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LGBTI Relationships Aren't Free From Domestic Violence. In Fact, They're Often More Difficult To Escape

'You don't want to tell the same people who won't accept your relationship there's a problem within that relationship.'

25/08/2016 1:30 PM AEST | Updated August 25, 2016 13:33
Fabian Gehweiler
A recent survey of 800 LGBTI people showed more than one-third had been physically or sexually assaulted by a partner.

Peter Bridge hadn't heard about same-sex domestic violence until he was in it.

It took him a year to escape from a tumultuous relationship while living with his partner in the affluent Sydney suburb of Potts Point. Why did he stay so long? For the same reason most victims of family violence stay.

He believed his partner would change.

And when someone finally realises their partner won't, it takes time and planning to get out safely. This is where it differs for victims of domestic violence in LGBTI relationships.

When domestic violence crisis centres for women would pick up the phone to hear Bridge's voice on the other end, they would hang up. He called four refuges during the final year of his relationship. There's no service for men other than homelessness refuges, where there are limited beds -- and the added risk that a person taking one of those beds isn't welcoming of LGBTI people.

You might tell your family, you tell your friends and tell your workplace. And then you don't want to turn around and tell the same people who won't accept your relationship there's a problem within that relationship.

Kai Noonan, the coordinator of the first LGBTI-focused Domestic and Family Violence Project, said abuse in LGBTI relationships can be incredibly psychological. For example, it could involve a partner holding back HIV or gender-transitioning medication, or threats to 'out' the victim's sexuality to their friends, family or workplace.

For victims who are already open about their sexuality, some don't want to admit a relationship they'd fought so hard for has 'failed'.

"You might go through your whole teenage years thinking as soon as I can come out then everything will be okay, and then you fight, fight, fight," Noonan told The Huffington Post Australia.

"You might tell your family, you tell your friends and tell your workplace. And then you don't want to turn around and tell the same people who won't accept your relationship there's a problem within that relationship.

"There's fear of a backlash within the community because a lot of people are afraid to 'air out the dirty laundry' in the sense that, you think about Safe Schools and the flak that we're copping. If we start talking about domestic violence in our communities there's a risk it going to be used against us as well."

The money is running out

There is not a reliable statistic to reflect the rate of domestic violence within the LGBTI community. Current research only draws from a small number of people. The issue is rarely spoken of within the community, so victims are less likely to come forward.

The most recent survey by LaTrobe University, which collected the responses of more than 800 LGBTI Australians, showed more than one-third had been physically or sexually assaulted by a partner. And more than half had experienced emotional abuse from one or more partners.

There's fear of a backlash within the community because a lot of people are afraid to 'air out the dirty laundry'. If we start talking about domestic violence in our communities there's a risk it going to be used against us as well.

While the statistics are high, it is important to note the responses were drawn from voluntary participants. This means the average rate of violence in LGBTI relationships across Australia could be higher.

A bit like the research, the available services for LGBTI victims is scant. There are two services in New South Wales which specialise in helping LGBTI victims.

The Domestic and Family Violence Project is running as part of ACON -- a health organisation established by the state government for HIV prevention and treatment -- and funded by a $115,000 grant from the NSW Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Pru Goward.

With that funding, Noonan has run community forums in Sydney, hosted a webinar with 1800 RESPECT for 1000 professionals and is communicating with services across the state to raise awareness of the existence of family violence within LGBTI relationships.

That that funding ceases in September.

ACON also provides counselling sessions for victims through the generosity of a handful of psychologists who waive the fee for 12 sessions.

I was so shaken that the solicitor had to hold me up and put me in a cab. I was just so thankful they were there.

In the latest state budget, NSW Treasurer Gladys Berijiklian and Minister Goward announced $300 million in funding would be allocated -- over the next four years -- to tackle domestic violence.

Thirteen million will be allocated to Victims Support, which will pilot new responses for male victims -- including gay men.

Minister Goward told HuffPost Australia there are new funding opportunities for projects like ACON's under the $20 million Domestic and Family Violence Innovation Fund "for work in prevention, early intervention and crisis responses".

"The new $13 million over four years of funding will provide access to services for all male victims via a centralised agency which specialises in undertaking assessments to determine the primary aggressor in a domestic violence relationship," Goward told HuffPost Australia.

"Men who are victims of domestic and family violence will be referred to local non-government support agencies, and men who are perpetrating violence will be held accountable for their abuse.

"This investment is targeting men who are at higher risk of experiencing domestic violence in our communities which include gay, bi-sexual and transgender men, older (aged 65 years or older) and younger men (16-25 years), men with disability and Aboriginal men."

The Safe Relationships Project -- which is run by the Inner City Legal Centre in Sydney's Darlinghurst -- is also waiting to find out its future. It is the only court support service for LGBTI domestic violence victims in the country.

One solicitor works five days a week to help LGBTI domestic violence victims obtain Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs) and attend hearings which can extend to child custody disputes. These are always complicated as one parent often isn't the biological parent.

Since 2009 the project has been funded by the Public Purpose Fund and two small grants, which ran out on June 30.

The solicitor, who at five days a week could complete 50 cases each year, is now only be able to work three days a week, helping just 30 victims across the state each year. The project also helps many more victims with legal advice and court support.

'I'd be quite happy to kill you'

Three years ago Peter Bridge was one of those 150 cases. On the night his partner was arrested, the couple were arguing about money and moving into a property they owned together in Queensland. It escalated when Bridge said he wanted to remain in Sydney.

Court documents reveal Bridge's partner then began throwing items around the bedroom, including a laptop, before ripping off bed sheets, slamming doors and berating Bridge for more than 40 minutes.

The fact sheet tendered to court claims Bridge's partner yelled: "You're a c***, you're not worth it. Go jump off the balcony and do us all a favour."

Bridge remained inside while his partner left the apartment. He returned later that night. The abuse resumed.

"You're a c*** and I'd be quite happy to kill you," he said, according to court documents.

Once Bridge called the police and began recording the abuse on his phone his partner tried to snatch it out of his hands. When he couldn't, his hands went over Bridge's mouth to suffocate him, or, as the court documents put it: "restricting his airways to a point where the victim actually believed he was going to die".

When Bridge let the phone go, so did his partner. It wasn't long before police arrived and Bridge's partner was charged with domestic violence-related assault, stalking and intimidation and recklessly damaging and destroying property.

He was released by police hours later and told not to return to the couple's apartment.

Bridge was left with a number for the Safe Relationships Project and waited three sleep-deprived nights until he could call on Monday morning -- not knowing whether his partner would front up on the door step in the meantime. Fortunately, he didn't. But he did intimidate Bridge in a Sydney pub on Oxford Street for 15 minutes before he was arrested again.

The temporary AVO became a permanent one in court weeks later. Bridge's partner plead guilty to three charges of stalking and intimidation with the intent to cause physical harm, destroying or damaging property and assault.

"I remember the first time walking out of the Downing Centre (Local Court), I was so shaken that the solicitor had to hold me up and put me in a cab. I was just so thankful they were there," Bridge said.

For women seeking AVOs, there's a "safe room" in most court buildings. It's a room to put crippling fear at ease. They don't have to look their abuser in eye while they wait. But as a man, Bridge wasn't allowed in the room.

Three years on, there's been a few silver linings in Bridge's case.

He now has a relationship with his mother. When he 'came out', they grew apart. But the abuse changed everything. He has found love again, with another man. And the Downing Centre now has a "safe room" for LGBTI domestic violence victims, too.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about the Safe Relationships Project click here or ACON's LGBTIQ Domestic and Family Violence Project click here. If you or a loved one are experiencing family violence contact 1800 RESPECT.

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