New program coordinator says first step in addressing issue is to acknowledge the problem exists
Tammye Nash | Senior Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Statistically speaking, domestic violence is an issue in one in every four same-sex couples, according to Stephanie Nick, the new coordinator for the family violence program at Resource Center Dallas. That’s about the same percentage of opposite-gender couples affected.
Talk about couples where one of the two is transgender, though, and the rate skyrockets to about 50 percent, Nick said.
And, she added, in every case of domestic violence, regardless of the gender of those involved, it all comes back to “power and control.”
“Other circumstances, other factors, can add to the situation. Things like addiction. But it all comes back to power and control,” said Nick, who joined the RCD staff in April.
“It usually starts out small. I have had people tell me they thought it was flattering at first when their partner insisted on calling them eight or nine times a day.
Then it accelerates. The offender says, ‘I’ll handle the money, the finances.’ And then it becomes, ‘No, you can’t see your family or your friends, because they don’t support us.’
“The offender keeps doing more and more to isolate the victim until one day the victim looks up and realizes they are totally alone, they have no one they can turn to,” Nick continued. “I think that that isolation can be even stronger on the GLBT community because this community so often has more limited resources in the first place.”
And that, she added, is the big difference between family violence in the LGBT community and in the straight community — resources.
“Any time you are talking about partners — gay or straight or transgender — you are talking about people whose lives are very intertwined. They share family, friends, finances. It’s all very complex,” Nick said. “But when heterosexual couples divorce, they have legal protections built in. It’s not that way for same-sex couples.
“And when LGBT people face family violence, they don’t have the resources to turn to that straight people do,” she continued. “There’s no shelter exclusively for GLBT clients, although we do have relationships with shelters that will take in lesbian victims of family violence. But there is no shelter at all for gay men who are victims of family violence.”
There are a few shelters that will accept gay male victims, Nick said, “but they all have waiting lists of up to two years.”
Because turning to family and friends is also, in many cases, not an option for gay male victims of domestic abuse, “unfortunately some of them are forced to have to go to a homeless shelter. And while that gives them somewhere to stay, there is nothing at a homeless shelter to address the needs of victims of family violence.”
Resources for LGBT victims of family violence are scarce, Nick suggested, in part because mainstream society — and even LGBT victims themselves — are reluctant to acknowledge the problem exists.
“The hardest part for victims, I think, is making asking for help. Especially with gay males, we’re fighting an uphill battle. They feel shame because they feel like they are not man enough to protect themselves,” Nick said. “The first step is them recognizing that something isn’t quite right in their relationship, and then making that call for help.”
Even research into LGBT family violence — how it is the same and how it might differ from family violence in the straight community, and how best to help the victims — remains scarce, Nick said.
“There’s more research on the topic now than there used to be, of course. But there’s nowhere near as much as in the straight community. Why is that? Is it because people think it’s not a serious enough issue? Is it because LGBT family violence is under-reported, or not accurately reported?” she said. “I don’t have the answers.”
One answer is awareness. Without the attention of the community as a whole, LGBT victims of family violence will continue to suffer mostly alone and without resources.
“People need to recognize that family violence absolutely does exist. It is a very real issue in the LGBT community,” Nick said. “Once people began to realize what an epidemic this is, then they can start to take action to address is. Education is first and foremost what has to happen.”
Although Resource Center Dallas has had some form of family violence program “going back to the Dallas Gay Alliance days,” the program in its current incarnation began about three years ago with special projects funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, according to Rafael McDonnell, communications manager for RCD.
Nick joined the staff as family violence program coordinator in April, after the departure of longtime coordinator Heidi Pyron.
Nick said the program offers crisis counseling to LGBT victims of family violence, along with case management services and referrals for psychiatric and legal services. Program workers can also accompany victims to the hospital or to court hearings when necessary.
The program will also work to help those who need emergency shelter or emergency medical attention.
“And we help people who are trying to get out of abusive situations make a safety plan for themselves,” Nick said. “The most dangerous time for victims is often when they actually take that step and leave the home. That’s when the offender realizes that they are actually leaving and the attacks can get much more serious. So we help them come up with a plan to get out safely.”
Any LGBT person is in an abusive relationship and wants help can call Nick at 214-540-4455 for an appointment to get help. But, she said, appointments are not absolutely necessary.
“If you’re in the neighborhood and decide you are ready to get help, come by the center. Tell them you want to see me and as long as I don’t already have someone in my office, they will send you in right away,” she said.
The center is located at 2701 Reagan St.
NICK BRINGS EDUCATION, EXPERIENCE TO RCD POST
Stephanie Nick joined the staff of Resource Center Dallas as family violence program coordinator in April.
Nick earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Texas in Arlington and then worked as a investigator for Child Protective Services, during which she underwent further training.
Before joining the RCD staff, Nick worked for 2 ½ years with the Tarrant County Alliance For Children were she conducted forensic interviews of children who had been abused or neglected and children who had witnessed a major crime.
Nick said she first became aware of Resource Center Dallas last fall when she attended GayBingo. She applied for the family violence program coordinator position when it became available in March.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.