What is domestic abuse? How do I know if I’m experiencing it?
Domestic abuse can take many forms. It’s not just physical violence, and also can include controlling, threatening, or demeaning behaviour that makes you feel isolated and afraid. While there is no way to list all the signs that you or a friend might be in an abusive relationship, some common experiences include partners or ex-partners doing some or all of the following things:
- Calling you names, threaten to ‘out’ you, or using put-downs
- Using your gender or sexuality as a basis for threats or harm
- Damaging your property
- Threatening to harm you or others that you love
- Controlling your access to money
- Making unwanted advances or forcing you into unwanted sexual contact
- Hitting, shoving, grabbing, kicking, throwing things, or using other forms of physical violence on you
- Controlling your contact with friends, family, work, or the LGBT ‘scene’
- Threatening to harm themselves if you leave or seek help
I’m concerned about a friend – what can I do?
If a friend tells you about domestic abuse she is experiencing, the most important way you can help is by believing her. There are some practical things you can do to help as well – you can put her in touch with the Domestic Abuse Partnership (DAP) or other domestic abuse organisation, or ring them yourself for some advice. Offer to keep a few of her belongings at your house, like her passport or copies of other important documents, spare keys, and an overnight bag. That way she will be prepared if she wants or needs to leave her home quickly, and it will keep important paperwork safe. Help her think through her physical safety – does her partner or ex-partner have copies of her house keys? Does she feel safe entering and exiting her workplace? Where are the places where she feels unsafe or is worried about running into her partner or ex-partner? The DAP and other domestic abuse organisations can help your or your friend make a safety plan and talk through all the options for leaving an abusive situation, and can also help make your friend as safe as possible while she is still in the relationship.
If you think one of your friends might be experiencing domestic abuse, it’s okay to tell your friend that you’re worried about her and that there are organisations that can give her some advice and support. Let her know that you are there to support her without pressuring her to leave the relationship or make a change immediately. You can ring the DAP or another domestic abuse organisation for advice on how to talk to her about domestic abuse – it can be hard to bring up the subject because we’re not used to talking about domestic abuse, and you might feel worried that your friend might take it badly or will be defensive or ashamed.
Why is it so hard to talk about domestic abuse?
We tend not to talk about domestic abuse – there is a taboo within lesbian/bisexual/trans women’s communities around domestic abuse which works to silence victims and make it harder for all of us – victims and bystanders – to recognize abuse and ask for help.
Sometimes it feels difficult to talk about domestic abuse because we don’t want to admit that women can be violent or controlling. We may let ideas we have about ourselves and other people get in the way of recognizing domestic abuse. We might want to think that only short women, or butch women, or younger women, or some other type of woman is the kind of person who perpetrates or experiences domestic abuse, which can keep us from recognizing domestic abuse when it’s happening to us or to our friends.
Sometimes we might be worried about making lesbian/bisexual/trans women look bad. We may feel like there’s enough bias and prejudice due to homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism, and that speaking up or being honest about domestic abuse will give people a negative idea about LBT women and women’s relationships.
Sometimes it might seem like domestic abuse is just part of everyday life – we see it happening all the time, so don’t even take note of it as a problem. Sometimes we might think that we never see domestic abuse at all, so when we do see it, we don’t recognize it or try to explain it away with excuses.
The more we are aware of domestic abuse, the easier it will be for us to recognize it if it happens to us or to our friends.
The more we talk about domestic abuse, the easier it will get to talk about it.
How do I get help?
Wherever you are in the country, you can contact Broken Rainbow for emotional support and more information. If you live in London, ask BR to refer you to the LGBT Domestic Abuse Partnership (DAP) for advice and practical support on a range of issues, including help with housing, safety planning, and emotional support. You can reach Broken Rainbow on 0300 999 5428.