Victimized in the Margins
by Anika Talia Griffiths | published Dec. 16th, 2018
A husband hitting his wife, a boyfriend controlling who his girlfriend is allowed to be friends with, a first date ending with the guy criticizing the girl’s weight — usually, the image of domestic and dating violence is heteronormative. The public generally assumes that the violence is coming from the male figure in a straight relationship. This assumption, upheld by images in the media and Western gender norms, leaves certain groups out of the discussion of dating violence. These groups include men and the LGBTQ+ community.
Since girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, resources for and education on dating violence tends to skew towards women. Although the statistics show that women need resources, men do as well. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in seven men aged 18 and older in the U.S. have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Also, four percent of men have been injured as a result of intimate partner violence (IPV), which includes rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. If men are not acknowledged as victims and survivors of dating violence, those who find themselves in an abusive relationship may have a difficult time coming forward.
“I believe that men aren’t necessarily believed all the time. I also believe that men sometimes have it in them that 'Oh, I can’t be a victim of this because I’m stronger, or I should be stronger, or I should not let this affect me' or other things like that. And that’s a very dangerous mindset,” said Brock Wagehoft, the coordinator of special projects for the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.
That mindset can be reinforced by an abusive female partner. Men can also experience many forms of abuse that are overlooked, such as being humiliated by their partner in front of friends or family, being consistently accused of being unfaithful or having their masculinity questioned for doing things they enjoy.
Ensuring that men are believed and supported when they come forward starts with including them in the education of dating violence. When educating fraternities and sororities on dating violence, Wagehoft coordinates training events with the Title IX office, the Center for Women and Gender (CWaG) and RESTORE.
“[The training events] do both genders and across all gender identities and sexual orientations. They explain what the common signs of dating violence [are, such as] controlling behaviors ... obsession behaviors — some of those signs, because dating violence and domestic violence aren’t just a men’s issue. They’re also a women’s issue. They’re also a gender-nonconforming issue. The LGBTQIA+ community, it’s an issue for that community as well,” said Wagehoft.
For that reason, the training events not only addresses how men can experience dating violence, but also the impact of IPV in queer relationships. Educating on these two typically-overlooked groups helps to lessen the heteronormative lens through which domestic violence is perceived.
Research indicates that the rates of IPV are equal to or higher among LGBTQIA+ individuals than heterosexual individuals as a result of minority stress or shared risk factors that heterosexual individuals do not experience. Despite the statistics, there isn’t much discussion on how to address IPV in same-sex relationships. Discussion and research are even more limited on how IPV affects the transgender community. This makes it difficult for sexual and gender minorities to come forward and to be believed, much like with men.
“The biggest problem that’s different [with queer relationships] is awareness. I find people hear [the term] dating violence ... and they think of a very specific thing, which is a woman being beaten by a man. It’s always a woman being victimized and it’s always a man being the violent partner," said Tyler Coughlin, the graduate assistant at the Q Center. "And that’s not untrue — that happens quite a lot — but this creates an extra barrier and makes it harder for people to believe and understand that violence can happen between two women, between two men [or] between a non-binary person and a man.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that the controlling behaviors usually discussed as red flags for IPV may look very different in queer relationships.
“The non-physical component [of IPV] ... can be even more pernicious in queer or trans communities because of the risks of that social alienation — especially the risk of outing. If one isn’t out, [outing them] can be extremely damaging,” said Coughlin.
Controlling behaviors in queer relationships can also act to reinforce internalized homophobia, biphobia or transphobia. Abusive partners in queer relationships may sometimes purposefully misgender their trans partner or call them by their dead name — the name which they have since changed. Some forms of abuse may also use biphobic stereotypes — an abusive person may use their partner's attraction to multiple genders as an excuse to control who they are allowed to be friends with. Same-sex relationships can become harmful as well when one partner tries to control who performs which gender roles.
Recognizing and addressing the different ways in which abuse can manifest are an important step to providing support to LGBTQIA+ victims of IPV. The Q Center works to address IPV in queer relationships by collaborating with CWaG to create educational programs. They also provide a safe space where sexual and gender minorities can feel comfortable talking about issues affecting the queer community.
Those working in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life as well as leaders in the Q Center are all mandated to report dating violence. If you choose to disclose information to those people, understand that a report with the Title IX office will follow.
“I would also give them the resources that are available to them: Title IX, Center for Women and Gender, Ombuds, Counseling Center [and] Pubic Safety. But we would definitely direct them [primarily] towards Title IX,” said Wagehoft.
If you don't want to report, CWaG's hotline is a good resource.
“The C.A.R.E.S. [hotline] is probably the best thing ... they have a really phenomenal program,” said Coughlin.
Many obstacles discourage male and LGBTQIA+ victims of IPV from coming forward, but organizations are taking the steps to ensure that education and outreach is becoming more inclusive. The heteronormative image of dating violence may change as education broadens to include those in the margins.