Domestic violence could be more frequent among same-sex couples, Northwestern Medicine finds

Christine Farolan, Copy Chief

A Northwestern Medicine literature review found domestic violence occurs as frequently, and possibly more often, in same-sex couples compared wit heterosexual couples.

The review, published Sept. 4 in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, analyzed past studies and found 25 to 75 percent of gay and bisexual individuals experience domestic violence. In contrast, around 25 percent of heterosexual women are affected, along with an even lower percentage of heterosexual men.

Feinberg Prof. Richard Carroll, senior author of the review, said in a news release gay people may refrain from reporting abuse, implying the possibility of higher abuse numbers. He attributed this to fear of discrimination as a minority or of disclosing sexual identity before willing to do so.

Those involved may internalize homophobia, which makes cases of same-sex domestic violence more complex. The review noted that perpetrators may manifest their negative self-image through violent acts. On the other hand, victims may feel they “deserve” the violence because of a negative view of their own sexual orientation, according to the review.

Victims of same-sex domestic violence often struggle to access services, further complicating the problem, the scientists found. Most shelters for domestic violence victims are for females, making it difficult for lesbian women to find a safe haven away from their female abusive partners. Such shelters are almost nonexistent for men, gay or not.

Legal action is also often inaccessible for gay and bisexual people. Many states do not include same-sex couples in their domestic violence statutes, and some even deny victims the right to apply for protective orders against a same-sex partner. Several states also continue to enforce sodomy laws, despite the Supreme Court having declared them unconstitutional in 2003, according to the review.

In order to foster a more accepting environment for victims, informing health care providers of this issue is a necessity, Carroll said.

“The hope is that with increasingly deeper acceptance, the stress and stigma will disappear for these individuals so they can get the help they need,” Carroll said in a news release.

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Twitter: @crfarolan