Special Considerations for the LGBTQ Community
In addition to the tactics of abuse that abusers commonly use in intimate partner relationships, LGBTQ-identified individuals who are abused experience additional risks and barriers as a result of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Outing- Despite much social and political advancement, discrimination, prejudice, and violence against LGBTQ people still exists. In addition to all the barriers the LGBTQ community experiences on a daily basis, LGBTQ older adults, in particular, often keep their sexual identity a secret out of fear that their abuser may threaten to “out” them if they don’t give the abuser money, grant them unwanted sex, or otherwise succumb to their demands. LGBTQ grandparents may be at particular risk if the abuser threatens to out the person to their children, who may deny them access to their grandchildren. It is also common for LGBTQ abusers to threaten to out the victim to the police if the victim files a complaint. While law enforcement is required to respond consistently to all domestic incidents regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identities of the parties involved, older adult victims may fear police retaliation because of their age and because, unlike younger LGBTQ individuals, older adults have lived through a contentious past between the criminal justice system and the LGBTQ community.
- Shame or Embarrassment- Because so many negative stereotypes about the LGBTQ community still exist in popular culture and religion, LGBTQ individuals often turn those into shame and self-hatred, or internalized homophobia. While it is possible that a younger LGBTQ individual may find sources of support to counter negative social messages about his/her sexual orientation and gender identity, the older, less mobile, less socially connected adult may be struggling with decades of internalized homophobia that the abusive partner can use to exert power and control over the older adult.
- Fear of not being Believed or Taken Seriously- Abusers of older adults often convince their LGBTQ victims that the authorities will think they are “too old” to be LGBTQ. If the victim has to come out in order to report the abuse, fear of System-wide prejudice may stop them. Some of the stereotypes they may encounter are: “Violence between LGBTQ partners is always mutual”; “Abuse doesn’t occur in lesbian relationships”; and/or “Only the physically bigger partner can be abusive.”
- Abusers Gain Control of Finances and Assets- Although laws legalizing same-sex marriage and civil unions are progressing across the United States, many LGBTQ older adults are unaware of these changes, and may not feel comfortable with them because , as older adults, they still hold conventional beliefs about marriage. This being said, many LGBTQ older adults are not protected by marriage and/or community property laws. That makes it far easier for the abuser to gain and control all of a couple’s finances. This may mean the abused older adult may be penniless or homeless if he or she left the abuser, or if seeking help led to the abuser being jailed or removed from the home.
- Isolation- Isolation is a common tactic of power and control that often leads victims to become totally dependent on their abusers and keeps others from noticing and/or intervening in the abuse. They risk increased isolation from friends, family and cultural and religious communities who may not accept or support the LGBTQ individual’s disclosure. Isolating an LGBTQ older adult may be easier than isolating a non-LGBTQ older adult because many don’t feel comfortable in settings that predominantly cater to non-LGBTQ such as senior centers and meal sites where they can remain connected to the community. Additionally, some LGBTQ older adults avoid health care professionals, preferring to cope with injuries and illnesses on their own rather than risk encountering discrimination or prejudice, real or perceived, in a health care setting. The abuser may use fear of discrimination to keep the older adult victim from seeking necessary medical care following a domestic incident. This also impacts the victim’s ability to safely and consistently engage in routine, preventative healthcare to address the later-in-life illnesses and conditions that often impact older adults. Over time, these abusive behaviors can result in self-neglect when older adult victims become frail and their physical and/or mental capacities are no longer sufficient to maintain their own personal health and safety.