Prevalence of LGBTIQA+ intimate partner and family violence
There is a lack of population-level data on violence and abuse experienced by LGBTIQA+ people. This is a result of population-level surveys, including those conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics not including adequate questions around sex characteristics, gender identity and sexuality. This limits both an understanding of the size of the LGBTIQA+ population, and the potential for disaggregated analyses of experiences of violence and abuse. Similar issues exist in the collection of health service data.13-15
Research focus on LGBTIQA+ people is a relatively recent, reflecting the social marginalisation of these communities. A growing body of research shows higher levels of intimate partner abuse/violence (IPAV), sexual violence, and violence within biological families among LGBTIQA+ people.
- IPAV is experienced at similar or higher rates in same-gender relationships compared to heterosexual relationships.16-19
- The Victorian Population Health Survey 2017 data showed that 13.4% of LGBTIQA+ adults had experienced family violence in the past two years compared with 5.1% of non LGBTIQA+ adults.10 All types of family violence listed were significantly higher, with emotional/psychological abuse being most prevalent (Figure 19.1).
- There are indications of higher rates for bisexual women compared to lesbian or heterosexual-identified women17, 20, 21 and for trans and gender-diverse people compared to cisgender people.22, 23 For a glossary of terms, refer to A Language Guide: Trans and Gender Diverse Inclusion and LGBTIQ+ Inclusive Language Guide.
- There is limited research into the violence experiences of people with intersex variations;24 however, there is some evidence for violence within families, peers and schools including body shaming.
- Sexual violence is much higher for LGBTIQA+ than non-LGBTIQA+ people, with the Victorian Population Health study showing seven times the rate of sexual abuse (Figure 19.1).10 Reported experiences by Australian trans and gender-diverse people are even higher, with 53.2% of the 1434 trans and gender-diverse respondents reporting sexual violence and coercion.25
- Many LGBTIQA+ people experience violence and abuse within their biological family or ‘family of origin’, although this is often not defined as family violence. A number of studies have focused on the impact of negative relationships between parents and LGBTIQA+ young people, particularly relating to ‘coming out’ and experiences of violence or abuse arising out of familial rejection.26-28 While there is less research focus on experiences of abuse in childhood, some studies have found that lesbian, gay and bisexual young people are more likely than heterosexual siblings to experience verbal, physical and sexual abuse.29
‘I became ashamed about being gay, about being sexually attractive and about having sexual desires. It was like going back into the closet.’
David, age 27 years
‘She had a drug, gambling and mental illness problem and would steal my money, threaten to self-harm, actually self-harm, and yell abuse at me.’
Sarah, age 37 years
Source: Another Closet 2014
Figure 19.1. Types of family violence comparing LGBTIQA+ and non-LGBTIQA+ Victorians10
Reproduced with permission from: Victorian Agency for Health Information. The health and wellbeing of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer population in Victoria. Findings from the Victorian Population Health Survey 2017. Melbourne: VAHI, 2020.
Risk factors for family violence specific to LGBTIQA+ people
As well as the usual risk factors for family violence, additional risks have been identified for LGBTIQA+ people who are victims/survivors and/or perpetrators.30, 31 These can be summarised as minority stress experiences32 and include:
- internalised homophobia
- being HIV positive
- experiences of LGBTIQA+ based discrimination
- higher rates of complex trauma experiences.
Intersectional influences on LGBTIQA+ family violence
LGBTIQA+ people who experience marginalisation or minority status in other areas of their life can be more at risk of family violence. This includes people from conservative religious backgrounds, or some multicultural communities, including recent arrivals, refugees and people seeking asylum.33, 34 Cultural sensitivities can lead to unique forms of family violence for LGBTIQA+ people, including:
- family exile
- forced marriage
- honour abuse
- corrective rape
- conversion therapy.
For example, research conducted in New South Wales with Arabic-speaking communities suggest that LGBTIQA+ people have reported family assault, confiscation of mobile phones, banned access to sympathetic family members and other forms of intimidation due to their stigmatised LGBTIQA+ status.33, 34
‘I have been bashed by a family member for shaming the family [.] Talks at family gatherings that being GLQ [gay, lesbian, queer] is due to corruption of the WEST. The Imam and sheikh claiming that the death penalty is the punishment for GLQ.’
A lesbian woman, age 30 years35
Community, organisational, religious, cultural and extended family connections can also be important sources of support for LGBTIQA+ people.35
LGBTIQA+ people with disability are at higher risk of family violence, due to reliance on family as carers and policing of their diverse sexual or gender identities.36 Older LGBTIQA+ people often have a history of rejection by families of origin, and of concealing their intimate relationships from others.37 This can create a situation in which IPAV is not revealed and is potentially tolerated for long periods. Living in rural or regional areas of Australia can exacerbate issues of isolation, and fear of negative responses to disclosure of same-gender relationships from family, communities or healthcare providers. Disclosure of violence in those relationships can be even more difficult.
Unfortunately, there is little research that investigates the experiences of LGBTIQA+ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but this intersection is likely to be important both in understanding experiences of abuse and violence, along with ways of responding and engaging communities.
Finally, LGBTIQA+ people who form their own families can have particular risks for family violence. These have been outlined in a forthcoming study in Victoria.38 These risks include specific experiences around parenting in LGBTIQA+ parented families, such as family formation stress, isolation from family and friends, and gendered norms around parenting.
Recognising and responding to LGBTIQA+ family violence
GPs play a significant role in supporting LGBTIQA+ patients, their partners and families, to recognise and respond to abuse and violence, and its aftermath. GPs can also play a role in the primary prevention of abuse and violence experienced by LGBTIQA+ communities, by demonstrating awareness and recognition, and promoting pride in LGBTIQA+ bodies, identities and relationships.
Existing models for responding to family violence have focused on the significant problem of men’s violence against women. While this is valid and necessary, there are some indications this can perpetuate silence around LGBTIQA+ experiences of family violence, making it harder for LGBTIQA+ people to recognise and label their experiences as family violence.39, 40 For example, men’s experiences as victims/survivors of family violence are rarely considered, and likewise women’s experiences as perpetrators. Trans and non-binary people may have very diverse experiences too. Accessing inclusive and knowledgeable services for each of these groups is difficult.
There are also specific barriers to help-seeking, including a lack of understanding of the unique forms that abuse and violence can take for LGBTIQA+ people, fear of stigma and a lack of faith in institutions such as police, the judicial system or the family violence service system, which has historically focused on men’s violence against women.41 Other barriers include the perpetuation of myths that violence does not occur in lesbian relationships or that violence in gay male relationships is less serious as both partners are men.42
‘But I think where I’ve seen or experienced violence in an intimate partner relationship because if you’re both queer or you’re both trans, you’re both trying to survive in a world that wants to kill you, basically. And by exposing your partner, even if they’re being abusive or violent towards you, by exposing them to interactions with police or the criminal legal system, or prison, it could, could basically … be the death of them. And it’s far worse than the sort of abuse or violence that is being done within that relationship.’
A queer, transgender woman, age 30 years6
Figure 19.2. Barriers to identification of LGBTIQA+ family violence
© Copyright State Government of Victoria
Recent work analysing the drivers of family violence for LGBTIQA+ communities, and drawing on feminist theories and models, suggests that perpetration of abuse and violence are linked to violence-supporting attitudes, including views that LGBTIQA+ bodies, people and relationships are less valid, healthy or worthy (Figure 19.3).44 These attitudes increase the likelihood that abuse and violence is condoned or accepted by both LGBTIQA+ people and the health and social care system.
‘I guess it’s partly systemic; that the system doesn’t accommodate for diversity. There’s also that workers or professionals aren’t aware of the different kind of issues that might arise in a LGBTIQA+ family.’
Figure 19.3. Socio-ecological drivers of LGBTIQA+ family violence44
Reproduced with permission from: Carman M, Fairchild J, Farrugia C, et al. Pride in prevention: A guide to primary prevention of family violence experienced by LGBTIQ communities. Melbourne: Rainbow Health Victoria, La Trobe University, 2020.