Safety Planning for LGBTQ Victims and Survivors of Domestic Violence
By Amy Thomson
One pervasive myth about intimate partner violence is that it cannot occur within the context of an LGBTQ relationship. However, domestic violence does not discriminate. Research presented by the CDC indicates that the rates of domestic violence are comparable to or, in some cases, higher than those occurring in heterosexual relationships.
Unique Barriers to Leaving an Abusive LGBTQ Partner
As survivors, each of us faced challenges and obstacles in disclosing abuse and accessing resources we need to get to safety and rebuild our lives. When deciding whether or not to disclose that they are being abused, there are unique stigmas and obstacles those in the LGBTQ community face in leaving an abusive partner. Some of these obstacles include:
- Lack of LGBTQ-specific resources: Services are generally tailored to help women and children with a few organizations specializing in helping other groups. Because of this service bias, organizations and their advocates may lack proper training, experience, and awareness of the unique dynamics present in abusive LGBTQ relationships.
- Discrimination: There are some domestic violence advocates, society-at-large, non-LGBTQ survivors, law enforcement, and courts who may, knowingly or not, discriminate against or be ineffective in servicing victims and survivors based on gender and orientation.
- No guaranteed anonymity: Smaller communities threaten anonymity if abuse is disclosed as other individuals often know many of their peers. This can increase risks a victim or survivor faces in seeking help.
- Shelters may turn them away: Shelters, with a few exceptions. accept women and children only. Many transgender individuals and gay men are turned away for lack of facilities or legal documentation noting their gender identity.
- Choosing between getting help and not being ready to come out to others: Not everyone has had a strong support system to come out to, or they simply may not be ready. Abusers often threaten to out them if the victim discloses the abuse.
- Risk of losing religious communities and families: LGBTQ victims face being disowned by family and peers or shunned and harassed by religious communities that foster environments of shame. Their congregation could force them into abusive conversion programs, or assault and harassment them. Because some religions operate on the fringes of society, an LGBTQ individual risks losing everything they have ever known – family, friends, employment, and basic necessities – causing additional trauma on top of the abuse. Being ostracized comes with its own consequences, including increased risk of depression, self-harm, suicide, and addiction.
- Risk of becoming alienated from the community: Disclosing abuse can carry with it the risk of alienation from the community in cases where others may side with the abuser and accuse the victim of lying about the abuse.
- Worry that disclosure of abuse will be detrimental to the community: The LGBTQ community already faces hostility, abuse, and harassment from many outside groups. Because of this, they may feel pressure and may not want to risk progress that has been made or fuel outsider hostility who could use the circumstances of their abuse against them.
- Lack of legal protection or awareness of existing protections: Laws traditionally favor married heterosexual couples with unmarried couples periodically receiving increasing protections. Some groups are still not fully recognized, including minors and LGBTQ relationships, and this results in an inability to secure protective orders in some states.
Safety Planning Can Help During Abuse, While Leaving, and After the Relationship Has Ended
Safety plans serve as added protection not only during active abuse but when leaving an abuser and in addressing on-going safety and support concerns after exiting an abusive situation as well. For active abuse, safety plans focus on reducing the risk of injury or harm, documenting injuries, and creating crisis plans in case of emergency. Safety plans for leaving or afterward also address stalking concerns, preserving financial and identification documents, medications, password protection, pets, and children.
There are general considerations that all victims and survivors should address in their safety plans:
- Copies of documents proving your identity (and gender, for transgender individuals),
- Copies of student loan paperwork, bank documents, checkbook, bank and credit cards, and tax forms,
- Legal documents, insurance information, marriage certificates, citizenship papers, divorce decrees, custody arrangements, and orders of protection,
- Copies of your lease, and vehicle title and registration, keys, and deed to the house,
- Medical information, vaccination records, glasses, hearing aids, and medication (this includes hormones, prosthetics, and other devices),
- A “Go bag” packed with toiletries, clothing, and other necessities, extra cash, documentation of the abuse (if you can gather safely) and stored with someone you trust in the event you need to flee your residence.
Above gathering the necessary documents and items you should bring with you when exiting an abusive relationship, there are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Consider changing your routine, including routes your travel, adjusting your daily schedule, and shopping at different stores to minimize the risk of running into your abuser.
- If your state recognizes LGBTQ relationships as eligible for orders of protection, consider filing for one; they do make it easier to involve law enforcement when your abuser violates it. If you have a protective order, keeps copies at work, in your car, purse, place of worship, and your children’s school(s) if they are covered.
- Update any legal documents you have on file permitting your abuser to access your information. Some examples are HIPPA forms allowing them access to medical information, property deeds and titles, banking and other financial accounts, and medical and life insurance.
- If you have pets, an increasing number of domestic violence shelters accept pets or partner with organizations to shelter them, so a victim does not have to choose between staying to protect their pet or leaving the pet with the abuser. You can also ask friends, family, or your vet to take pets in temporarily.
- Children are also at risk in cases of domestic violence. While in the home, you should teach them what to do in case of emergency, code words to alert others, and the importance of not trying to intervene during a physical assault. You should teach them escape routes, inform them of safe places they can go, and teach them how to contact others for help. You should also inform their school and daycare providers of your current situation.
- Clean up your digital trail. Abusers commonly use various apps, keylogging software, and GPS tracking to monitor and stalk their victims, and they can install these tools on your devices without your knowledge. For further information, read this article on digital stalking.
In addition to items and documents you need to take and steps to safeguard your safety, there are special considerations for LGBTQ victims and survivors of intimate partner violence that should be incorporated into safety plans:
- If you access services at local LGBTQ community centers and support or service groups, participate in advocacy with your abusive partner, or your abuser knows of such activities you participate in, consider contacting the organizations and work with them to create a plan to keep you safe from your abuser.
- If you are transgender and seeking shelter, there are several things you need to know. For those able to contact someone before leaving, some organizations can assist in referrals to shelters and services that are LGBTQ-friendly and specialize in assisting transgender persons. Many shelters may not accept trans individuals, and if they do, there are cases you might be at risk for further violence or discrimination. You should consider whether disclosing your trans status is best for you.
- Because the LGBTQ community is smaller and many have mutual acquaintances, you should be careful about sharing your new address, contact information, and social media accounts. This will minimize the risk of your abuser pressing mutual friends and others for information about your whereabouts and activities.
- Depending on the religion, some LGBTQ youth might be forced into conversion programs against their will while others might be at increased risk of assault or harassment as punishment. If you feel you are at risk, you may consider incorporating protective measures into your safety plan.
Due to the special circumstances you face, it is recommended that you contact an organization with specialized training to help design a tailored plan that fits your circumstances. Leaving an abuser can be dangerous and emotionally draining, and advocates with appropriate training (and personal experience) will be able to advise and help you find sheltering, counseling, and other resources to keep you safe as you rebuild your life.
Organizations That Can Help
National Domestic Violence Hotline – Provides generalized services for victims of intimate partner violence but can refer LGBTQ callers to appropriate services and assist with safety planning.
Anti-Violence Project – Provides services and support to any survivor of violence who is LGBTQ and HIV-affected. AVP will also help individuals outside of New York by referring them to local organizations for help.
Forge – Assists with referrals to support services, advocates, support groups, and therapist who specialize in caring for transgender individuals and their loved ones serving as their support circle.
The NW Network – Provides direct services to those in the Pacific Northwest and referral services to callers nationally.
SafeHorizon – Offers generalized domestic violence services but can work with LGBTQ callers on safety planning, counseling, sheltering, and legal referrals.
Free Mom Hugs – Founded by parents and allies of LGBTQ individuals provide unconditional love and support as well as financial assistance for food, travel, housing, clothing, and court costs for members of the LGBTQ community in emergencies.
If you are considering suicide, some organizations can help:
Trans Lifeline – 877-565-8860 (US) / 877-330-6366 (Canada) for trans individuals, 24/7
National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800-273-8255 and online chat, 24/7
The Trevor Project – 866-488-7386 or text and online chat for LGBTQ youth, 24/7
There is never a case where any form of abuse is acceptable, and every form of abuse – even if it never turns physical – is not only wrong, it is a crime. Someone who loves you would never make you feel ashamed of who you are, threaten to out you to family and friends, or compromise your safety. You deserve to live without fear and be treated with respect, compassion, and love. If your partner is hurting you, please reach out to one of the organizations above. They have advocates who understand the unique barriers you face as a member of the LGBTQ community and will help you get to safety.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.