Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence

Intimate Partner Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Relationships

The experience of LGBTQ victims is neither completely identical to that of heterosexual victims, nor completely different.

LGBTQ and Heterosexual IPV: Similarities and Differences

  • LGBTQ IPV is just as common as men’s violence against female partners.
  • Abusers use many of the same control tactics.
  • Children, other people, and pets are also in danger.
  • LGBTQ IPV is just as serious as men’s violence against female partners; it includes assault, rape and even sometimes murder. 
  • Abuse is not mutual – there is an abuser and a victim. 
  • Leaving an abusive partner is dangerous, and may not end the violence.  Post-separation violence – including lethal violence – is common.
  • Social support is critical, and LGBTQ victims may lack support from friends and family.  For transgender victims, leaving their abusive partner may mean losing their whole support system when it comes to their gender identity.
  • Leaving often creates economic problems for victims.  Those who receive domestic partner benefits will likely lose them if they leave. 
  • Leaving also creates legal issues, which abusers often exploit. 
  • If the partners have many legal ties – marriage or civil union, shared bank accounts, apartment leases and insurance; jointly owned homes, vehicles or businesses; and custody of children – the abuser can exploit these ties to continue to exert control.
  • If they have few legal ties, the victim may have no recourse if the abuser tries to control property distribution or housing, or dictates whether the victim can have an ongoing relationship with the couple’s children. 
  • LGBTQ abusers use tactics specifically related to anti-LGBTQ bias .
  • Specifically male privilege plays a smaller role. LGBTQ abusers more often exploit other types of privilege, based on race, class, money, age, educational level, professional status, connections, immigration status, gender conformity etc. 
  • Victims encounter additional problems in interacting with DV service providers .
  • Law enforcement and the courts may fail to recognize IPV when the couple is LGBTQ.
  • Some remedies are less available. For instance, immigrant LGBT victims may not be able to access certain forms of VAWA relief, such as Battered Spouse Waivers, because their marriage is not federally recognized.
  • Victims may have to come out in order to seek help, whether they want to or not.  Some may not report their partner’s violence in order to avoid this.
  • Services are severely lacking, especially for male and transgender victims.
  • The victim and abuser often have support systems in common, and leaving one may mean losing the other.
  •  “Internalized homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia increase the self-blame of the survivor. The abuser and/or others may blame the survivor’s sexual and/or gender identity for the abuse.” 8

The GLBT Domestic Violence Coalition and Jane Doe Inc. provide a good summary of the impact of lack of access to services:

  • “Severe financial ruin and/or loss of resources
    • Loss of employment
    • Homelessness
  • Physical health risks
    • Injury, hospitalization, and/or death
    • Assault in mainstream shelters
    • Increased substance abuse
  • Mental health risks
    • Extreme mental distress, retraumatization
    • Lack of self-worth, disillusionment and despair
    • Increased isolation
  • Negative impacts on children
    • Separation from children
    • Long-term impact on quality of family life and child development
    • Traumatization of children
    • Intergenerational trauma
  • Forced reliance on inadequate, hostile or violent resources
    • Stayed with or returned to the abuser
    • Reliance on/returning to homo/bi/transphobic families
    • Lack of shelter resulting in multiple moves which is a barrier to recovery
    • Having to rely on network of friends” 9

Next: Information for Victims:  Law Enforcement

Back to Intimate Partner Violence in LGBTQ Relationships homepage

  1. The Network/La Red (2010). Open Minds, Open Doors: Transforming Domestic Violence Programs to Include LGBTQ Survivors, p. 26.
  2. GLBT Domestic Violence Coalition and Jane Doe Inc, (2005). Shelter/Housing Needs for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Victims of Domestic Violence, page 20.