The infamous video showing Ray Rice punching his then fiancée Janay Palmer in an elevator of a now defunct Atlantic City casino hotel and its ugly aftermath triggered a firestorm of anger and recrimination throughout the country. One positive effect, however, was that the horrific incident shed light on the shadows of silence concerning the ongoing problem of domestic violence or intimate partner violence and abuse (IPV/A).
IPV/A had been seen by many as a heterosexual problem. Yet statistics gathered from studies indicate that same-sex relationships have been afflicted by IPV/A at similar rates to straight couples.A spokeswoman for Baltimore-based House of Ruth Maryland, an organization whose mission, in part, is to provide safe shelter to abused women, children and men and have recently expanded to include LGBT clients, said, “Rates of physical partner violence victimization are higher among gay male and transgender relationships and happen equally as often in lesbian relationships when compared to IPV in heterosexual relationships.”
This is backed up by the Center for American Progress, which notes, “One out of four to one out of three same-sex relationships has experienced domestic violence. By comparison, one in every four heterosexual women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime.”At this point, there aren’t any available IPV/A police statistics in Baltimore pertaining to same-sex situations. “We track all domestic violence and domestic disputes. We do not break those statistics down by orientation,” said Lt. J. Eric Kowalczyk, a spokesman for the Baltimore City Police Department. “We are now in the process of building a system to do just that.”
Intimate partner violence is defined by House of Ruth as “a pattern of coercively controlling behaviors used by a current or previous partner to gain or maintain power and control over the other partner.” This could include physical, psychological and/or emotional abuse and intimidation.Baltimore area resident R.J. Ladd lived together with his boyfriend on and off for three years. The boyfriend had a tendency to get drunk and to fight. “I’d try and walk away from him with no success,” explains Ladd who believes IPV/A is an important issue and from which the LGBT community should not feel they are immune.
“We were in multiple fights, three of which I lost teeth that are still evident to this day. I would just try and do things his way and just agree even when he was wrong. It still didn’t work, and we would continue to have fights. He would assume I was sleeping with all my friends—I wasn’t—but the fighting still continued.”Victims of IPV/A who are in same-sex relationships encounter issues that are distinctive from IPV/A in heterosexual relationships. For instance, an abusive partner may threaten to “out” a partner’s sexuality to family, friends, or co-workers as a tactic to get that person to stay in a relationship or to coerce the victim in order to get what he or she wants.
“I’d try and walk away from him with no success. We were in multiple fights, three of which I lost teeth that are still evident to this day.”—R.J. Ladd
LGBT individuals whose families/friends don’t support their sexuality have fewer sources of support, increasing isolation and making it hard to end abusive relationships. Abusers use this to keep a relationship going; they remind the victim how alone he or she will be if he or she leaves.
Additionally, the Center for American Progress points out that lesbian and gay victims are more reluctant to report abuse to legal authorities. Survivors may not contact law enforcement agencies because doing so would force them to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Gay and lesbian victims are also reluctant to seek help out of fear of showing a lack of solidarity among the gay and lesbian community. Similarly, many gay men and women hide their abuse out of a heightened fear that society will perceive same-sex relation- ships as inherently dysfunctional.
Gay and lesbian victims are more likely to fight back than are heterosexual women. This can lead law enforcement to conclude that the fighting was mutual, overlooking the larger context of domestic violence and the history of power and control in the relationship.Abusers can threaten to take away the children from the victim. In some states, adoption laws do not allow same-sex parents to adopt each other’s children. This can leave the victim with no legal rights should the couple separate. The abuser can easily use the children as leverage to prevent the victim from leaving or seeking help. And in the worst cases, the children could end up in the custody of the abuser.
House of Ruth, which is now partnered with the Baltimore Ravens and has received an increase in donations as a result of the Ray Rice matter and who has a 24-hour Hotline, 410-889-RUTH (7884), offers the following tips:●Plan for your physical safety
●Inform those closest to you about what's going on
●Establish a code word to check in with friends or family
●Take threats seriously
●Consider applying for a Protection Order and carry it with you at all times
●Plan for your cyber safety
●Screen your calls and save all voice mails, emails or texts s/he sends
●Do not use apps like Snapchat
●Do not use mobile apps that track your whereabouts such as Foursquare or “tag” on Facebook
●Turn the GPS function of your phone off