Please note this story includes information about Domestic and Family Violence which may cause distress. You can reach out to the Domestic violence crisis lines at 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or the Domestic Violence Hotline (1800 65 64 63) if you need support.

It's not always easy to spot when domestic and family violence (DFV) is occurring in your community. The most common image associated with DFV is a male physically harming a woman, but even physical violence is not always obvious to people outside the abusive relationship. The signs of physical harm can be hidden for many reasons including coercion and control by the perpetrator, and the fear and shame felt by victims/survivors. It’s even harder to recognise other forms of DFV, including emotional, financial, psychological, or sexual abuse.

While there is now a lot more talk in the media and the community about domestic and family violence, there are still types of intimate partner and family abuse which aren’t discussed as much. Could you recognise DVF in a relationship involving two women? What about two men? Or a mother and her transgender son?

child drawing of family with two dads

Diversifying discussion

Kelly and Nicole are two Senior Practitioners from The Benevolent Society’s Centre for Women's, Children's and Family Health (CFWCFH) in Campbelltown. They explain that it’s necessary to bring all types of relationships into focus when discussing DFV to support and protect the whole community. Although the signs of DFV in LGBTIQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer), relationships are often similar to those in heterosexual relationships, Kelly says people are less likely to notice them.

Two young women are walking down the street hand in hand.

“The community does not have a lens to view DFV when it happens in LGBTIQ+ relationships. This creates more complexity and confusion not only for the people in that dynamic, but also for those viewing it, and the systems that surround it – including the criminal justice system,” she explains.

Victim protection for women in same-sex relationships

Nicole, acknowledges that while it’s true that the majority of DFV perpetrators are men and the majority of victim/survivors are women, this bias becomes a roadblock when those gender and power dynamics are more complex.

A woman leans on the end of her bed and looks unhappy, another woman reclined in bed.

“It creates a problem around who is the victim in the same-sex relationship,” she says.

“When we constantly cast the woman as the victim in same sex relationships, DFV services may just support the partner who gets in first, whether she is the perpetrator or victim survivor. This can exclude the other partner from being able to access that service as well,” Nicole adds.

She also urges that police need to be aware of how ambiguity in same-sex dynamics can be advantageous for the perpetrator, who can manipulate the systems and police interactions to secure themselves in the victim role.

Supporting men in same-sex relationships

“For men trying to access domestic and family violence services, there are quite a few barriers,” Kelly says.

She goes on to say that traditionally, and for good reason, many domestic violence services are for women only.

“That is to provide a safe space for women who have experienced violence and abuse at the hands of their intimate partner. It makes sense, but it does exclude by its very nature,” she explains.

A man sits on the end of his bed while another man stands in the doorframe and appears to be yelling.

Not only are the support services to turn to limited, Kelly describes how, particularly for gay or bisexual men, they also run the unique risk of their sexuality being used against them.

“If DFV is happening in a same sex relationship there can be the additional threat of being outed if you seek support. Even if you can access LGBTIQ+ services, if for whatever reason you don’t feel comfortable within yourself or don't feel you belong to that space, it will be a barrier to having your experience validated and supported appropriately,” she says.

Family of origin violence

Another form of DFV that occurs in the LGBTIQ+ community is family of origin violence. This is abuse from someone’s parents, siblings or extended family that’s directly related to their sexual or gender identity, emerging or confirmed.

A teenager sits at his desk looking up at his mum.

Societal stigma and discrimination already contribute to poor mental and physical health outcomes in the LGBTIQ+ population, and the suicide risk is higher again for those lacking family support. According to the RACGP, “Primary care is an important location for identification of LGBTIQ+ family violence, support and referral to LGBTIQ+ inclusive services.”

Strengthening foundations for LGBTIQ+ children and youth

Kelly emphasises that if we are to start LGBTIQ+ DFV education somewhere, it should be in our schools.

“Regarding primary prevention; if we’re talking to young people about healthy relationships in schools it actually needs to be inclusive,” says Kelly.

young people happy with flag

“It needs to emphasise that power and control occur across the spectrum of genders and sexualities. Young LGBTIQ+ people deserve that knowledge as well,” she says. 

If you believe you/someone you know may be at risk, it’s crucial to break the silence and speak to a friend, safe person, or enlist the help of a professional service. Domestic violence crisis lines such as 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or the DV Hotline (1800 65 64 63) are useful starting points for victims to access professional support and get more information on what local services are available.