By Andrew M. Seaman
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Domestic violence occurs as much and possibly more among same-sex couples as among opposite-sex couples, according to a fresh look at past research.
The study team can’t say why domestic violence may be more common among same-sex couples, but they suggest it may result from the added stress of being a sexual minority.
“There are vulnerabilities that come with being in a homosexual relationship,” Richard Carroll told Reuters Health. “It can be as basic as someone not ready or willing to be open to their family or community that they’re in a homosexual relationship. The theory is that additional stressors can add to increased strain that leads to increased violence or abuse.”
Carroll is a psychologist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and senior author of the review published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.
Domestic violence – sometimes called intimate-partner violence – has been studied since the 1970s, with most research focusing on women in opposite-sex relationships being abused by their male partners, Carroll and his coauthor write.
Domestic violence can include physical, sexual and psychological harm caused by current or past relationship partners, they point out.
According to Carroll, among the challenges that sometimes prevent researchers from collecting reliable data on domestic violence among same-sex couples is the partners’ reluctance to bring up the topic out of fear of being outed or blamed.
“It’s not as easy for same-sex couples to be open about these things in the first place,” he said.
A joint report from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 22 percent of women and about 7 percent of men reported being the victim of domestic violence.
For the new review, the researchers searched databases of medical research for studies on the prevalence of domestic violence among same-sex couples.
Based on the findings of four studies that had data on nearly 30,000 participants, they found that between one quarter and three quarters of lesbian, gay and bisexual people are the victims of domestic violence.
That rate is at least equal to the 25 percent of heterosexual women who experience domestic violence during their lifetimes.
“I think taken together it seems pretty clear that the true prevalence may be higher for same-sex couples,” Carroll said.
In addition to the added stress of being a sexual minority, another contributor to increased risk of domestic violence among same-sex couples could be that same-sex partners are unconsciously acting out an internalized homophobia they developed while being raised in a heterosexual society, Carroll added.
As for who is at risk of being a victim, he said many of the risk factors are similar for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. They include prior exposure to domestic violence and drug use.
“The good news is that I think the gay community has begun to address this over the past 10 years,” Carroll said. “There are certainly more resources for couples experiencing violence.”
For same-sex couples experiencing domestic violence, Carroll said options for help may be limited outside of large cities, but they can always call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
While Carroll believes most of the interventions and screenings used for domestic violence among heterosexual women can be applied to same-sex couples, he said there would need to be additional elements.
“Healthcare and mental healthcare providers need to be sensitized to dealing with issues of the homosexual population and the willingness and ability to ask about domestic violence and knowing where to refer them if that comes up,” Carroll said.
SOURCE: bit.ly/1mMiZwX Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, online September 4, 2014.