Supporting LGBT Survivors
Although there are many parallels between LGBT people’s experience of domestic abuse and that of heterosexual women, there are a number of factors service providers should take into account when working with LGBT survivors.
Recognising the abuse
The media portrayal of domestic abuse is generally women being abused by men because that accounts for the vast majority of people experiencing domestic abuse.
This can often lead to LGBT people not realising that they are experiencing domestic abuse or recognise that they need help. Even if they recognise that they need support, they may not see themselves reflected in the websites or publicity of the services around them which can lead them to thinking that there are no appropriate support services available.
Perceived homophobia, biphobia or transphobia from services
A perception that many LGBT people have, which can be real or perceived, is that will they face homophobia, biphobia or transphobia from a service when seeking support for domestic abuse. This discrimination may be as a result of the way in which organisations intentionally or unintentionally treat LGBT people in their policies and working practices. It may also be a concern based on previous negative experiences with other services.
Possible ways to address this include providing staff LGBT domestic abuse training and then publicising this in your internal/external policies or strategies. You could also publicise your learning journey on your website and social media. Other solutions may include displaying posters and promotional materials with images of same-sex couples and transgender people or LGBT Domestic Abuse posters.
Are mainstream providers appropriate for LGBT people?
Some LGBT people may think mainstream service providers don’t know how to deal with their specific needs. Many LGBT people will have accessed mainstream services but won’t have disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity, meaning they remain hidden.
Service providers can show that equality doesn’t mean treating everyone the same and that they want to address LGBT people’s specific needs. A first step could be undertaking confidential equal opportunity monitoring forms which include questions on gender identity, transgender identity, and sexual orientation. This can help service-providers understand their service users' specific needs and make service users feel included within the organisation.
Fear of being "outed"
Another concern for LGBT service users could be the fear of being ‘outed’. This is especially true in the criminal justice process as a case progresses to court, because case details are discussed in open courts. If a person is not ‘out’ in all sections of their life (for instance, they may be out to friends and family but not at work) then this may be a real fear for them.
All services, with the exception of criminal justice services, should promote their procedures of confidentiality, including confidentiality statements in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Encouraging disclosure is essential. LGBT people will be discouraged from disclosing if service providers use language which reflect heterosexual assumptions, for example assuming a female survivor is experiencing abuse from a male partner.
Simply asking, even if a disclosure doesn’t take place, can be a very important step for someone experiencing domestic abuse. If they decide at that point not to disclose they may then disclose the next time they are asked.
Survivor or perpetrator?
With the exception of criminal justice services, who need to identify the perpetrator, best practice is to always believe someone who presents as having experienced domestic abuse.
Unfortunately, in a small number of cases this might mean that service providers give support to the abuser. However, as there is no way to know for certain, this is more beneficial than potentially getting it wrong and sending the person who really needs help away.
Clearly service providers cannot support both parties at the same time and various steps can be taken to avoid this, such as referring one party to another local service or arranging meeting places outwith the organisation.
It is essential that LGBT people feel that they are included within policies, strategies, service plans and protocols. This provides service users, staff and volunteers with reassurance that a service is able to address the specific needs of LGBT people experiencing domestic abuse.
It is especially important to ensure that all policies and related documents are equality impact assessed. LGBT people may not be a visible or vocal presence in your local community but considering the impact that policies and practices have on them can help ensure that changes made at a strategic level have a positive impact on service users.