LGBTIQ Domestic Violence Is Under-Reported, And This Police Officer Wants That To Change

Ben Bjarnesen

Increased representation of LGBTI people in domestic violence awareness campaigns is needed to increase reporting of violence in same-sex relationships, a Queensland Police Service LGBTI Liaison Officer has said.

In late 2016, Fortitude Valley-based Senior Constable Ben Bjarnesen was the recipient of a Churchill Fellowship, a grant that allows Australians to travel overseas to conduct research in their chosen field that is not readily available in Australia.

The grant allowed Bjarnesen (pictured, left, with the Chief of Washington DC Police) to work with international police jurisdictions across the USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands last year.

He met with seven police departments and 15 community support organisations with the aim of better understanding and documenting domestic violence issues in LGBTI communities, as well as determining best practices in policing responses.

“We are all aware that domestic violence is quite an issue within the general community but it can be more so within the LGBTI community and it is often under-reported,” Bjarnesen said.

“Internationally, it appears the most common factor stopping LGBTI people from reporting DV and hate crimes is historical events involving negative interactions with police. They fear they will not be taken seriously or treated appropriately or respectfully.

“As well, DV is often perceived in the public eye as being a problem of heterosexual relationships, with the classic portrayal of men being the perpetrators and women and children being the victims.

“LGBTI people are less likely to identify with this scenario and may not believe that support is available to them. Another common concern is that they will be ‘outed’ to their family, friends or workplace if they make a report.”

Bjarnesen works at Fortitude Valley Police Station and since 2010 has been an LGBTI Liaison Officer, a program started in 1997 to build a relationship between police and the LGBTI community and assist LGBTI people in reporting offences. More than 100 of the trained LGBTI Liaison officers are stationed throughout Queensland.

Bjarnesen is one of the liaison program’s district coordinators and also acts as a coordinator for the QPS LGBTI Support Network, an internal intiative launched in 2016 to support the force’s LGBTI employees.

He said he’ll use what he’s learnt from his research to strengthen QPS’s response to domestic violence within the LGBTI community. Some of the recommendations for change and raising awareness for LGBTI people include the inclusion and representation of current domestic violence campaigns, he said.

“We need to look at portraying the different faces, ethnicities, genders and sexualities through these sorts of campaigns,” he said.

Bjarnesen’s full report can be read at the Churchill Trust website here.

He said being given the chance to travel and conduct the invaluable research overseas had been an amazing opportunity.

“I thought I had a fair idea about the issues and strategies surrounding domestic violence, but I’ve been able to learn things and make connections that I would never have been able to without the support of the QPS and the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. It’s been a lot of work, but incredibly worthwhile,” he said.

Last month, the Queensland Government announced $155,000 to go towards training more than 500 Queensland workers in the domestic and family violence sector in a bid to help them better support LGBTI-identifying victims of domestic violence.

(Photo via Queensland Police Service)

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