Domestic abuse in LGBT relationships - how the law can offer victims protection

The media tends to focus on domestic abuse perpetrated by men against women. Less attention is given to those who suffer abuse in same sex…

Media coverage tends to focus on domestic abuse perpetrated by men against women.  Less attention is given to those in same sex relationships, who suffer abuse at the hands of their spouse, partner, civil-partner, or former partner. There are few statistics available, but anecdotally, it is clear that domestic abuse within same sex couples is as prevalent as within opposite sex couples, but for a myriad of complex reasons, it tends to be much less reported to the police and authorities. Why?

Abuse may take many forms. It is not limited to physical violence, and may include controlling or coercive behaviour, intimidation, emotional and economic abuse. 

For some couples, their sexual orientation may provide an extra layer of complexity to the situation, with the victims being concerned to approach authorities for fear of revealing their sexual orientation or the nature of their relationship. Historically, there has been limited discussion as to domestic abuse within the LGBT communities, and support and assistance has traditionally been directed towards heterosexual women. Victims may be concerned to step forward.

There are a number of options to seek protection which are open to anyone who finds themselves in an abusive relationship, whether it be a heterosexual or LGBT relationship. If a victim is in danger, or has already suffered an incident of domestic abuse, the police should be contacted straight away. Criminal charges may follow where appropriate and Restraining Orders can then be made restricting contact between the parties. There are many helplines and website-based support services available, some of which cater particularly to the LGBT community.

Greater Manchester Police is in fact the first UK force to introduce official recording of domestic abuse in the LGBT community within the city of Manchester borough. The trial, started in June of this year, has so far recorded 45 separate incidents against the new “D66” code in the three months to 9 August. It is hoped that if the trial is a success, it will be rolled out across the GMP. It is hoped that identifying such offences as such will enable the force to better tackle the issue.

There are civil law routes available too, particularly where there are no criminal charges or a police investigation is pending. If an application is successful, the Family Court has the power to grant an Occupation Order, governing occupation of (and exclusion from) a property, and a Non-Molestation order. The Non-Molestation Order will commonly include provisions that someone should not use or threaten violence, harass or intimidate another. The perpetrator may also be restricted from encourage or inciting others to take such action on their behalf.

Both forms of order will include a power of arrest so that criminal proceedings can be brought swiftly in the event of breach. In respect of both these available orders, the law expressly includes married couples, civil partners, as well as former civil partners and those who have been in a relationship for more than 6 months. To that end, the law’s approach is blind as to sexuality.

Urgent legal advice should be sought in order to discuss options and assess the best approach to take.

Eleanor Webster is a Solicitor in the family law team

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