Uncovering the "Scandal" Behind Abusive Relationships

Self, Family

An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.

The media is abuzz with the news that "Scandal" star Columbus Short recently allegedly verbally and physically assaulted his wife

The discussion of domestic abuse is often minimized or avoided in our society, unless something tragic or near tragic happens. Then we want to talk about it. In the LGBT community, talking about domestic abuse is avoided more so than in the community at large. Sexual abuse (whether rape, molestation, incest, and preying on others for the purpose of rape, molestation, or incest) is also alive and well in our country, and while we don’t address violence as often as we should, sexual abuse often times is minimized and ignored more so than physical abuse. 

But what does domestic abuse look like? Whether in a heterosexual or same-sex relationship, it can be physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, and involve verbal behavior used to coerce, threaten or humiliate. In other words, a person does not just have to hit you. They can threaten to hit, kick, or push you through words or gestures, or simply put you down verbally by calling you names, demeaning you, yelling at you, cussing at you, threatening you, and sometimes even blaming you for their shortcomings. The purpose of the abuse is to maintain control and power over the person being abused. Often times, the abused person feels alone, isolated and afraid, and is usually convinced that the abuse is somehow her or his fault, or could have been avoided if she or he knew what to do.

The abuse does not occur all the time. As a matter of fact, it often occurs in a cyclical fashion, as the unpredictable attacks are a part of the tyranny. The batterer may be very charming, caring, and happy-go-lucky in public and others may look up to them. They may appear the same in private, only unlike in public, they become demeaning, pick arguments out of the blue for no apparent reason, and are verbally, mentally, and physically cruel. The next day, or maybe even the next minute, the batterer is very loving and acting as if nothing happened. Anyone can be a batterer. Whether a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, a high school or professional athlete, an entertainer, a school teacher, a preacher, a custodian, or someone unemployed. Batterers go across all socioeconomic, gender, education, and religious lines, as do those who are battered. Again, anyone can be a batterer. This is important because it brings me to my next point.

Domestic violence impacts the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community as much as the heterosexual community. This dispels the myth that only women are abused by men. Men batter men and women batter women. Often times, the LGBT community is scrutinized for having higher levels of domestic violence than their heterosexual counterparts. But studies show that partner abuse occurs in 25-33% of LGBT relationships which is approximately equal to the prevalence of domestic violence in heterosexual relationships. Just as in abusive heterosexual relationships, abuse in LGBT relationships involves one partner who is exerting power and control over another. 

It can include coercion, intimidation, physical, and sexual violence. It can also involve emotional abuse, economic control, use of weapons, and threats.  Exerting power does not require that the batterer be more masculine or physically stronger.  Partner abuse is not confined to "gender or sex roles." As previously mentioned, LBGT women, like men, are capable of committing acts of severe violence.  Some female batterers have stabbed, shot, brutally beaten and/or killed their partners.

So it is important to understand that dismissing the potential severity of female battering can be fatal. Labeling violence as "mutual" or as a "lover's quarrel" only minimizes and denies the severity of the abuse in a relationship which can often lead to death. While LGBT survivors may be more likely to fight back in self-defense due to perceived equality, let us be very clear, abuse in a relationship is not "mutual."

Domestic abuse can be ongoing, crossing all cultural boundaries and can severely impact children, whether they are the recipients of the abuse or not. Many of the dynamics of partner abuse are the same in LGBT and heterosexual relationships. But LGBT domestic violence has unique factors that relate to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and heterosexism within society. 

We are living in a world where most LGBT persons are not afforded basic civil rights.  As a result, there are often inadequate and insensitive supports or resources, particularly in small, rural areas. LGBT persons may fear being "outed" after disclosing partner abuse. They may be afraid of unfair treatment by law enforcement and service providers or concerned about the impact on child custody. In addition, many LGBT persons may be struggling with their own internalized homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia.

It is important to know that if you are being abused you are not the blame for the abuse and you are not the cause of upsetting your partner. Regardless of what he/she tells you, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. He or she will find a reason to become upset regardless of what you do or don't do, and will make you the scapegoat of that anger. Stop trying to figure out what will set them off or when they will be set off. You will never be privy to that information because it is an irrational, illogical train of thought that a person with ESP would not be able to see coming. Why, because it is about power and control.

What do you do if you are being abused? Well, the easy answer is to leave the relationship. Right? Not so easy. In many instances, people who are being abused may have no other place to go, no money, and no support system because their abuser has isolated them and controls their finances. Sometimes, people who are abused are in high profile relationships and are concerned about how disclosing their abuse will impact their abuser’s status, or their status (if they are in the public eye). Others may love their abuser so much, that they don't know their self-worth or how to love themselves because they watched one or both of their parents go through the same thing and they think that this is what love looks and feels like. LOVE DOES NOT HURT. It does not humiliate, it does not leave bruises, cuts, black eyes, broken bones, or internal injuries.

Consider these three things:

1. Protect yourself. Call the police (911) and file charges. No one has a right to touch you in any way that you don't want to be touched.

2. Leave or prepare to leave. This is important because some individuals are not in a position to be able to leave immediately. Leaving may take some planning. This is why it is important to develop a support system.

Tell somebody that you are being abused and that you need help. That person may be a coworker or your boss. If you are a student, it may be a teacher, your roommate, or the college counseling center. Studies are finding that more abused people, women in particular, are finding support through their supervisor and coworkers. Contact family members even if you have not spoken to or seen them in some time. Reach out to old friends you may have been forced to or talked into distancing yourself. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR PRIDE TO GET IN THE WAY OF YOU GETTING THE SUPPORT YOU NEED. You can find your pride later, but you don't get another life. These are your family members and friends. Despite not seeing you or talking to you for some time, they care about your well-being and love you, and in most instances, will want to help you get safe.

Let's keep things in perspective. Safety first. Working on our self-worth and regaining our pride second. The pride that you use to keep you from reaching out to those who love and can help you is a false sense of pride. Real self-pride is incongruent with someone treating you less than what you deserve and we have already established that no one deserves to be abused. As an LGBT person, do not allow your fear of being "outed" get in the way of you getting the support that you need. If, for whatever reason, you find it difficult to reach out to family and friends, please talk to a licensed professional. He or she may be able to help you develop a plan to leave. You may be able to find a counselor through your insurance provider. If you don't have insurance, most counties have community mental health centers that can help you get assistance at a minimal or, in some instances, no fee. Contact your local police department. Many police departments in large cities have an LGBT task force and may have someone on staff who deals particularly with LGBT issues like domestic violence.

3. Lastly, once you leave and are safe, get counseling. Counseling will help you cope with the feelings of shame, anger, sadness, hurt, disappointment, and for some, guilt and loss. Not necessarily loss of your relationship, but loss of yourself. Once you start healing these parts of you, counseling can help you find the "true" you, and develop your self-worth, sense of pride, and sense of purpose. Counseling can also serve as a safe space to discuss your feelings and enhance your support system.

—This journey is not easy, but it is worth it. You are worth it. You are beautiful, you are worthy, you are worth it!—