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Domestic Violence and Abuse in the Gay Community: Breaking the Myths and Ending the Silence

December 1999

You may be asking yourself right now, what does domestic violence have to do with HIV and STDs? Well, it actually is not related to HIV and STDs, but domestic violence is a Gay health concern nonetheless, since domestic violence and abuse can cause both emotional harm and bodily harm to the victim. Gay domestic violence is virtually never discussed in the Gay community, so I thought this forum would be a good place to start talking about it.

When a man beats up a woman, it's can be all over the news and there are a lot of programs to help the victim. But when it comes to domestic violence and abuse in the Gay community, it is "thrown under the rug" and people pretend like it just does not exist.

Have you ever been a victim of Gay domestic violence or verbal abuse? Ask yourself these questions:

1) Has your lover, partner, or friend ever hit you in anger, or physically assaulted you? Have they ever verbally threatened to hit you or hurt you?

2) Has your lover, partner, or friend ever broken anything in the house or apartment out of anger and rage?

3) Has your lover, partner, or friend ever thrown objects in the room when they were angry?

4) Has your lover, partner, or friend ever threatened your life or made other verbal threats (like threatening to "out" you to other people)?

5) Has your lover, partner, or friend constantly insulted you or frequently yelled at you?

6) Are you ever afraid of going home to, or visiting your lover, partner, or friend, for fear of them hurting you?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are a victim of Gay domestic violence and/or verbal abuse.

There are many myths associated with domestic violence, especially in the Gay community. Some of those myths are:

MYTH #1) It did not really happen. WRONG! Some people may tell you that you are just making a big deal out of nothing, you are over-reacting, or you are just imagining it. It is amazing how many people will try to convince you that you are imagining the problem. People do not imagine domestic violence, but they are often in denial that it exists. If a person mentions anything to you about being a victim of domestic violence, chances are that not only is the problem very real, but it probably has been occurring for quite some time.

MYTH #2) "He is too nice a person to ever do a thing like that." WRONG! I have heard people say that a guy was too nice a person to ever commit domestic violence. Anyone, regardless of how nice they seem, can commit domestic violence against another person. Some people are like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. They may seem nice to other people when they are in a good mood (or when they are hiding their anger), but when they lose their temper, they turn violent. Even the nicest people can be guilty of committing domestic violence.

MYTH #3) Domestic violence only occurs when a person is drunk, or high on drugs. WRONG! Domestic violence can occur at any time. Alcohol and other recreational drugs merely reduce a person's inhibitions, making violence more likely to occur. But even if the person is sober, they can still become violent at any time.

MYTH #4) Domestic violence is the victims fault. WRONG! This myth is very common (and perhaps the most common of all). People tend to blame the victim for the violence against them. For example, a person may say, "What did you do to make him so angry that he hit you? What did you do that he got so angry that he threw the bottle at you?" The answer to those questions is, the victim did NOTHING wrong. Victims do not cause violent behavior in their partners!

MYTH #5) It is only domestic violence if the victim gets physically hurt. WRONG! Some people do not consider a person's behavior as violent unless someone gets physically hurt. For example, if a guy throws a bottle across the room, but misses his partner, they may think that this is not domestic violence. Not true! Once the guy throws anything, and once anything in the room becomes airborne, then this is domestic violence. And given enough opportunity, one day, the object that is thrown will end up hitting the partner.

MYTH #6) If someone throws something, but they are not aiming it directly at their partner, it is not domestic violence. WRONG! Simply put, if he throws anything anywhere in the room in anger, it is domestic violence.

MYTH #7) Domestic violence is sometimes justified. WRONG! Committing violence against another person is never, ever justified.

MYTH #8) It is only domestic violence when a man hurts a woman. WRONG! The person committing the violence can be male or female, straight or Gay. And the victim of domestic violence can be male or female, straight or Gay.

MYTH #9) Domestic violence can stop after only one incident. WRONG! If someone commits a violent act, they tend to be violent again later on (days, weeks, or even months later). The question is not IF the violence will occur again, but WHEN it will occur again. No matter how regretful the person may be, no matter how many times they may apologize to you about hurting you, and no matter how many times they promise that they will never do it again, chances are that their violent behavior will recur. The only thing that will put an end to a person's violent behavior is ongoing counseling and therapy.

MYTH #10) "Well, he did not hit me THAT hard." If he hit you at all, that is domestic violence!

MYTH #11) The abuse is always physical. WRONG! This is not always the case. The abuse can also be verbal and emotional. The abuser may use words instead of, or in addition to, physical violence to "attack" you. Do not allow your partner to insult you, belittle you, or lower your self-esteem. Never put up with verbal abuse. The emotional harm can be just as severe as the physical harm.

What do you do if you find yourself in a violent or abusive situation?

1) If you are in a relationship where you have been hit, had things thrown around the room by your partner, been verbally abused, or been threatened, GET OUT of the house or apartment IMMEDIATELY! Do not wait, or hope that the problem will stop on it's own. If you do not leave immediately, you could wind up in a hospital before you know it. If necessary, spend the night(s) at a friend's house, or even in a hotel room.

2) If you feel threatened, or if your partner becomes violent, call the police IMMEDIATELY! Do not wait! And do not be ashamed or scared to call the police. You are not overdoing it. You are not over-reacting. If you feel threatened in any way, or if you are in any danger whatsoever, that is what the police are for.

3) Make sure you tell a close friend what is going on. Do not hide the fact that you are a victim. Your friend can keep an eye on you to make sure you are handling the situation OK.

4) Consider going to counseling to help you cope with the abuse. A counselor can also help you find ways to end the relationship safely.

5) If the relationship has ended, and you have personal possessions at your ex-partners house, NEVER go to their house alone to pick up your possessions. Always get a police escort to go with you (the police will do this for you if you have a fear for your safety). Do not hesitate to ask for a police escort. Police deal with domestic violence issues all the time, and this is a routine procedure for them.

6) If your ex-partner has a key to your house, change all the locks on your house immediately!

7) Ask your local police to increase patrols in your neighborhood to make sure your ex-partner is not stalking you, nor coming anywhere near your home. Alert your neighbors as well.

8) If there is even a chance that your ex-partner will go anywhere near you, get a restraining order against them. The police or a lawyer will tell you how to do this.

Finally, you do not have to tell anyone (including the police) that this was a Gay relationship. Just tell them that this is a friendship that ended badly, and that this person has a history of violent behavior. That's all they need to know.

Like other issues in the Gay community, the only way that this problem will end is if the community itself lends support to the victims. The Gay community has to recognize this problem, and act upon it. The problem and the solution rests in our hands.

Do you want more information on AIDS, STDs or safer sex? Contact the U.S. Centers for Disease Control AIDS hotline, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-CDC-INFO. Or visit The Body's Safe Sex and Prevention Forum.

Until next time . . . Work hard, play hard, play safe, stay sober!

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This article was provided by Rick Sowadsky, M.S.P.H..