A staggering percentage of men in same-sex relationships have been abused by a partner, according to a new study on gay domestic abuse.
The study, published this month in the American Journal of Men’s Health, found that 46% of respondents had suffered intimate-partner abuse, including emotional abuse, controlling behavior and physical and sexual violence. Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities interviewed 320 men in 160 couples.
“If you just looked at physical and sexual violence in male couples, it’s about 25 to 30%, roughly the same as women [in heterosexual couples],” said lead author Rob Stephenson.
“We’re stuck in this mental representation of domestic violence as a female victim and a male perpetrator, and while that is very important, there are other forms of domestic violence in all types of relationships.”
In addition to the usual factors fueling abuse — unemployment, drug abuse, money problems — researchers found a strong correlation between internalized homophobia and abuse in gay male relationships. An abuser grappling with his sexuality may lash out at the person he perceives as the embodiment of that identity.
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner. Abuse in gay relationships has the added risk of increased HIV infection if the victim is not able to control what, if any, HIV-prevention measures are taken.
Societal pressure on men to be “strong” may keep victims from seeking help. But even if they do seek help, there’s usually less of a support system available to gay victims, especially if one or both partners is not fully out. Shelters and counseling may not be available to men: Delaware, Montana and South Carolina explicitly exclude same-sex victims of domestic violence from protection under criminal laws.
Stephenson suggests health-care providers and abuse counselors receive better training about intimate-partner violence and abuse among same-sex couples.
Have you or someone you know been the victim of gay domestic abuse? Share your story in the comments below.