Domestic Violence in the LGBTQ+ Community

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Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

When we think about partner abuse, the image that comes to mind is of a man physically harming a woman. Intimate partner violence can be very different from that common vision of it, though. Domestic violence can cause a victim incredible, long-lasting harm even if they are never touched physically. And while the image we hold of an abuser is usually a man who hurts a woman, any person can be an abuser.

Partner violence within LGBTQ+ relationships occurs as often, if not more often, than in heterosexual relationships.

There is much less research available about partner violence in LGBTQ+ relationships than domestic violence in heterosexual relationships. In fact, research in this area is so underfunded that many sites reference a single study from 2010 (cited above) because there are so few studies completed on the subject. What those studies have found, though, is staggering.

Read on to learn how prevalent partner violence is in queer relationships, why people don't report abuse, the long-term mental and physical health effects of domestic violence, and how to find help if you're a victim.

The Statistics

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), the following statistics for domestic violence within LGBTQ+ relationships is the most current.

  • 43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women are raped, the recipient of physical violence, and/or stalked by a partner at some point; this is true of only 35% of heterosexual women
  • Only 26% of men who experienced near-lethal partner violence called police
  • Fewer than 5% of LGBTQ+ domestic violence victims ever seek protective orders from the court
  • 11% of reported LGBTQ+ intimate violence cases involved the use of a weapon

Who Is at Risk?

Any human is at risk of partnering with someone who turns out to be abusive. No matter what gender you are or what gender you prefer to be intimate with, there is always the potential that a partner can become abusive.

Abuse doesn't know gender any more than it knows race. Femme women can be abusers of butch women; small men can be abusers of large men. We must grow to understand that the stereotype of what abusers and victims look like is just that: a stereotype, not reality.

The Highest At-Risk Groups

That said, there are specific groups of LGBTQ+ people who are at the highest risk for intimate partner violence, according to the NCADV. These are:

  • Trans people
  • Black people
  • People on public assistance
  • Bisexual people

For all of these groups, domestic violence occurs more frequently for people who identify as a member of them, than for those who do not.

What Prevents People From Seeking Help?

For any abusive situation, there are numerous barriers that can prevent a victim from seeking out and receiving help. A victim may fear for their life, or fear for their child's safety, or be embarrassed and ashamed of having chosen someone who ended up being abusive even though they logically know they are not to blame.

LGBTQ+ victims of domestic violence face all of those same barriers. However, they potentially face multiple additional barriers to receiving help, as well. These barriers are discussed below.

Outing

An abuser in an LGBTQ+ relationship may threaten to out their partner if their partner seeks help and hasn't come out to everyone in their life. This could affect everything from their relationship with their parents or other family members to their careers.

This threat is potentially even more dangerous to a trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person who hasn't yet publicly disclosed their gender identity.

While it may seem surprising that one partner could make such a terrible threat to the one they love, this is something that happens. As a result, it adds another layer of emotional distress to an already impossibly stressful situation.

Gendered Stereotypes

There is often a lack of belief when an abuser isn't of the demographic we assume victims to generally be a part of. A person who is being abused can rightfully be very worried that they won't be believed as the victim in an intimate partner violence situation if they do not fit the physical description of one.

This means that they're at risk of disclosing difficult information, just to possibly not be believed. In that case, they could end up much worse off than had they not reported the abuse at all, because their partner may find out that they went to the authorities.

Additionally, authorities could turn the situation around onto accusing them of being the abuser, especially if the actually-abusive partner in the situation, who looks more stereotypically like they'd be the victim, claims that is the case.

Imperfect Legal Protections

Homophobia and transphobia still play a role in the legal workings of many states. So a domestic violence victim may encounter prejudiced police officers or other authority figures when they report abuse. Unfortunately, this can still occur even if the laws in their state provide equal protection for LGBTQ+ relationships.

If they reported the situation only to be denied care, they would be worse off than before. This is one of the most common reasons that LGBTQ+ people do not report domestic violence.

After all, if you had to fear that reporting the violence against you would only lead to more violence, would you be prone to reporting it?

Fear of Social Impact

LGBTQ+ communities can be small and tight-knit. When a person is experiencing violence from their partner, they may be afraid of the social impact of reporting it. If they and their partner share a group of friends or are members of the same community (both of which are highly likely), they risk alienating and losing many, if not all, of their closest social relationships.

Even if everyone they know does not side with their partner, there is nearly guaranteed to be a lot of social stress when disclosing the abuse to their friends and community.

This added stress may seem insurmountable or too risky to open the door to. Unfortunately, this can lead victims to be quiet about the abuse, putting their personal safety at risk.

Long-Term Repercussions Of Abuse

Any domestic violence situation is like to lead to long-term repercussions for the victim.

When it comes to LGTBQ+ relationships, one study notes, "Violence against men and same-sex domestic violence are often considered less of a threat to society and to the people involved, but it is important to understand that male-on-female violence, female-on-male violence, and same-sex violence all involve serious consequences to the victim’s and batterer’s short- and long-term health."

Physical Health Effects

Some of the potential physical health effects of domestic violence include:

  • Bodily injury (e.g., cuts, bruises, concussions, broken bones)
  • Penetrative injuries (e.g., knife wounds)
  • Miscarriages
  • Joint damage
  • Hearing and/or vision loss
  • Migraines
  • Permanent disfigurement
  • Arthritis
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Sexually transmitted diseases

Mental Health Effects

Some of the mental health effects of domestic violence include:

  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Personality disorders
  • PTSD
  • Sleep and/or eating disorders
  • Social dysfunction
  • Suicide

What to Do If You're in an Abusive Situation

If you are an LGBTQ+ person who is in an abusive situation and has not yet contacted the authorities, you have options to get the care you need and deserve.

Tell Someone

It's true that you may risk losing friends or community if you disclose your abuse to people who are close to your partner. Despite that, telling someone you're close to is an excellent first step to take to get out of an abusive relationship. Choose a person you trust, let them know what's been going on, and follow their lead on finding local resources.

Find Resources

You have many legal rights as a victim of abuse. The American Bar Association has a guide to reference, in which you can find out what all of your legal rights are for the situation so that you can then act accordingly.

If you aren't sure whether your situation is abusive or not, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a list for your to reference for common signs of abuse. Through that, you can get a clearer picture of your situation and what steps will be appropriate for you to take.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

File a Restraining Order If You Need One

If your partner has threatened you and/or has behaved violently towards you, your best chances of ensuring your own physical safety are to file for a restraining order. This is done through your local court. Look up what the process is for the city you live in, and follow the instructions provided.

Know that your partner will be served with the temporary order, which you will then have to go to court to make permanent. This step is best taken once you are already in a different living situation from them, or if you have left and have a safe place to stay in the interim, until the court date.

A Word From Verywell

If you belong to the LGBTQ+ and are a victim of intimate partner violence, remember that you are not at fault. There are many resources available that will provide the mental and physical care that you deserve.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Intimate Partner Violence in the United States — 2010.

  2. Alejo K. Long-Term Physical and Mental Health Effects of Domestic Violence. Themis: Research Journal of Justice Studies and Forensic Science. 2014.