Domestic Violence and Sexuality: a new book from the School for Policy Studies

Marianne Hester from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research outlines the important findings from a new book on domestic violence and sexuality co-authored with Catherine Donovan.MH

The book, Domestic violence and sexuality – What’s love got to do with it, provides the first detailed discussion in the UK of domestic violence and abuse in same sex relationships, and a unique comparison with domestic violence and abuse experienced by heterosexual women and men. The book examines how experiences of domestic violence and abuse may be shaped by gender, sexuality and age, including whether and how victims/survivors seek help, and asks, what’s love got to do with it? A pioneering methodology, using a sophisticated national survey, focus groups and interviews, provides a reliable and valid approach that challenges the heteronormative model in domestic violence research, policy and practice. A new framework of analysis – practices of love – is also used to explore the empirical data.

Representative surveys increasingly involve both heterosexual and same sex identities, but it is not always clear what context, including the relationship, the domestic violence and abuse took place in. The multi-method research reported in this book address these issues and enable comparison across both gender and sexuality. The survey asked about experiences and impacts of violence and abuse from a same sex partner, and also the use of the same behaviours against a partner and the motives for using them. The interview schedule was based around an exploration of a best and a worst relationship experience.

More than a third of the 746 respondents to the survey said they had experienced domestic violence and abuse at some time in a same sex relationship, and even more indicated they had experienced at least one form of negative behaviour from their same sex partners. There were similarities, whether respondents identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer (LGBTQ), including the range of abusive behaviours experienced and the impacts of such behaviour. However there were also some important differences: gay or bisexual men were significantly more likely than lesbian, bisexual or queer women to experience physically and sexually abusive behaviours. Risk factors for potential abuse and heightened impact included age, lower income levels and lower educational attainment, and were more marked than gender. Age also intersects with sexuality such that being newly out can position somebody as younger and therefore more vulnerable to abuse regardless of their biological age. The findings suggest that violence and abuse in same sex relationships is characterised by power and control by one partner over the other, and not by mutual abuse.

Based on the interviews the book suggests there are two relationship rules operating in relationships characterised by domestic violence and abuse: that the relationship is for the abusive partner and on their terms; and that the victim/survivor is responsible for the care of the abusive partner, and the relationship. These rules reflect heteronormative ideas about gender: masculinity associated with setting the terms for relationship and femininity associated with caring. However, the rules are established through practices of love enacted by both partners in ways that confuse recognition of domestic violence and abuse and expectations about gender. Thus abusive partners enact behaviours associated with masculinity (making key decisions) and femininity (expressing need and neediness); and victim/survivors enact behaviours associated with femininity (providing care and nurture) and masculinity (being responsible for the abusive partner/relationship and feeling emotionally stronger than the abusive partner).

Only a few of the LGBTQ participants in the research who were victim/survivors of domestic violence and abuse sought formal sources of help, and fewer than tends to be the case with heterosexuals. LGBTQ individuals expected to be self-reliant and/or to draw on informal and private sector sources of help. Counsellors and therapists were the most popular formal source of support for victim/survivors in same sex relationships. Gay men were more likely to access health services. Generally there is a gap of trust between LGBTQ victim/survivors of domestic violence and abuse and mainstream agencies, and LGBTQ people do not expect a positive response. The small minority of LGBT individuals who reported to the police did so because they experienced an escalation in the domestic violence and abuse against them.
The book concludes by providing a new practitioner tool (the COHSAR wheel) for working with victim/survivors and perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse in both same sex and heterosexual relationships. There are recommendations for raising awareness amongst LGBTQ communities and for training amongst mainstream and specialist domestic violence and abuse agencies about domestic violence and abuse in same sex and/or trans relationships.

Book: Catherine Donovan and Marianne Hester (2014) Domestic violence and sexuality – What’s love got to do with it? Bristol: Policy Press.

HB 978-1-4473-0743-3
UPSO 978-1-4473-1163-8
EPDF 978-1-4473-0745-7

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