Family violence: A prevalent but under reported problem in the LGBT community

Posted on 11 Jan 2007 at 6:52pm
By Heidi Pyron Special Contributor

Resource Center of Dallas offers programs to help those who are abused and those who abuse among same-sex couples



Heidi Pyron, coordinator for the Family Violence Program at the Resource Center of Dallas, receives an average of 55 calls a month from people in same-sex couples who say they have experienced some form of family violence. (TERRY THOMPSON/Dallas Voice)

Two weeks ago, a woman came to the Resource Center of Dallas after being assaulted by her partner the previous evening. Rather than risk staying at home with the abuser, she spent the night on the streets. She said that while having to stay on the streets, she was sexually assaulted by several men.

The Resource Center’s staff contacted the police and accompanied the woman to the hospital, staying with her for the duration to provide support, crisis counseling, and advocacy with law enforcement and hospital personnel. We then contacted a domestic violence agency, made the arrangements and took her from the hospital to the shelter.

Through these efforts, the woman was not only able to report the assaults to the police and receive needed medical attention, but she was able to sleep safely in a shelter dedicated to addressing the needs of family violence, or “Intimate Partner Violence.”

The Resource Center of Dallas’ Family Violence Program is the only program in North Texas that provides services specifically for the LGBT community. As the program coordinator, I receive an average of 55 calls a month related to IPV that’s almost twice daily!

All services are free and are designed to help a client through a full range of emotional and support issues, including individual crisis counseling, case management, support groups, assistance in attaining emergency shelter, safety planning, court and medical accompaniment, information and referrals, assistance with obtaining protective orders, as well as advocacy with social service agencies, law enforcement and criminal justice personnel.

For those who think they may be abusing an intimate partner or family member, we offer information and referrals to LGBT-friendly programs designed to help the person break the pattern of abuse.

According to a recent national study comparing police response in heterosexual versus same-sex violence, gay and lesbian individuals are more likely to experience domestic abuse than to be exposed to anti-gay violence perpetrated by strangers. Other studies suggest that IPV occurs in 21 to 50 percent of male same-sex partnerships, which is comparable to rates reported in lesbian couples and by heterosexual women.

Because family violence has historically been associated only with heterosexual relationships, many LGBT individuals experiencing verbal, emotional, physical, financial or sexual abuse or stalking by an intimate partner have difficulty naming their experience as IPV. Most are unaware of the services and legal remedies available to them.


Patty Perez, a worker at the Texas Council on Family Violence, stands among some of the life-sized female silhouettes, called Silent Witnesses, during a service honoring Texas women who have died as a result of domestic violence last year. A Silent Witness representing a San Antonio woman killed by her same-sex partner stands in the lobby of the Resource Center of Dallas. (HARRY CABLUCK/Associated Press)

Family violence is a crime which remains vastly under reported in all communities, but even more so in the LGBT community. And the high prevalence of intimate partner abuse in our community is a frightening indicator of an even greater and still predominately hidden concern. Some researchers have described LGBT family violence as the third most severe health problem facing gay men today, behind HIV and substance abuse.

Just to be clear, family violence is a pattern of abusive or coercive behaviors meant to scare, harm, and ultimately control the thoughts, beliefs or actions of an intimate partner, family member or friend or to punish them for resisting that control.

It may begin with verbal abuse, jealousy, breaking objects or other subtle tactics. Over time, attempts to gain power and control may escalate to physical assault.

Education and collaboration are integral components both in raising awareness of IPV and in providing services. The Family Violence Program offers classes at the Resource Center through the GLBT Living Series and also provides presentations and information to organizations on national, state and local levels.

We have developed important referral and information networks with the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the Dallas Domestic Violence Coalition, The Family Violence Prevention Council, Dallas County, the Crime Victims Council and the Texas Council on Family Violence LGBT Caucus.

Family violence does not discriminate. It occurs across all socio-economic classes, races, religions, age and gender couplings. In the lobby of our building on Reagan Street stands a life-sized, red silhouette known as a Silent Witness that offers proof that family violence crosses all boundaries.
It bears a placard engraved with the following:

“Mary Martha Diggs, 74
San Antonio
June 17, 2005

Mary was shot and killed by her friend, Judith Glory Riten, 64, at a pool party. According to police, Mary and Riten were partners. Witnesses told police the motive for the shooting was jealousy. There were at least 44 witnesses who saw the shooting and pointed to Riten as the shooter.”

October is Family Violence Awareness Month. If you think that you or someone you know may be in an abusive relationship, please contact the Resource Center’s Family Violence Program at 214-540-4455.

Heidi Pyron is the Family Violence Program coordinator for the Resource Center of Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 12, 2007

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