Healthy relationships work best when they are built on love and mutual respect, but sometimes people can find themselves stuck in a relationship that is more about abuse and control… this is domestic violence.
It can happen to anyone – including LGBTIQ people, and it doesn’t have to be your partner, it could be a parent, other relative or carer, and this is called family violence.
It can happen in new relationships or long-term ones, and the abuse is not necessarily physical violence – it can take many forms.
Sometimes it’s difficult for someone who is in an abusive relationship to see it for what it is, while the abuse is clearly apparent to concerned friends or family.
When you hear about domestic violence, you may think of physical abuse such as hitting, slapping, or pushing, punching walls and destroying property.
But abuse can take many other forms, all of which exert power and control over the victim.
Sometimes it can be subtle things such as taking control of finances, or monitoring calls or emails.
Abuse can also be psychological, with constant put-downs, emotional manipulation such as threatening self-harm or suicide, intentional humiliation, and “gaslighting” where a partner constantly implies that you are crazy or wrong about everything, and you can end up doubting yourself.
If your partner prevents you from having contact with other people, or stalks your activities online or around town, this is also a form of abuse.
One unique form of abuse amongst LGBTIQ people is a threat to “out” you to your workplace or family or friends as a way of controlling you.
Being forced to have sex with your partner when you have said no is sexual assault and is another form of domestic violence.
LGBTIQ people are most definitely not immune to this type of violence, and the incidence is similar to that found in the heterosexual community, whilst family violence occurs at higher rates.
It’s important to understand that all these forms of abuse are wrong, and in some cases are unlawful and could result in criminal charges.
Once you’ve figured out you’re in an abusive relationship, what can you do about it?
If necessary, call the police – you can ask to speak to specially trained LGBTI Liaison officers, or an officer who is a specialist in the field of domestic violence.
If you can, talk to someone you trust about it. Make others aware that you are having trouble.
Sometimes it may be difficult to talk to family or friends, for fear that they may not be supportive, or that the abuser may find out.
If you are in a small close-knit community it may be difficult to find someone you can disclose to without the abuser finding out.
You can call DVConnect (Womensline on 1800 811 811 or Mensline on 1800 600 636) for help in finding accommodation or other services.
Your GP can be a great resource for you – they can provide a safe space where you can talk about your situation, perhaps for the first time, and know that you will be listened to.
Your GP can arrange counselling, help you make a safety plan, and address any concerns you have about your own physical or mental health.
Most abusive relationships only get worse over time, but many people don’t try to leave.
The reasons are many, and include denial, shame, low self-esteem, fear, lack of financial independence, and a mistaken belief that it is your fault.
Making the decision to leave is hard. Talking to your doctor could be the first step towards freeing yourself and living your best life.
Dr Fiona Bisshop specialises in LGBTIQ health and is available by appointment at Holdsworth House Medical Brisbane. Call (07) 3894 0794 or visit the Holdsworth House website. Read more by Dr Bisshop on her website here or contact her on Twitter.