(Photo by Photo Phiend, from Flickr)
ORLANDO | October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and all month long local advocates and leaders will be working to raise awareness and provide support to those who are victims of intimate partner abuse.
First observed in October 1981 as a national “Day of Unity,” Domestic Violence Awareness Month is held each October as a way to unite advocates across the nation in their efforts to end domestic violence. Communities and advocacy organizations across the country connect with the public and one another throughout the month to raise awareness about the signs of abuse and ways to stop it, to uplift survivor stories and provide resources to those in need.
Locally, the Victim Service Center of Central Florida has been providing individualized services and resources to victims of sexual assault, violent crime and traumatic circumstances through crisis response, advocacy, therapy and community awareness for nearly 25 years.
Much of the conversation around domestic violence is centered on cisgender women within heteronormative relationships but abuse can happen to anyone — and when the view of domestic violence is solely focused on heteronormative relationships, there’s a lot of queer victims who are being missed.
“Anyone can be a victim and anyone can be a perpetrator,” says Roxane Perret, Victim Service Center’s LGBTQIA+ Sexual Violence Awareness Specialist. “That’s a really important message to get out there because abuse thrives in isolation.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 43.8% of lesbians and 61.1% of bisexual women have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner compared to 35% of heterosexual women.
Men are not immune from abusive relationships with 26% of gay men, 29% of heterosexual men and 37% of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.
Within the transgender community, more than half — 54% — have reported experiencing some form of intimate partner violence.
“Abuse is already stigmatized and it’s already a topic not often discussed in society until it’s too late. For people that are in non-heterosexual relationships, this is even less talked about,” Perret says. “[Intimate Partner Violence] is often portrayed as a type of violence that’s committed by a man to a woman. This idea of what IPV is isn’t only wrong but it could become a barrier for victims that are experiencing abuse in same-sex relationships to come forward. Therefore talking about it brings more awareness and could show survivors that their experiences are real and that they deserve healthy relationships.”
Recognizing that domestic abuse is not an issue exclusive to straight relationships is important to know but it is also vital to know that IPV doesn’t just come as physical abuse.
“Just because someone isn’t hitting you, doesn’t mean that they’re not harming you,” Perret says. “Unfortunately many people are not taught how to be in healthy relationships so some people may think that it is normal and that this is how a partner is supposed to behave.”
Physical abuse can include punching, slapping and/or kicking but it can also be endangering the life of their partner.
“That could be physically preventing their partner from leaving the room or house during an argument or threatening their life,” Perret says. “It can also be driving recklessly on purpose because they want to scare their partner into believing their life is in danger.”
A type of abuse that can sometimes be seen as “normal behavior” within relationships is sexual abuse.
“Just because someone is in an intimate relationship with someone does not mean that they owe sex whenever their partner wants it,” Perret says. “There needs to be consent every single time anything is initiated. Abuse is any situation in which someone is forced to partake in a sexual activity that is unwanted and unsafe. So even if you even if you’re in a relationship, consent is so crucial.”
Sexual abuse can include sharing someone’s intimate pictures without their consent or videotaping sexual encounters without the knowledge of everyone involved.
Psychological abuse includes using verbal, emotional and mental abuse to manipulate, belittle or harm someone.
“Specifically within the LGBTQ+ community, this can be threatening to out the victim at work or to family members who don’t know the person is LGBTQ,” Perret says. “This can also be consistently misgendering or using the wrong name and pronouns, or denying the victim’s identity as transgender.”
Many times, the abuser will isolate their partner from friends, family and support systems leading the victim of abuse to think they only have their partner to rely on.
Other types of domestic abuse include financial, such as refusing to let their partner get a job, use credit cards or not permit them to have a bank account, and cultural or spiritual, such as minimizing the victim’s spiritual or cultural value, behaviors or beliefs, violating or obstructing the victim’s religious or cultural customs.
If someone in your life confides in you that they are in an abusive relationship, Perret says the best thing to do is take the time to listen to them and believe what they are saying to you.
“Unfortunately, this kind of thing is very much ‘behind closed doors’ and so the abuser may act normal in group settings so it is important to believe the victim when they tell you what is happening, even if you may not have personally seen it,” Perret says. “On average it takes eight to nine times for survivors to leave their abuser for good, so you may get frustrated with your friend who is going through this or you see these behaviors and ask them why aren’t they leaving. You can offer your support but it is when they’re ready.”
There are resources available in Central Florida for anyone involved in an abusive relationship including the Harbor House of Central Florida (407-886-2856), Stand Up Survivor (321-430-5307), Safehouse of Seminole (407-330-3933) and Help Now Osceola (407-847-8562 and 321-306-0677).
You can also reach the Victim Service Center of Central Florida at 407-500-HEAL (4325).
The 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233.