The stereotype of domestic violence is of a large, angry, man physically and verbally attacking a small, passive, woman. But there are many forms of domestic violence—which sometimes referred to as intimate-partner violence— that don't match the stereotype and same-sex couples are even more likely to experience it than straight couples. The impact of domestic violence can be more extreme on same-sex couples in Texas because victims are more likely to isolate themselves from getting help.
Laws in Texas and at the federal level that relate to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have been rapidly evolving over the past decade. Marriage laws, in particular, have radically changed.
Federal laws were changed after the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA, in 2013. That law prohibited federal recognition of legal same-sex marriages performed in states that allowed same-sex marriage. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision guaranteed marriage rights to same-sex couples in all states.
It can be difficult for people who aren't lawyers to keep up with the latest laws and how they apply to people who are victims of domestic violence and those who are wrongly accused.
With all these legal changes, same-sex relationships have become much more visible to the majority of Americans and to legal systems across the nation. That visibility has brought with it a growing awareness of the issues that same-sex couples face, including domestic violence. Today, same-sex couples, whether they are married or unmarried, have most of the same legal protections as heterosexual couples.
How common is same-sex domestic violence?
According to a study released a few years ago, domestic violence occurs as often and possibly even more frequently among same-sex couples as it does in opposite-sex couples. The study does not offer a theory on why this may be, but does suggest that it may result from the added stress of being a sexual minority.
A combined report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 22% of all women and about 7% of all men reported being the victim of domestic violence. The report found that between one quarter and three-quarters of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are the victims of domestic violence.
According to The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, rates of sexual violence were somewhat lower for lesbians than for heterosexual women but significantly higher for women who are bisexual. Among gay men, rates of partner violence appear to be higher than domestic violence experienced by heterosexual men.
It is estimated that every year, between 50,000 and 100,000 women and 500,000 men become victims of same-sex domestic violence. This makes the prevalence of domestic violence among same-sex couples (approximately 25-33%) as common as it is in heterosexual relationships.
However, many researchers suspect that the actual number of same-sex people who experience domestic violence could be even higher than what is known because of the partners' reluctance to bring up the topic out of fear of being outed as being gay or a fear of being blamed for their abuse.
Types of Same-Sex Domestic Violence
For the most part, the types of domestic violence seen in same-sex couples are the same as what is seen in opposite-sex couples, such as:
- Psychological abuse, such as intimidation or instilling fear
- Physical violence, with or without physical marks
- Sexual violence
- Withholding resources
However, victims of domestic violence in homosexual relationships may feel more capable of fighting back against their aggressors. This can lead to more violent situations and an increased chance of law enforcement involvement. Officers who respond to domestic violence calls involving homosexual couples may be more inclined to view the altercation as one that occurred between two equally matched people. This can cause a power imbalance in a relationship to go overlooked, which can lead to the violence continuing and to the police not recognizing a domestic violence situation.
Is LGBT domestic violence the same as heterosexual domestic violence?
In a word, yes, but it can be more common, harder to identify, and harder to get help.
Most relationships, whether same-sex or opposite sex, begin with two people who genuinely like and even love each other. However, with time dysfunctional behavior can emerge. One partner can become controlling, and manipulative, and even aggressive and abusive. Straight or gay, this is a dynamic that can exist in any relationship.
The CDC study mentioned above found that the lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner was 43.8% for lesbians and 61.1% for bisexual women. For gay men, the statistics showed 26% and 37.3% for bisexual men.
Why it can be more difficult for LGBT victims to get help
In LGBT couples, the partners often share the same social network. This makes it easier for the abuser to alienate the victim from social support. Also, and though society and laws have changed, a gay person may not feel comfortable seeking support from mainstream domestic violence resources. The fact that the validity of LGBT relationships is still debated by many from more conservative and traditional backgrounds also makes many in same-sex couples feel pressure to have a “perfect” relationship.
For individuals who have not yet come out as gay or lesbian to family, friends, and co-workers, asking for help with domestic violence can mean being forced to come out. Some LGBT people who have sought help for domestic violence have said that their partners threatened to “out” them as a form of manipulation and control. HIV-positive victims of domestic violence may also worry that an abusive partner will tell others about their HIV-positive status. To control a partner, some abusive partners threaten to withhold HIV medications and some abusive partners of transgender individuals threaten to withhold hormone treatment.
For all of these reasons, it may be more difficult for LGBT people who are experiencing abuse to feel able to seek help.
Federal same-sex domestic violence laws
Victims of same-sex domestic violence have the same protection under domestic violence laws as victims of opposite-sex domestic violence, whether or not they are married. This is because the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion on same-sex marriage says that any law that protects a spouse from being abused by another, must also be applied to same-sex couples, though this doesn't mean that individual courts and judges always apply the law equally.
Some federal laws provide additional protections to female victims of domestic violence, such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which allows for government funds to be used for community programs that assist victims of domestic violence and help prosecute offenders. Since it was established in 1994, VAWA has been extended to protect the victims of same-sex domestic violence, whether male or female, because it classifies the LGBT community as an underserved population.
Same-sex domestic violence laws in Texas
All domestic violence laws that apply to opposite-sex couples in Texas also apply to same-sex couples, whether or not the couple is married. Three types of domestic violence that are recognized under Texas law: Domestic Assault, Aggravated Domestic Assault, and Continuous Violence Against the Family.
Domestic Assault is defined as a threat or an act of violence against a person with whom the defendant has an intimate relationship. An intimate relationship includes:
- A current or former spouse
- A current or former dating partner
- The parent of the defendant's child or children
- The child of a current or former spouse
- A foster child or foster parent
- Blood relatives or adopted relatives
- A roommate
An act of assault involves bodily injury or the threat of imminent bodily injury and must be intentional, knowing, or reckless. A conviction for first-time domestic assault is a Class A misdemeanor. If prior convictions exist, the punishment is a third-degree felony under Texas law.
Aggravated Domestic Assault applies to acts of serious bodily injury to a victim or while an attacker is using or exhibiting a deadly weapon. Serious bodily injury can include head injuries, broken bones, loss of limbs, or disfigurement. A conviction of aggravated domestic assault will result in a second-degree felony charge.
When a defendant commits two or more domestic assaults in two months, the defendant can be charged with Continuous Violence Against the Family. The charge can apply even if the previous crimes did not result in arrests or convictions, and it can apply for multiple victims. A conviction is a third-degree felony.
Some defendants may be able to avoid incarceration if they meet certain requirements, especially if he or she is a first-time offender.
The penalties for domestic violence crimes in Texas are serious, for LGBT and straight offenders. If you are in a same-sex couple and have been accused of domestic violence, you need a lawyer who is familiar with the ever-changing laws and can provide you with competent, experienced, legal counsel.
If you have been the victim of an allegation of a same-sex domestic violence, you need a lawyer who understands the sometimes-confusing laws and who knows how to protect you. Call Doug Murphy today to discuss your case with an experienced and skilled and Board Certified Criminal Defense Texas attorney. You can reach our office at 713-229-8333 or contact us online.