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LGBT+ Commission Inquiry Session: Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence

Chaired by Alison Lowe OBE, the third inquiry session of the LGBT+ Commission took place on 29th March. This session focussed on the issues that the LGBT+ community in the UK face with respect to hate crime, domestic abuse and sexual violence, bringing together the recommendations of leaders in this field. This included civil society, policing authorities and local/regional authorities.

Please note that this writeup is not intended to be an exhaustive account of all areas covered in the meeting, nor all areas that the Commission will focus on regarding LGBT+ hate crime, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Instead, this paper seeks to highlight key areas of consensus discussed by our panel, some of the problems in these areas and the recommendations that were suggested. If desired, the full recording of the session can be found here.

Second Session: Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence

The second half of this inquiry session of the LGBT+ focused on domestic abuse and sexual violence committed against the LGBT+ community. The panel for this session included:

  • Leni Morris (CEO, Galop)
  • Astrid Palmer (Senior LGBT+ Specialist IDVA, Switchboard)
  • Duncan Craig (CEO, Survivors Manchester)
  • Nicholas Rogers AM (London Assembly Member)

Community Exclusion and a Lack of Support

What was clear in the panel’s discussion of domestic abuse and sexual violence, was that the LGBT+ community is often omitted from such conversations. These discussions are typically grounded in heteronormative understandings of what occurs in scenarios of domestic abuse and sexual violence that dominate public policymaking.

“We are often completely omitted from any kind of conversation around sexual violence and the needs of LGBT+ people – specifically around sexual violence.” – Leni Morris

Speaking to his experience on the Police and Crime Committee at the London Assembly, Nicholas Rogers spoke to how engrained these heteronormative approaches were in policy conversations, with the result being the LGBT+ community being left underserved:

“There were a lot of discussions about domestic abuse and every single one of those discussions was directed towards heterosexual domestic abuse. And I was questioning, who is speaking up for my community on this issue?… Those discussions didn’t account for the fact that there are some very specific types of domestic abuse that are found in the community that aren’t elsewhere, that require specific training for police and specific services.” – Nicholas Rogers

Indeed, these heteronormative perceptions of domestic abuse can often leave LGBT+ victims vulnerable. Police without the proper training may fail to recognise abuse in a same-sex relationship, perceiving the incident as two men or women fighting rather than it being an instance of domestic abuse with a perpetrator and a victim.

A proper understanding of the nature of LGBT+ domestic abuse being held by police and support services is critical because there are many types of domestic abuse that are unique to the LGBT+ community. One of the most notable includes a partner threatening to ‘out’ their partner who may not be out, threatening the relationships that this individual holds and leaving them at risk of losing their support mechanisms. Moreover, in their work with LGBT+ survivors of abuse, Leni Morris cited two further kinds of LGBT+ specific abuse that are often overlooked:

“For our community, often we completely miss out family abuse, which is something massive that happens to our community in our home spaces that is not talked about enough within the context of domestic abuse and that’s an additional barrier to people coming forward and recognising that they can seek that help.” – Leni Morris

“We work with people who are from places where they will be less safe than they are here, but their visas are attached to their relationship and that has been used against them by a partner.”- Leni Morris

The panel also considered the extent to which the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) framework for understanding sexual and domestic abuse served to exclude some members of the LGBT+ community, in particular trans and non-binary people as well as cisgender gay and bisexual men from being recognised and supported by services. While there was an agreement that VAWG was certainly important in understanding that most domestic abuse and sexual violence is committed against women and girls, VAWG as a framework for understanding can often leave parts of the LGBT+ community excluded:

“The policies that are being written, the legislation that’s being made, the training courses that are being developed, the resources that are being given to frontline services all feed into this homogenous narrative of, ‘there is violence against women and girls and that is it’.” – Astrid Palmer

Indeed, where trans and non-binary victims of domestic and sexual abuse do not feel that they are included in these conversations, nor that they are seen and affirmed by their commissioners, local authorities and support services, then they are far less likely to access the support they need.

“If the broad narrative [within support services] is, that there are women, and there are trans and non-binary people, then trans and non-binary people are going to feel much less confident in coming forward to any of those services, even those ones that are trans and non-binary inclusive.” – Leni Morris

It is for this reason that, in the current landscape of service provision, LGBT+ specific services are so important for the community, because they provide spaces in which the fear of the exclusion is removed:

“We know that it is different where we have LGBT+ specialist services like ours, like Astrid’s. Those make a really big difference in overcoming that fear, that in that moment where you are vulnerable… you may come up against anti-LGBT+ prejudice, that you might have to educate people so that they can recognise that you are being abused, which we see is something that our clients come up against time and time again.” – Leni Morris

However, for all the value that LGBT+ specialist services provide, they remain few and far between. Where the dominant policy position is that support services for domestic abuse and sexual violence should be single-sex, this leaves some members of the LGBT+ community without recourse to any appropriate support:

 “It is all very well and good saying that there are…reasons why same-sex services might be a thing that some people think are necessary. But I do not see the funding coming in to roll out LGBT+ or trans and non-binary equivalent services that make up for the gap… And my question will always be, here are those people going to go?… How do you gain any sense of safety if you’re saying, ‘this door is closed, but we’re not going to open another one’?” – Leni Morris

Simply put, we know that trans and non-binary are victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, but we are often excluding them from generalist services (or forcing them to present as a gender with which they do not identify to access support), and not offering alternatives. This gap is perhaps most starkly seen in refuge accommodation provision. There are very few refuges which men and boys can go, nor trans and non-binary people. This is particularly troubling given the experiences of these communities:

“We know from other reports and research, like from Galop that gay and bisexual men are tice as likely to experience domestic abuse as cisgender heterosexual men, and trans people are the most likely group to experience domestic abuse.” – Astrid Palmer

The result of this exclusion from many of these spaces is stark:

“What we currently see is our community having to make a very difficult decision between going into what might be a dangerous situation and emergency accommodation that might not be safe for them, or staying in a situation that is abusive and dangerous, or them being homeless. We have clients who live in their cars, we have had a client who had to live in a greenhouse because there are not those options for our community and I think that is one of the major areas we are failing LGBT+ people in this country.” – Leni Morris

Data and Reporting

As was noted in relation to hate crime above, the exclusion of the LGBT+ community from many support services, as well as longstanding distrust between the LGBT+ community and the police has left domestic abuse and sexual violence committed against the LGBT+ community significantly underreported.

“The majority of LGBT+ people do not come forward when they are victims of domestic abuse… we know 60 per cent of LGBT+ victims and survivors of domestic abuse do not come forward to generalist services and 80 per cent do not come forward to the police.” – Leni Morris

Much of the LGBT+ community do not feel comfortable seeking support from generalist services or from the police which, for most of the community are the only support sources available to them, where they don’t live in an area with an LGBT+ specific service or are unaware of which generalist services are actively LGBT+ inclusive.

Leni Morris also alluded to an upcoming report from Galop that indicates that there is a very significant proportion of the LGBT+ victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence that never tell anyone what has happened to them[1].

As is the case with the limited reporting of LGBT+ hate crimes, the result is that commissioners lack the evidence base to develop appropriate services that meet the needs of the LGBT+ community. As such, the conversation around domestic abuse and sexual violence remains dominated by VAWG, which can have the effect of further excluding some members of the LGBT+ community who are unable to access these services.

Not only is it the case that there is very limited data in this area, but it is also the case that the data we do have is not used effectively, with very little integration between different reporting centres, including the police and third sector groups as well as within the criminal justice system itself. Duncan Craig highlighted how, within the current established systems, there is little hope of having good data on these issues:

“Data is just really poor in this area…we’re trying to find an answer to ‘how do we make really, really, really poor data a bit better? We’re not even necessarily recording genders before we get to any other protected characteristic. Data, within the criminal justice system, particularly around sexual and domestic violence needs a complete overhaul. The systems that the Crown Prosecution Service and the systems of the police need to be able to speak to each other because right now they don’t.” – Duncan Craig

Indeed, while this is not an easy fix, there are simple and straightforward steps that can be taken to give the police and support services a much better idea of the level of need in relation to domestic abuse and sexual violence for the LGBT+ community. One such step was discovered by Nicholas Rogers, who recently published a report on LGBT+ domestic abuse in London. He noted that while the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime has a data sharing agreement with Galop on its helpline for LGBT+ hate crime, it does not have such an agreement in place for domestic abuse and as such there is a limited understanding of the scale of the problem in London.

Key Recommendations from the Panel:

LGBT+ inclusive support services – The provision of single-sex support services for domestic abuse and sexual violence must not mean wholly excluding large sections of the LGBT+ community, in particular gay and bisexual men and trans and non-binary and trans people. Where these people cannot access services, there must be alternatives in place so that they are not left without options. Given the limited funding for LGBT+ specific support services, if these spaces are not LGBT+ inclusive, many people will lack access to support services that are in many cases statutory.

Systematic data collection and use – The better integration of available data between policing, and third-party centres where possible is an important step to gain a more holistic picture of domestic abuse and sexual violence. This paired with active steps to increase rates of reporting via advertising directly to the LGBT+ community and providing services and procedures that LGBT+ people feel safe presenting to.


[1] LGBT+ People & Sexual Violence Report – Galop

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