By Lindsey Moses and Jennifer Kelley
Imagine being stuck in a relationship with someone who constantly threatens your wellbeing — perhaps even your own life. You spend every day in fear, desperately wishing for a chance to escape to a place that could offer you peace and solace, far away from your malicious attacker.
Even worse, imagine finally gaining enough courage to seek help only to be ridiculed or shunned by many of the people closest to you.
Unfortunately, this is the case for all too many LGBTQ individuals who experience rates of domestic violence and/or sexual assault equal to, if not higher than, heterosexuals. Instead of being given proper medical care and a safe residence, these victims are often treated with hostility and disrespect. Some are even blamed for the incident of abuse, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV), “LGBTQ victims of intimate partner violence experience tactics like those used in heterosexual relationships. They face additional risks because homophobia and transphobia add to abusers’ weapons of control and appropriate services are often lacking.”
These forms of anti-LGBTQ societal stigma and bias occur on a daily basis, whether consciously or unconsciously. Not only do they contribute to violent crimes against LGBTQ individuals, but they also significantly affect the experience of victims who seek help for such crimes.
A gay male, for example, may be reluctant to reach out to others because of the prejudices and stereotypes associated with members of the LGBTQ community. If he has not yet “come out,” his partner may threaten to tell those who could provide him with assistance. A therapist might claim that he would not have been abused if he were straight, adding to the victim’s sense of shame and isolation. Some service providers, such as law enforcement officers or medical personnel, may even fail to recognize intimate partner violence when the couple is LGBTQ.
Lacking a strong support system, feeling confused or insecure about their identity, and living among homophobic/transphobic individuals are all common struggles faced by LGBTQ victims. As a result, many are unable to receive the care and attention needed to cope with the assault, which may lead to consequences including: financial ruin, loss of employment, homelessness, separation from children, depression, traumatization and substance abuse. All of these ultimately serve as barriers for victim recovery.
What happens when domestic violence and/or sexual assault that occurs within the LGBTQ community continues to go unacknowledged by members of society? It leaves innocent victims alone and abandoned, forced to fend for themselves without the necessary tools or resources to get the help they deserve.
The New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV) declares on its official website: “Every victim of domestic violence, whether female, male, trans, gay or straight, has the right to safety and assistance.”
This right is ensured by the nonprofit organization Services to Aid Families (SAF), operated by Oswego County Opportunities (OCO). The primary mission of SAF is to assist and empower abuse victims, regardless of their sexual orientations or gender identities.
SAF also recognizes the severe impact of lack of access to LGBTQ services, focusing on effective ways to combat this issue in order to be as supportive and responsive as possible.
As part of the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Program, SAF offers aid and support to those who are victims of physical, mental and/or emotional abuse — such as domestic violence, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking and other crimes. Some of the services people have benefited from include: hotline assistance, crisis intervention, follow-up advocacy, information and referral, case management, and individual and group counseling.
According to Stacie France, victim services program manager, “We have had some great successes in working with the LGBTQ community and recently expanded funding that will allow us to devote more focus on reaching out to underserved populations.”
She shares the following story about a client who was able to reach all of her safety goals in leaving an abusive partner and make a full recovery through SAF’s services:
“We recently had a transgender woman enter our shelter after years of being in a physically, emotionally and sexually abusive relationship. SAF staff was able to assist her with accessing legal services to obtain the necessary protections and parental rights to ensure her family’s safety, obtain adequate and safe housing in the community, and offer ongoing support services through the nonresidential program. Since leaving the shelter, the client has reported continued success and remains in a healthy, nonviolent home with her child.”
LGBTQ victims needn’t feel ashamed about reporting heinous crimes or seeking help at SAF. Not only does the organization welcome these individuals with open arms, but it also ensures that they have equal access to all services.
SAF Crisis Hotline is available 24/7 for victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault in need of emergency assistance. All hotline personnel are certified counselors with appropriate training experience and can be reached at 342-1600.
Similar to SAF, Vera House is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people of all sexual orientations and gender identities who are victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
According to its official website, “Vera House is proud to serve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning survivors of violence.” Victims are served at the shelter, in the clinical program, and through advocacy. Primary and secondary prevention services in LGBTQ safe places are also made accessible.
For service providers at Vera House, recognizing the consequences of a lack of adequate resources for LGBTQ individuals is the first step in ensuring they get the help they need.
Meaghan Greeley, victim advocate at Vera House, works diligently to guarantee that all LGBTQ survivors are accommodated by the organization.
“At Vera House, we serve ALL people and have services for people of all genders and sexual orientations,” she says. “We see a higher number of cis-gendered and heterosexual people access services and have wondered about how we can better publicize our services to all marginalized communities.”
One of the most effective ways Vera House has increased LGBTQ outreach is by forming a committee to help evaluate the accessibility of LGBTQ services. The committee also assesses how well information is being targeted to these communities.
“I think it is essential for us to continue to dedicate ourselves to ensuring that our services are welcoming and inclusive,” asserts executive director Randi Bregman. “This includes educational materials, social media messaging, and public presentations.”
Vera House’s 24-hour crisis and support line is 468-3260. An advocate will help callers access the resources available to victims of sexual assault, relationship violence, or any other crime.