Editors' note: Greg Varnum is the acting Executive Director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition.
With all the talk of hate crimes happening in our community, and with October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I wanted to take an opportunity to comment on one form of violence often overlooked - violence within our own relationships.
As many as 33% of same-sex relationships experience some form of domestic violence. While the prevalence within our community is as high as that for opposite-sex couples, and in some cases higher, the awareness of this issue in our community is significantly lower.
The problem is amplified when you consider the lack of services and legal protections available for LGBT victims of intimate partner violence. Seven states' definitions of domestic violence exclude same-sex couples - in some cases an unforeseen consequence of constitutional amendments. Many of the over 1,500 shelters and safe houses for battered women deny services to same-sex survivors of domestic violence, and there are essentially no services for the 15.4% of male same-sex couples with instances of domestic violence. I suspect given the stigma around domestic violence targeted at males, that 15.4% statistic is smaller than the reality of the situation.
Even when cases are investigated by the police, many jurisdictions - either by practice or even policy - re-victimize the victim by arresting both individuals. There is a huge void of training in law enforcement on how to handle same-sex relationship abuse - so rather than try and sort it out - they simply arrest both parties. The instances where those individuals then experience harassment within the justice system is certainly a barrier for addressing this crisis.
My partner is a survivor of domestic violence and I need only look back two generations to find survivors of domestic violence in my own family. We all likely know someone who has been a victim of these often silent crimes. While the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and local anti-violence programs are developing more resources and awareness around this issue, not nearly enough is being done.
This past weekend I was a guest at the inaugural gala for Saving Promise, a national campaign focused on raising awareness about the domestic violence crisis facing our nation. Their founder and executive director - and author of Color Me Butterfly - L.Y. Marlow, has a truly remarkable story. Five generations of women in her family are survivors of domestic violence. When her granddaughter, Promise, was in danger of being the next in that line - she decided enough was enough. It's time for our community to also say that enough is enough and give a voice to this unspoken violence.
The National Youth Advocacy Coalition is looking forward to developing a relationship with Saving Promise, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and other organizations that are working to get the message out to our young people that NO ONE deserves to be the victim of domestic violence. With 91% of victims in our community reporting that this incident was not their first, we must offer a helping hand to our friends, family and colleagues suffering in silence.
This is not a problem that will simply go away. It might be incredibly uncomfortable to talk about and acknowledge - but only by accepting the reality will we be able to overcome it. If you are a victim of domestic violence - please seek help. You can visit NCAVP's web site for a listing of LGBT organizations available to help victims of crimes. If you know or suspect someone is suffering in their relationship - do not let your silence be the cause of their demise. Together we can help put an end to the suffering many in our community are experiencing.