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‘Fear of being outed’ prevents lesbians from seeking help over domestic abuse

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A study carried out by the University of Derby suggests that the fear of being outed is one of the reasons why some gay women in abusive relationships don’t seek help.

The study, which was presented to the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Cardiff today, shows that abusive relationships between gay women can include physical assaults, sexual coercion and emotional cruelty but victims are put off seeking help because of fear of being outed to friends, colleagues and family.

Forty women between the ages of 21 and 70 were chosen for the study, believed to the most detailed research into abusive lesbian relationships to date. All of those who took part had experienced abuse in some capacity.

Around 88 per cent of those questioned had suffered physical abuse such as punching, kicking and slapping.

Forty five per cent reported had been bullied into performing unwanted sexual activities and ten per cent admitted to having been forced into having sex.

Thirteen per cent had been threatened with being outed by their partner to friends, family and colleagues or outed altogether by the abusive partner, while 18 per cent had felt suicidal or had attempted suicide during the abusive relationship.

Dr Rebecca Barnes, who led the study, said: “Only women who had been abused by a previous female partner were invited to participate in the study, with the aim being to examine these relationships in detail rather than trying to establish what proportion of lesbian relationships as a whole is abusive.

“The findings show that women in abusive same-sex relationships experience very similar challenges to women in abusive heterosexual relationships.

“However, being in a same-sex relationship poses additional barriers to seeking and receiving effective support.

“My findings also showed that abuse in lesbian relationships can involve wide-ranging forms of emotional, physical, financial and sexual abuse, as it can in heterosexual abusive relationships.

“One of the key differences with same-sex abuse is the secrecy which surrounds many same-sex relationships – a few of my participants had had relationships lasting years which their family or colleagues knew nothing about or which only a few close friends were aware of. This particularly applied to women who were in their first same-sex relationship.

“The fear of losing key relationships with family or friends, or of encountering homophobia at work should one’s sexuality be revealed, can deter some victims from speaking out about the abuse.”

If you or anyone you know is suffering from domestic violence, Broken Rainbow offers advice and support for LGBT people in abusive relationships. Their helpline is 03009 995 428. Lines are open Mondays 2 – 8pm, Wednesdays: 10 – 1pm and Thursdays 2 – 8pm.

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