27th March 2018
Janice Stevenson is a Development officer for LGBT Youth Scotland. In this blog, she writes about the work done by the project Voices Unheard to better understand LGBT young people’s understanding, knowledge and experience of domestic violence.
The Voices Unheard project was established by a group of young people from LGBT Youth Scotland. Using a peer research approach, the group sought to find out lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people’s understanding, knowledge, and experience of domestic abuse in their families and relationships. The findings of this initial investigation have enabled Voices Unheard to engage with service providers and help them to increase their knowledge and understanding of LGBT young people’s support needs when experiencing or witnessing domestic abuse.
The research highlighted a lack of recognition of abuse amongst LGBT young people. Participants were asked about their experiences of controlling behaviour from partners or ex-partners, and although 52% reported having had experienced some form of abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner, only 37% of the young people recognised this as abuse. The media often depicts negative portrayals and stereotypes of same sex relationships, meaning that LGBT young people are not aware of what a healthy LGBT relationship looks like.
Perpetrators of domestic abuse and people who sexually exploit children and young people can and do use stereotypes and gendered expectations as tools of abuse and control; telling LGBT young people that they are ‘not a real gay man, lesbian woman, bisexual person etc if they fail to live up to the stereotype. Young people can feel pressured to engage in certain types of sexual activity or to express their sexual orientation or gender identity in stereotypical ways in order to ‘prove’ their LGBT identity, which contributes to the normalising of abuse within LGBT relationships.
As well as experiencing abuse within their own relationships, young people also described their experience of living with domestic abuse, where 61% of the respondents had witnessed some form of abuse in their families. If a young person is witnessing abuse in their families they are less likely to feel safe and confident within their home, creating additional barriers to ‘coming out’. 79% of the young people who took part in the research believed that someone who had witnessed domestic abuse in their family or home would feel less confident to ‘come out’ as a result. It is therefore vital that services and agencies that work with young people experiencing domestic abuse provide safe and positive places for young people to talk about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBT young people also face additional barriers to seeking support. They may not be ‘out’ as an LGBT person to family or friends, making it difficult to utilise their own support network. 47% of the young people said that fear of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia from service providers would make them less likely to access domestic abuse support services. They also shared concerns about confidentiality; specifically, concerns about being outed by services to family, or through other referrals.
Transgender young people were concerned that services would not be inclusive of them and recommend that clarity about inclusion of transgender and gender variant young people is made clear in literature, websites and promotional materials.
Following their research, and through extensive engagement with the domestic abuse sector in Scotland, Voices Unheard and the LGBT Domestic Abuse Project have developed some key recommendations to help domestic abuse services to be more inclusive. These include;
- Be clear that your service is inclusive of LGBT people in literature, website and promotional materials
- Clarity over what support services offer to LGBT people – particularly transgender inclusion
- Advertise flexible opening hours to accommodate young people who may struggle to access services during office hours
- Provide remote services, such as telephone, email and online support
- Provide clear examples of LGBT domestic abuse in case studies/ stories on websites, in literature and promotional materials
- Access appropriate training; without the correct training, staff may not be able to support LGBT young people in the way that they need
- Have clear links with other organisations, including LGBT services, and be able to make referrals
- Ensure you use gender neutral language at all times, such as using ‘partner’ rather than husband or wife
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