Supporting LGBTQIA+ Survivors of Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse can occur in any interpersonal relationship. It’s not limited to those between a man and a woman. Domestic abuse happens at least as often, or more, in LGBTQIA+ relationships as it does between cisgender straight people. That’s according to a 2015 UCLA School Of Law research report.

Seeing the signs of LGBTQIA+ domestic violence in the people you love is vital. Once you know what abuse looks like, you can act to support your loved one. If they want to leave their partner, you can help them.

It’s often harder for LGBTQIA+ victims of domestic abuse to get help. They may not be able to seek justice for their abuse. There are many reasons why:

  • If LGBTQIA+ victims have to “out” themselves to get help. This may lead to rejection from friends, family, jobs, and society.
  • Legal definitions of domestic violence often do not include same-sex or transgender couples.
  • Homophobia and transphobia, or hatred of LGBTQIA+ people, is prevalent. When present in the police force or courts, it may prevent the prosecution of abusers.
  • Many domestic violence shelters house people based on sex assigned at birth rather than gender identity.

These barriers mean supporting LGBTQIA+ domestic abuse survivors is even more crucial.

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Signs of LGBTQIA+ Domestic Violence

There are different types of domestic abuse. It can be physical, sexual, financial, verbal, or emotional.

Some people see only one form of abuse. Others may face multiple forms or all forms.

Signs of physical abuse

Physical abuse is deliberately aggressive or violent behavior against a partner or child. People who are physically abused may feel helpless and isolated, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

Physical abuse can increase the risk of mental health issues like depression, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, and substance use problems, according to the APA.

Physical abuse can include:

  • Hitting, beating, punching, pushing, kicking, or hurting their partner’s body.
  • Spitting on their partner.
  • Forcing their partner to have sex.
  • Holding on to a partner tightly enough (without consent) to cause pain or bruising.
  • Breaking a partner’s belongings.
  • Being cruel to pets or other animals.

A person being physically abused may have unexplained injuries. They may try to hide injuries or explain them away. They may isolate themselves and withdraw from scheduled visits to avoid questions or their partner’s wrath.

Signs of sexual or reproductive abuse

Sexual abuse is when a partner violates or exploits someone sexually. It can occur in any relationship of trust. Reproductive abuse includes any abusive, controlling, or coercive behavior related to a person’s reproductive choices. This may include choices about birth control, pregnancy, or even using kids as a form of control.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, sexual or reproductive abuse may include:

  • Forcing their partner to have sex or do sexual acts.
  • Sexual touching without consent in a way that their partner doesn’t like.
  • Enticing or letting another person sexually assault their partner.
  • Sending sexual texts or images to their partner without consent.
  • Stopping their partner from using birth control, refusing to wear a condom, or destroying their birth control.
  • Forcing their partner to get an abortion or stopping them from getting an abortion.
  • Saying they will tell others that they got an abortion.

A person dealing with sexual or reproductive abuse is often manipulated and gaslighted by their partner. They may think the abuse is their fault or rationalize why it’s not as bad as they think. Often people dealing with sexual and reproductive abuse will stay silent, feeling shame about their experiences.

Signs of financial abuse

An abuser uses financial abuse to control their partner by restricting their access to money. Financial abuse aims to keep the abused person in the relationship, especially if they’re trying to leave. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, types of financial abuse include:

  • Taking away their partner’s money or not letting their partner have any money.
  • Choosing what their partner spends money on.
  • Criticizing their partner for purchases.
  • Stopping their partner from working or trying to get them in trouble or fired at work.
  • Refusing to give a partner public assistance funds intended for them.
  • Not letting their partner get health care, including gender-affirming care.

Someone dealing with financial abuse may need their partner’s consent to make purchases. They may avoid spending money to prevent their partner’s anger. They may want to work, but their partner makes it hard for them to get or keep a job.

Signs of verbal or emotional abuse

According to the APA, verbal or emotional abuse is when someone lobs extremely critical, threatening, or insulting words at their partner. These words may be said out loud or written down. They intend to demean, belittle, or frighten.

Emotional abuse may include mocking, intimidation, humiliation, harassment, and withholding of affection.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, some examples of verbal or emotional abuse include:

  • Threatening to “out” their partner by telling others about their LGBTQIA+ status.
  • Calling names such as “stupid,” “fat,” or “disgusting.”
  • Misgendering or using the wrong pronouns for them on purpose.
  • Telling a partner they aren’t a “real” man or woman.
  • Constantly keeping track of or asking where their partner is, who they see or talk to, and what they’re doing.
  • Demand passwords for a partner’s phone, email, social media, and other online accounts to ensure they’re not cheating.
  • Threatening to harm themselves if their partner upsets them or doesn’t do something they want.
  • Threatens to call the police for something their partner is doing.
  • Ignoring, giving the “silent treatment,” or guilt-tripping their partner.
  • Making someone doubt their beliefs or what they think is true is a tactic known as gaslighting.
  • Saying their partner is unfaithful.
  • Choosing what their partner wears or eats.
  • Acting very jealous or possessive of their partner.

People suffering from verbal or emotional abuse may have developed low self-esteem. They may feel like no one could ever love them as their partner does. They often will isolate themselves. Emotional abuse impacts mental and behavioral health, emotions, and overall well-being.

Supporting LGBTQIA+ Domestic Abuse Survivors

If you suspect someone you love is being abused in any of these ways, there are ways to support them. They may not be ready to leave the relationship, but you can let them know you’re there to help when they are. Support for LGBTQIA+ domestic abuse victims can be emotional, material, or financial.

Offer emotional support

You can offer emotional support in these ways:
  • Let them know that you are aware their situation is hard or scary.
  • Make sure they know you believe them.
  • Let them know they are brave to try to leave or ask for help because of the abuse.
  • Don’t judge, blame, or shame them for their decisions or make them feel guilty.
  • Encourage them to talk to someone who can help, such as a therapist, a domestic violence group, or an LGBTQIA+ support group.
  • Keep in mind that you cannot “rescue” them and that they must make their own decisions.
  • Help them create a safety plan.
  • Support them and tell them you care about them no matter their decision.
  • Offer to go with them to law enforcement, courts, domestic violence groups, or other services or groups.
  • Take care of yourself, including talking to a therapist if you need to.

Offer material support

Material support includes helping them find helpful services, keeping evidence of the abuse, or holding on to things they may need if they leave their abuser.

You can offer material support in these ways:

  • Share national and local groups, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233).
  • Help them find support groups to help with housing, food, health care, and other needs.
  • Take notes about the abuse you see.
  • Help with the kids.
  • Help them track the abuse, including photos, transcripts, or recordings.
  • Store vital papers or a “to-go” bag for them.
  • Avoid posting anything on social media that can help an abuser find them.
  • Help them learn about their rights related to abuse or their LGBTQIA+ status.
  • Provide them or help them find a safe place to go if and when their life is in danger.
  • Help them with a safety plan during the court process.

Offer financial support

Financial abuse can make it very difficult to leave an abusive relationship. If someone is experiencing financial abuse, you can help them by:

  • Holding money for them.
  • Helping them open a private bank account or helping them save money.
  • Giving them rides to work or supporting their work in other ways.
  • Allowing them to use your address for personal banking and physical mail.
  • Helping them set up a secret email to keep financial information secret.

Other help for LGBTQIA+ Domestic Violence

Other options for helping LGBTQIA+ domestic abuse survivors:

American Psychological Association. Physical Abuse. Link.

American Psychological Association. Emotional Abuse. Link.

American Psychological Association. Verbal Abuse. Link.

Domestic Violence and the LGBTQ Community. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. June 6, 2018. Link

Emotional and verbal abuse. Office on Women's Health. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Link

Fast Facts. Violence Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link

Mikel L. Walters, Jieru Chen, and Matthew J. Breiding. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. January 2013. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Division of Violence Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Link

Naomi G. Goldberg and Ilan H. Meyer. Sexual orientation disparities in history of intimate partner violence: results from the California health interview survey. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. March 2013. Link

Power and Control. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Link

Signs of Abuse. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Link

Supporting Domestic Violence Survivors' Safety During the Court Process: A Checklist of Recommended Practices. Center for Court Innovation. Link

Taylor N. T. Brown and Jody L. Herman. Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Abuse Among LGBT People: A Review of Existing Research. November 2015. The Williams Institute. Link

Ways to Support. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Link

What is Financial Abuse. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Link

Why People Stay. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Link

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