The third and final part of Nicci Lou‘s important examination of domestic abuse in female relationships
In 2015 The Independent documented a huge increase in female perpetrators of domestic violence from 1,850 convicted women in 2006 to 5,641, thanks in part to an increased understanding in coercive control – something that has since become illegal. Even with this law change and with the help of Women’s Aid, the co-founder of Justice for Women, spokespeople for The Freedom Programme and Galop I STILL can’t find up to date nationwide figures concerning female on female abuse. Why? When 6% of convicted abusers are female.
We don’t know the sex of their victims.
Following a borough by borough uptake and training through a third party in April 2017, Greater Manchester (GM) became the first UK police force to log LGBT domestic violence figures under a separate code, which has ‘allowed them to get to know their community better,’ according to Detective Constable Sarah Harris who lead the scheme. Speaking with me on 26 November 2018 she explained how they have always been recording these cases, but previously to get figures, to see the need in the community, they would have had to trawl through the data of 67,000 other cases in the one year alone. She can now tell me easily that in April 2017 to April 2018 (once the initiative was force wide) LGBT cases were pretty even with 376 cases of domestic violence in same sex female relationships and 396 cases in same sex male relationships.
In order for a case to get logged under this code it needs to be defined as ‘any incident where the victim and perpetrator are, or have been in a same sex relationship or where the victim is subject to domestic violence because of their sexuality’.
There were only three cases recorded in the year for familial abuse with the majority being in a relationship with their abuser. This is a clear definition that discounts other cases of abuse, for example where a man is abusing their partner who is now in a same sex relationship. These cases are still logged as they always have been under domestic violence.
Of the 775 victims (2% of all domestic violence cases in the region) GM police were expecting one third would take up the offer of follow up support, but actually 70% of people did! I believe this figure to be high because victims do not usually know how LGBT friendly advertised services are. This is shown by anecdotal studies in Australia showing that most women leaving abusers did so with the help of family or friends, and my own research has backed this up here in the UK. A shame when as a community we are not always supported by family members. Suzy* left with the help of a ‘LGBT friendly counsellor’ (as a search term typed into Google) and states that the help she received was invaluable. Her now ex-partner was ‘able to cope with her talking to a counsellor, at the time, as she saw them as impartial, quite unlike friends’.
A spokesperson from The Freedom Programme admits that, where the individuals supporting the women are inclusive and welcoming to lesbian and bisexual women, the way the course was written could account for why the women I spoke to either hadn’t heard of it in their community, or felt like ‘the only gay in the village’ when they went. I am assured though that there are plans to rewrite it: beyond the disclaimer at the start of each week acknowledging that abuse can happen to anyone and by anyone. Support worker Suzy believes this will help. She too has been the victim of a same sex abuser who classed themselves as a ‘gold star’ lesbian. This highlights the extra ways women who sleep with women (however, they identify) can be abused.
Abusers can use sexuality as a tool of control. For example by threatening to ‘out’ you; or being critical or degrading if you have slept with a man as they haven’t and as such class themselves as ‘gold star.’
If you are in your first same sex relationship they can convince you that this is what all same sex relationships are like.
Abuse is not about size, or fulfilling stereotypical roles. It is not mutual. These are myths that a woman could use to convince you that you are not being abused.
Abusers can play on the fact that abuse between women is more hidden and less talked about. They will try to convince you that services are for heterosexual women abused by men and that they are not welcoming to the LGBQT community as it is not abuse.
If it feels like abuse then it is! The sooner all police forces nationwide start recording same sex domestic violence under a separate code and we have more figures then the sooner we can offer better targeted support. However, help is out there today! Whether you are a straight woman, gay man or a lesbian if it feels like it is wrong then it is. Seek advice today. Stay Authentic! Stay You!
You can contact Galop, the LGBTQ+ national anti-violence helpline, on 0800 999 5428
*names have been changed, to protect identity, upon request.