Thursday, February 28, 2013

Are Gays Uniquely Vulnerable To Domestic Violence?

In the midst of a debate about the Violence Against Women Act, Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez blurted out this startling statistic:
Here are some facts my GOP colleagues may be unaware of: 40 percent of gay men experience domestic abuse, as do 50 percent of lesbian women. 
As a supporter of gay marriage -- I was a bit startled, myself. This is one of the few times I have seen a fact that would seem to argue against allowing gays to marry. Could the Congresswoman -- who was doing what Congress critters do -- demanding extra funding and programs for an interest group -- be correct?

Well, the first thing to do when fact checking a politician's statistic is to try to run down the source. And, thanks to Google, here it is -- a fact sheet from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Do these statistics make sense? Are gay men and women really somehow more violent than the general population?

Well, um, no. In the case of gay men:

Gay and bisexual men experience abuse in intimate partner relationships at a rate of 2 in 5, which is comparable to the amount of domestic violence experienced by heterosexual women.
Which means, when you untangle the language used by the advocacy group, 40% of gay males, at some point in their lives, will experience an act of domestic violence (as defined by the advocacy group.)  Nothing unusual there. Nothing special there.

The lesbian statistic, though, startles. Are gay women more violent than gay men? Well, you'd think so, from the glib language of the Congresswoman. And you would think so, from the glib language of the fact sheet:
Approximately 50% of the lesbian population has experienced or will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.
In other places, however, you can find the reason:
However, this is because lesbians (vs. heterosexual women) are more likely to
have experienced IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) at the hands of female and male partners. Many lesbian have had intimate relationships with men prior to coming out as lesbians.One study on same-sex IPV found that about half of the 79 women in the sample had had relationships with men as well as with women.
Their findings indicate that male partners may pose a greater risk for IPV than female partners: of the total sample, about 39.2% reported being raped and/or physically abused by a partner in their lifetime (30.4% by male partner and 11.4% by a female partner).
To sum up -- there is a horrifying statistic on abuse in gay male relationships -- that is no different than the horrifying statistic for heterosexual relationships. And there is a horrifying statistic for lesbians -- that has little to do with their same sex partnerships.

So -- the question is -- why is there a special need for treating GLBT  domestic violence as somehow special? When it just looks like the general population?

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