Monday, March 16, 2009

On Re-Victimization

In my real life, I have been working on a piece of writing regarding the complicated issue of domestic violence (DV) among same-sex couples. Not much data exists regarding the prevalence of domestic violence within the LGBT community. There's that whole not-being-counted-in-the-Census bit that causes statistical problems for all sorts of measures. Yet, much of the evidence suggests that same-sex couples experience domestic violence at rates similar to that of heterosexual couples.

Acknowledging DV within the LGBT community can be a sensitive issue. Unfortunately, our political foes create conditions that make some LGBT advocacy groups and same-sex couples reluctant to acknowledge DV. In acknowledging that DV exists within same-sex couples just as it exists in heterosexual ones, we give fodder to those who use such information as part of their propaganda campaigns against our community. Showing their typical complete lack of empathy for non-heterosexual victims of violence, conservative anti-gay groups, bloggers, and individuals often use the existence of LGBT domestic violence as "proof" that same-sex love is inherently dysfunctional and, therefore, that gay men and lesbians do not deserve equal rights. For instance, a group calling themselves the Biblical Family Advocates cites domestic violence as one of its "15 Reasons Why Homosexuality Is Wrong and Hurts Society." Within this propaganda piece, citing no references to support its claim, this organization goes on to state:

"Children should not be exposed to the higher levels of domestic violence of homosexuals. Another reason that same sex couples should not care for foster or adoptive children is that same sex couples experience much higher levels of domestic violence than their heterosexual counterparts." (Emphasis added)

Dishonest statements like these are pretty common and can be found on anti-gay blogs and websites all over the internet. That's why today, I think we should all focus on a concept called re-victimization. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects has written (PDF):

"Unfortunately, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) [domestic violence] survivors, [domestic violence] services are fraught with the potential for re-victimization that pivots on homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism.... Experiencing victimization through social stigma leaves many LGBT people vulnerable to commonly used tools of manipulation of batterers. Quite often, early experiences of bias and hatred results in a form of self-victimization that erodes the self worth of the survivor based upon self hatred."

What this means is that an LGBT person utilizing DV services within the more traditional male-as-perpetrator female-as-victim system, means putting oneself at risk of further harassment, sexual prejudice, and anti-gay bias. I fully realize that if any anti-gays are reading this, I lost most of them at "heterosexism" and all of that overly-sensitive rubbish about gay victimhood. Personally, I don't like thinking of myself or my community as victims. That so many of us thrive in the face of sanctioned bias and overt prejudice is, on the contrary, a testament not to our communal weakness but to our strengths.

In any event, I do hope that anti-gays walk away with one salient point: Stigmatizing LGBT people as wrong, sick, abnormal, and/or immoral is abusive. It erodes our humanity, and as such it leaves people vulnerable to future abuse. I'm not letting LGBT abusers off the hook. I fully blame all abusers for pain that they inflict on others. Yet, I also blame those who consistently tear us down for making LGBT people just a little bit (or a lot) more vulnerable to future abuse.

I have written before about how human emotions, such as anger, are not "problems" unique to certain (usually-maligned minority) groups of people. Rather, the seeds of problematic emotions live within all people. It's what makes us human. Similarly, all people have the capacity to be abusive, no matter one's sexual orientation, race, class, sex, or gender. Yet, using the suffering of LGBT victims of DV to advance an anti-gay political agenda, rather than to relieve that pain and suffering, is not only profoundly anti-social, it is unconscionable.

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