” she says. “The committee has made clear that lawmakers (who voted to confirm Kavanaugh) cannot expect cover via this legislation. That group has essentially come out and said, ‘You can treat survivors of sexual assault badly.’”
Slavin recommends that the public contact their local member of Congress and urge them to support Jackson’s reauthorization bill.
Tips and recommendations for survivors, abusers, or a friend of someone is being abused can be found at lalgbtcenter.org/stop.
Fees are based on a sliding scale and no one is turned away for lack of funds.
After regular business hours, call the 24-hour national domestic violence hotline at 888-799-7233 (SAFE)