10 December marks a historic day for LGBT* people, when thousands of gay couples across the UK are able to convert their civil partnerships into marriage. But as we celebrate this milestone in our history, perhaps it is also about time we speak out about the other, often hidden, side of LGBT* marriages and relationships - the fact that domestic violence and abuse is as prolific in our community as it is in the rest of society.
"When two women fight isn't it just a cat fight?" is a common question asked us when we deliver training here at Broken Rainbow, the national LGBT* domestic violence and abuse charity. A question that illustrates just how blind we are to this issue, and how hidden it still is both within and outside the LGBT* community, making it even more difficult for victims to come forward.
Since 1 April 2014, five thousand LGBT* people have come to Broken Rainbow UK for help, support and guidance and that number increases every day. However as this group of vulnerable people turn to us for help, we face another hurdle, and that is the lack of support services catering for LGBT* people. For example there are no suitable refuge spaces for LBT* women or GBT* men in the UK.
Another issue specific to LGBT* domestic violence and abuse is the fact that as an LGBT* person you have to 'come out' when reporting the crime or contacting support services. Callers to our helpline will often report incidents of secondary levels of discrimination including homo-, bi- and transphobia from police, health services, legal services and other front line providers. On top of this LGBT* perpetrators will often use sexual orientation and outing as a tool of coercive control and therefore a victim is unlikely to want to call for help as they know they will have to out themselves to do so.
One caller told us recently that when she was taken to A&E for treatment after having been beaten by her partner the hospital staff promised her that all the correct safety procedures had been put in place. Two hours later her abusive partner walked in to her hospital cubical, having told the hospital staff that she was the victim's sister. Despite the woman being very clear on what had happened, the staff still acted as though the abuser couldn't possibly be a woman.
And the situation is just as bad for LGBT* perpetrators. No specialist perpetrator programmes are accessible to members of the community which often means LGBT* perpetrators face inequality when it comes to having their sentences reviewed.
To tackle some of these inequalities Broken Rainbow UK is recruiting LGBT* Independent Domestic Abuse Advocates and piloting a legal help programme in partnerships with legal firms across the UK. However this is not enough and statutory bodies need to address their lack of LGBT* specific services urgently.
It's time statutory service providers acknowledged that more needs to be done for the LGBT* community, understanding that specialist services need to be provided for both victims and perpetrators. Too often victims have nowhere to go and end up staying with their abusive partner, something that clearly increases the risk for them and the possibility that they too may become a statistic at the hands of their partner.
10 December is as it happens also Human Rights Day and today we at Broken Rainbow UK would like to point to the Human Rights Charter where it clearly states that we all have a right the be free from harm and the threat of harm. This includes all of us, LGBT* people too.
If you want to know more about Broken Rainbow you can visit our website www.brokenrainbow.org.uk
Broken Rainbow depends on donations and goodwill of its supporters. Donations can be made via our website and even the smallest amount can make a difference to someone whose life is at risk.