Domestic violence (or, to use the correct legal term, domestic violence and abuse)[i] , largely overlooked for far too long,[ii] is now gaining rapidly increasing visibility within society, with the UK government planning to legislate for a specific offence of domestic violence for the first time,[iii] and a rising number of people – mostly women, but of both genders – speaking out about their experiences. Long having been viewed as an issue which exclusively affected women, modern thinking on domestic violence has begun to shift, with arguments that, due to a large number of males reporting as having experienced domestic violence, it should not be considered a ‘women’s issue’ at all.[iv][v] There is some merit to this view, though I don’t agree entirely; but I would argue that a larger concern is the absence of marginalised women – particularly LGBT and disabled women – from the official narrative. Domestic Violence is, all research indicates, a predominately (though not exclusively) women’s issue, but the media’s view of it as a heterosexual, and apparently non-disabled, women’s issue ensures that the concerns of these communities remain marginalised.
While men also experience domestic violence – in large numbers, according to recent research – I do have sympathy with the argument that domestic violence needs to be viewed primarily as a women’s issue because women are overwhelmingly affected. And this is irrefutable – while a recent study suggested that 40% of those who had experienced domestic violence were men,[vi] this still means that approximately 60% were women; and no other study has matched or surpassed this percentage. Moreover, the study did not consider sexual violence,[vii] which statistics agree is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women[viii] – both in domestic abuse cases, and otherwise – and it did not differentiate between degrees of severity, whereas studies which do so have found that women are overwhelmingly affected by the most extreme forms of domestic violence.[ix]
Therefore, while large numbers of men are affected, far larger numbers of women are – and given the aforementioned tendency for people to assume that domestic violence always occurs within heterosexual relationships, it would be highly problematic to attempt to redefine domestic violence as ‘gender-blind’ without also tackling this assumption. To argue that men and women are both affected is totally accurate, but without precise clarification this can easily be misinterpreted as “men and women are both affected to the same level of severity, and just as often”. To assume this would ignore the more severe affect domestic violence has on women, due to women on average being economically less stable and independent.[x] And it would suggest that women commit domestic violence against their male partners just as often as men do against female partners, which is unsupported by evidence.[xi]
I am not willing to conclude from this, however, that the prism through which domestic violence is now observed – as a heterosexual women’s issue – is the ‘best of a bad bunch’ and leave it at that. The assumption that domestic violence only occurs within heterosexual relationships itself is intensely problematic, moreso than the view of domestic violence as purely a women’s issue. For domestic violence is primarily a women’s issue, whichever statistics you use, whereas a close examination of statistics on LGBT domestic violence cases reveals that domestic violence is certainly not only a heterosexual issue. Take the US’s 2014 ‘National Violence Against Women’ survey, for instance; the study found that 21.5% of men and 35.4 percent of women living with a same-sex partner had experienced domestic violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, whereas the statistics for heterosexual respondents were 7.1% and 20.4% respectively. Moreover, the CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that the lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner was 43.8 percent for lesbians, 61.1 percent for bisexual women, and 35 percent for heterosexual women; 26 percent for gay men, 37.3 percent for bisexual men, and 29 percent for heterosexual men. [xii] It’s clear from even a cursory glance at these figures that, per capita, domestic violence within the LGBT community is a greater issue than is often believed; yet the common heteronormative paradigm does not allow us to consider this, since it is not even mentioned as a form of domestic violence.
And while it could be argued that ignoring these figures is a necessary part of viewing domestic violence as a women’s issue – since most women who experience domestic violence are attacked by male partners, and to raise the issue of LGBT domestic violence would overcomplicate this – this is not an argument I sympathise with. By ignoring domestic violence within LGBT communities, women who are, per capita, at a much higher risk are overlooked. And the issue of female perpetrators is also glossed over, despite the fact that incidences of domestic violence in female-same sex relationships provide the perfect opportunity to examine this issue without the risk of framing women as systematic perpetrators against men. Instead, it could be considered why women in same-sex relationships do not suffer lower rates, and how misogyny can cause women, as well as men, to perpetuate violence against women. There are reports of domestic violence which consider this, but only very few;[xiii] considering the importance of the issue, there should be far more, yet the heteronormative framework which the issue is viewed through obscures it. And though I don’t have the room to consider this in detail, bringing gender identity into the mix complicates things further – reported levels of domestic violence among trans people are likewise much higher than straight couples.[xiv]
The effect of domestic violence upon women with disabilities is also a repeatedly-overlooked issue. Disabled people experience domestic violence in far higher rates than non-disabled people, with people with intellectual disabilities and severe mental health problems being most at risk;[xv][xvi] and there is a clear gender divide in the statistics here, too, with a 2007 Women’s Aid report concluding that 50% of disabled female respondents had experienced domestic abuse compared to 25% of non-disabled female respondents.[xvii] Just as with LGBT women, the dominant narrative overshadows the concerns facing these women (as it does to men with disabilities) – to the extent that disabled women have been referred to as the ‘hidden victims’ of domestic violence.[xviii]
To conclude, then, it’s clear that while domestic violence is predominately a women’s issue, this isn’t all that it is; moreover, it’s certainly not just an issue affecting heterosexual women, and to claim otherwise harms marginalised women most of all. It is best described, then, as an intersectional women’s issue; though not to the exclusion of men, who are also affected, and who also bear a responsibility to help end it. Unfortunately there are many other marginalised women I have been unable to consider here for reasons of brevity – such as BME women and women from lower socio-economic backgrounds – but they too are affected,[xix][xx] just as everybody, female or male, is at risk of being.
[i] ‘Information for Local Areas on the change to the definition of Domestic Violence and Abuse’, Home Office, March 2013, retrieved 20th March 2015, accessible in PDF https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/142701/guide-on-definition-of-dv.pdf
[ii] Landers, Jeff, ‘Domestic Violence: The Awareness we Overlook’, Forbes, 12th May 2012, retrieved 20th March 2015, accessible from Forbes website http://www.forbes.com/sites/jefflanders/2012/12/05/domestic-violence-the-awareness-we-overlook/
[iii] Evans, Martin, ‘New domestic violence law will outlaw coercive control’, Telegraph, 28th November 2014, retrieved 20th March 2015, available from Telegraph website http://www.forbes.com/sites/jefflanders/2012/12/05/domestic-violence-the-awareness-we-overlook/
[iv] Poole, Glen and Neate, Polly, ‘Should domestic violence services be gender-neutral?’, Guardian, 5 August 2014, retrieved 20th March 2015, available from Guardian website http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/05/domestic-violence-services-gender-neutral
[v] Nutt, Justin, ‘Domestic Violence is Not a Women’s Issue Also a Man’s’, Social Justice Solutions, 6th October 2013, retrieved 20th March 2015, accessible from the Social Justice Solutions website http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2013/06/10/domestic-violence-not-a-womans-issue-also-a-mans/
[vi] Campbell, Denis, ‘More than 40% of domestic violence victims are male, report finds’, Guardian, 5 September 2010, retrieved 20th March 2015, accessible from Guardian website http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/sep/05/men-victims-domestic-violence
[vii] Ingala Smith, Karen, ‘The Thing about Male Victims’, Karen Ingala Smith, 29th April 2013, retrieved 20th March 2015, accessible from website http://kareningalasmith.com/2013/04/29/this-thing-about-male-victims/
[viii] ‘An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales’, Ministry of Justice, 10 January 2013, retrieved 20th march 2015, accessible from Ministry of Justice website https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/214970/sexual-offending-overview-jan-2013.pdf
[ix] ‘Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2011/12’, Office of National Statistics, 7 February 2013, retrieved 20th March 2014, accessible from Office for National Statistics Website http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/focus-on-violent-crime/stb-focus-on--violent-crime-and-sexual-offences-2011-12.html
[x] Allen, Jonathan and Walby, Sylvia, ‘Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking’, Home Office Research Study, March 2004, retrieved 20th March 2014, accessible in PDF http://www.avaproject.org.uk/media/28792/hors276.pdf
[xi] Barnish, Mary ‘Domestic Violence – Literature review’, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, September 2004, retrieved 20th March 2015, accessible in PDF http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.justice.gov.uk/inspectorates/hmi-probation/docs/thematic-dv-literaturereview-rps.pdf
[xii] Glass, JD, ‘2 Studies that prove domestic violence is an LGBT issue’, Advocate.com, 4 September 2014, retrieved 20th March 2015, accessible from Advocate website http://www.advocate.com/crime/2014/09/04/2-studies-prove-domestic-violence-lgbt-issue
[xiii] Shwayder, Maya, ‘A Same-sex Domestic Violence epidemic is silent’, The Atlantic, 5 November 2013, retrieved 20th March 2015, available from the Atlantic website http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/a-same-sex-domestic-violence-epidemic-is-silent/281131/
[xiv] McMillan, Fergus and Hopkins, Tim, ‘Out of sight, out of mind: Transgender people’s experiences of domestic violence’, Scottish Transgender Alliance, August 2010, retrieved 20th March 2015, accessible in PDF http://www.scottishtrans.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/trans_domestic_abuse.pdf
[xv] Lin, JD et al, ‘Domestic Violence Against People with Disabilities: Prevalence and Trend Analyses’, NCBI, December 2010, retrieved 20th March 2015, available from NCBI website http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20709494
[xvi] Smith, Lydia, ‘Sexual Violence in the UK: 40% Women with ‘severe’ mental illnesses are victims of abuse’, International Business Times, 4 September 2014, retrieved 20th March 2015, accessible from IBS website http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/sexual-violence-uk-40-women-severe-mental-illness-are-victims-assault-1463840
[xvii] ‘Domestic violence perpetrated against people with disabilities’, Domestic Violence London, retrieved 20th March 2015, available from DVL website http://www.domesticviolencelondon.nhs.uk/1-what-is-domestic-violence-/21-domestic-abuse-perpetrated-against-people-with-disabilities.html
[xviii] Salman, Saba, ‘Women with learning disabilities are hidden victims of domestic violence’, Guardian, 10 February 2015, retrieved 20th March 2015, accessible from Guardian website http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/10/victims-domestic-violence-abuse-women-learning-disabilities
[xix] ‘Domestic abuse from a BME perspective’, Bawso, retrieved 20th March 2015, available from Bawso website http://www.bawso.org.uk/home/what-is-domestic-abuse/domestic-abuse-from-a-bme-perspective/
[xx] ‘Violence and Socioeconomic Status’, American Psychological Association, retrieved 20th March 2015, available from APA website http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/factsheet-violence.aspx
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