n. the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable—their pupils glittering, bottomless and opaque—as if you were peering through a hole in the door of a house, able to tell that there’s someone standing there, but unable to tell if you’re looking in or looking out.
A little while ago I undertook some research on intimate partner violence in LGBQTI communities and what I learned was hugely concerning to me. Of particular concern were the issues faced by women in same sex relationships. The focus of the discourses on domestic and family violence tends to remain largely gendered and as a problem facing primarily heterosexual women in heteronormative relationships with heterosexual men. The consequence of this is that other groups experiencing intimate partner violence remain largely invisible. This includes women who experience violence at the hands of their intimate same-sex partner. The message that is sent to these women, both the victims and the perpetrators, from such widespread exclusion on the issue is that their experiences are invalid and that Australia is unconcerned with them.
In Australia, people who identify diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender identity may account for up to 11 per cent of the Australian population (LGBTI Ageing and aged care strategy 2012). However, with the focus remaining on the heteronormative gendered definitions of intimate partner violence, the result is less adequate support services, less availability of support services, and practitioners and systemic responses that are ill equipped to recognise or respond to domestic violence within same sex relationships.
Intimate partner violence and women in same sex relationships.
In Australia, intimate partner violence (verbal, mental, physical and sexual abuse) in LGBTIQ communities is widely accepted to occur in rates comparable to men’s violence against women in wider society. Experts tend to agree that intimate partner violence occurs in 20-35% of the LGBTIQ population (Vickers 1996), however more recent studies suggest that this may be much higher, with the report Calling it What it Is finding that 54.7% of all LGBTIQ participants reported being in one or more emotionally abusive relationships, and 34.8% reported being physically or sexually abused by a previous partner (University of New South Wales 2014). For women in same sex relationships, the issue is under-researched and because statistics generally rely on self-reporting, it is thought that even higher levels of violence and abuse may be occurring than documented. The importance of this issue is beginning to be recognised and investigated, however research that continues to explore, reinforce and draw attention to the health of LGBTIQ relationships is of significant importance to increasing the well-being of both LGBTIQ and wider communities.
In my own research (online surveys, face to face interviews and small group discussions) 68 per cent of the women I engaged with said that they had been victims of intimate partner violence. For many women in same sex relationships, seeking help for physical and or sexual assault by a partner can be further complicated by the commonly held opinion that women can’t rape or sexually assault another woman, and that sexual assault is perceived as a straight issue perpetrated by men against women. Since this scenario is rarely portrayed in the media or in educational material, women often it challenging to identify their experience and many people have a difficult time believing that a woman can or would do this to another woman.
Lack of role models
When I spoke with women in the LGBQTI community, one of the issues that kept popping up was the need for education and inclusive images. Awareness-raising of DV & schools work must include LGBQTI people and relationships, and we need to see examples of ‘healthy’ LGBQTI relationships in the media and in the world around us. This is a key insight, because women in same sex relationships have very few role models to be able to see what a ‘healthy relationship looks like for two women.
OPIA aims to directly address this. The women who share stories here are talking about what they have seen and experienced as examples of healthy relationships. It may be an old school friends ‘two mums’, it could be a celebrity and her long-term partner or wife, it might be the portrayal of a healthy lesbian relationship on tv, or it could be a personal friend. The truth is women in healthy relationships that do not include violence and control are all around us. OPIA is our platform for sharing these stories. It is the stories of these women who have come before us, and who teach and inspire us toward happy health relationships that do not include violence and control.