You do not have to be a woman or heterosexual to be a victim of
domestic violence. Yet the fact that lesbians and gay men may be
abused within an intimate relationship is often overlooked by
service providers and policy-makers.
Stuart McQuade believes he was one of the lucky ones. When he
turned up at a hospital casualty unit after being badly beaten up
by his partner, he received a helpful and sympathetic response from
medical staff, police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Ten years later, McQuade is director of Northamptonshire Lesbian
Gay and Bisexual Alliance. “There are pockets of very good practice
but lots of very bad practice,” he says. “People encounter a
sniggering and giggling kind of attitude. I’ve heard of situations
where the police have arrived at an incident and said, ‘you’re both
men so why can’t you sort it out for yourselves?’. Or police
officers may assume that the perpetrator is the victim just because
they are the littler of the two.”
Ill-informed and stereotyped attitudes are not just confined to the
police. McQuade says: “We’ve had victim support counsellors telling
people they don’t know what to say. The reaction is, ‘if you were
the woman I would say this. If you were the man I would say that’.
It creates a lot of unhappiness.”
Victims of same-sex domestic abuse rarely report violent incidents
because they are afraid of the response.
A recent national survey found that only 18 per cent of gay men and
13 per cent of lesbians experiencing domestic violence had informed
the police. Tellingly, only 5 per cent of men and less than 4 per
cent of women had reported incidents more than once.
Lesbians are often even more reluctant than gay men to contact the
police because they fear that their children may be taken into
care. McQuade says: “If you’re a lesbian mother you already think
that the state views you as an incompetent parent. You worry what
will happen to your children if you go to court.”
On the other hand, men experiencing domestic violence, whether in
same-sex or heterosexual relationships, are disadvantaged by
services geared towards heterosexual female victims. Although 34
men were killed by their partners in England and Wales in 1997
alone, there are only four refuge beds available for men in
Brighton-based Gay and Lesbian Arts and Media (Glam) is funded by
Comic Relief to improve awareness of same-sex domestic violence
issues both within gay and lesbian communities and among agencies.
Glam is developing a website and CD-Rom to offer information and
advice. As part of the project Glam is drawing up a map of support
services across the country. Director Dee Shelley says: “The idea
is to let people know they’re not alone and enable them to click on
to details of services in their area.” It is a time-consuming
process because Glam checks every service with the local gay and
lesbian community before adding it to the database.
Not every agency claiming to support survivors of domestic abuse
addresses the needs of same-sex victims. Shelley says: “In Brighton
there’s a brilliant refuge with a lesbian domestic violence worker,
but in some refuges an abuser can gain access if she is a woman.
Sometimes people experience homophobia and further abuse from other
The Glam website will also include details of the service response
users should expect from agencies such as the police and the CPS.
Shelley describes the relationship with both the Association of
Chief Police Officers and the CPS as “very positive”.
In Northampton, the alliance has worked closely with the police to
establish a multi-agency forum for responding to domestic violence.
The forum runs a Home Office-funded project known as the Sunflower
Centre where victims of domestic violence can receive advice and
support in a single setting. Other partners include Relate, Victim
Support, housing, legal advice, Crown Prosecution Service, welfare
rights, child protection and social services.
McQuade says social services may be assigned a social worker where
domestic violence is linked to other social problems. “There’s
usually something else going on. It might be drug or alcohol
addiction or mental health problems.” He adds: “Crack has changed a
lot of things in the past few years. There are some very sinister
scenarios with one partner selling sex and the other acting as