Myths & Facts

Myths exist about the lives of LGBTQ people in general.  It’s no different when it comes to the issue of LGBTQ partner abuse.  Some of the myths are in the minds of people who are not LGBTQ; some of the myths live in the LGBTQ community.  The following are a few myths and facts about LGBTQ partner abuse:

Myth – Women don’t use force.

The truth is – There is increasing research on the use of force by women.  Some women use force in self-defense, in reaction to past abuse.  However, there are women who are abusive.  Women in same-sex relationships may use physical and sexual force to assault their partners; some also use emotional, psychological, financial, and verbal abuse.  The effects of abuse in LGBTQ relationships are just as great as in non-LGBTQ relationships.

Myth – Adult men fight but don’t abuse each other.

The truth is – Society supports–even demands–physical fighting between men.  Fights between men are found in popular movies, video games, and professional wrestling.  Because men fight in popular culture, it may be difficult to recognize fighting between men as abuse.  However, the fights in a bar room brawl or wrestling match lack the ongoing power and control that exist in an intimate relationship between men.  For example, a man who is beaten by his male partner could, if numerous barriers did not bar him, cite examples of control his partner has over him that elevates the incident above a “boys-fighting” event to ongoing partner abuse.  Some men do get in fights, and others are abused by their partners.

Myth – LGBTQ people can just leave abusive relationships.

The truth is – Currently, LGBTQ people cannot legally marry, and do not often share biological children with their LGBTQ partners, it might seem that it would be easier to leave an abusive relationship.  However, LGBTQ people also share property, child custody, pets, belongings, and families (biological and families of choice) with their partners.  The threats of escalating abuse upon leaving are just as great for LGBTQ people.  Finally, there are fewer services and support systems to help LGBTQ people plan ways to leave their relationships.  People in the LGBTQ community may be unaware that there is a support system waiting for them if they do leave an abusive relationship.

Myth – A woman can’t be raped by another woman; a man can’t be raped by another man; a transgender person can’t rape or be raped by a partner.

The truth is – Society has come to view rape as largely a crime perpetrated by men against women.  Any time a person has sex without someone’s consent, that is rape.  Forcible sex can occur between any two people, including LGBTQ people.  Sexual assault, regardless of the gender of the individuals involved, includes a wide variety of actions, including but not limited to unwanted touching, penetration of any kind, and forcing a person to participate in sexual acts against their will.

Sexual abuse includes using demeaning language about a person’s sexuality or body, calling a person’s body parts by names they find offensive, eroticizing a partner’s body, subjecting a person to viewing sexual acts without consent, and demanding participation in acts with which a person is not comfortable.  None of these lists say anything about a person’s gender; men can rape men, and women can rape women, transgender people can be sexually abusive or survivors.

Myth – Partner abuse in LGBTQ relationships is either very prevalent or not all that common.

The truth is – One danger with raising awareness around partner abuse in the LGBT community is that society will think that a majority of LGBTQ relationships are abusive.  This barrier to discussing partner abuse limits progress in addressing abuse and, in turn, punishes LGBTQ people further by keeping this issue in the closet.  LGBTQ people can help by acknowledging that sexual abuse and partner abuse, happen in their community.

The flip side of this perspective is the belief that abuse in LGBTQ relationships is not all that common.  This extreme position is also dangerous, as it gives false hope that LGBTQ people have somehow risen above the social challenges of violence in the community.  It also further isolates the targets of abuse, leaving survivors feeling alone.

Myth – Bisexual women can just access mainstream services when they are abused by a partner of another sex.

The truth is – To suggest that a bisexual woman can just seek services from mainstream provider assumes that she will be comfortable with the likelihood that she will need to hide her sexual orientation.  Alternately if she accesses LGBTQ services, can she assume that she will be well received by LGBTQ providers when she reports a man has abused her?  Bisexual women, gay and bisexual men, lesbians, transgender and queer people all face barriers in accessing partner abuse services, not because of their identities, but because of interpersonal and institutional bias.

Myth – The abuser will always be butch, bigger, stronger.  The survivor will always be femme, smaller, weaker.

The truth is – This is simply not true.  Size, weight, butch, femme, gender presentation or any other physical attributes are not an indicator of whether or not a person will be a survivor or an abuser.  A person who is 5’2”, prone to violence, and very angry can do a lot of damage to someone who may be taller, heavier, stronger and non-violent.  An abuser does not need to be 6’4” and built like a rugby player to smash your DVDs, hit a person with a lamp, destroy clothing, throw things, or tell everyone at work about the survivor’s sexual or gender identity.

Myth – Survivors often provoke the abuse.  They’re getting what they “deserve.”

The truth is – Abuse is solely the responsibility of the abuser.  Abusers choose violence or control; survivors do not “provoke” it.  This myth is common among both abusers and survivors of partner abuse, and is probably a strong force that keeps the survivors in abusive relationships.

Myth – People who are abused exaggerate the level of abuse.

The truth is – Most people who are abused tend to minimize the abuse, including physical abuse, because of shame, guilt and self-blame.  This is particularly true for men in our society who are supposed “to be able to take care of themselves.”  They may be ashamed of being the survivor of physical abuse.  In addition, sometimes people who are abused don’t recognize all the ways in which they are being abused.  Usually the abuse that people share with others is only the tip of the iceberg.

Myth – When abuse occurs in a relationship, it is usually an isolated incident and will not happen again.

The truth is – Abuse is a pattern of behaviors that occur repeatedly.  It is common for a person who is being abused to see each incident as separate and to not recognize that there are a series of incidents that form a pattern of abuse.  Abuse, once it begins, tends to increase in frequency and severity over time, and an abuser on their own rarely chooses to stop abusing.

Adapted From

Ten Myths about Lesbian and Gay Domestic Violence by Molly Herrmann, MS, and Monica Stone

Other Helpful Resources