Learning to Abuse: History of Abuse



Stages of Healthy Gay Relationships

Intro To Domestic Violence

Introduction to Gay Male Domestic Violence

Treatment Of Domestic Violence

Treatment Of Domestic Violence

DV Links


Domestic Violence in Gay Couples
History of Abuse

Power Differences




Gender Roles

Mental Illness

Several of the risk factors for abuse noted above can fall into this category, including a history of being abused as a child, a history of witnessing parental abuse, and a history of past violent behavior. These experiences clearly teach that "power counts" and that those with power get their way. They also fail to teach adaptive negotiation and compromise strategies, and basic values that the safety of members should be guaranteed within the family.

Martin and Hetrick (1988) in their study of gay and lesbian teens reported that the third most frequently reported problem for gay teens was violence. Over 40% of their sample had suffered violence because of their sexual orientation, and 49% of the violence occurred within the family. Others have obtained similar findings (Harry, 1989). They also reported that 22% of gay teens in their sample had been sexually abused. Consistent with sexual abuse of female children, most were abused or raped by male relatives. Most blamed themselves or were blamed by others because of their sexual orientation.

The experience of abuse does not end in the family. Other studies (Baier et al., 1991; Watterman et al., 1989; Brand & Kidd, 1986) have found that 25-35% of gay college students report having sex against their will, indicating more experiences of abuse. Sloan and Edmund (1996) found that 19% of gay men reported being sexually assaulted, and another 16% reported experiencing attempted sexual assaults. As with the point made earlier about assault on lesbians, these assaults may not have been perpetrated by potential or current same-sex partners. However, these numbers stand in contrast to those found by Merrill and Wolfe (2000); 73% of their sample of abused gay men reported some form of sexual abuse by their batterer, with 39% reporting that the batterer required them to have sex against their will, and 56% reporting that the batterer demanded "make up sex" after a fight while they were still afraid of him.

These numbers would support that in so far as a history of abuse would predispose one to become an abuser, many gay men have been "primed" to become abusers by their abusive families and relatives. Farley (1996) confirmed this in a study of almost 300 gay and lesbian batterers, finding that 100% reported childhood abuse, 93% of men reported physical abuse, and 67% reported sexual abuse (obviously, some reported both types of abuse). Interestingly, 80% of abusive men reported that they believed one or both of their own parents had been abused as children as well. Further, 67% of men reported ongoing psychological abuse as adults, and 53% reported ongoing physical abuse as adults.

More disturbing is that the "initial impact" of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse may be minor, compared to the ongoing consequences. Often, gay teens run from home or are expelled from their homes when their sexual orientation is revealed (Anderson et al, 1999). Prostitution is often are the only way a homeless teen can survive on his own (Deisher et al., 1982; James, 1982). Anderson et al (1999) estimated that between 20-47% of street youth are gay or lesbian, and continued sexual assault, as well as exposure to crime and drugs, would only be expected to compound the original trauma. Hunter (1990) reported that 34% of gay teens who experienced violent assaults attempted suicide. Anderson et al (1999) reported that 67% of gay street youth had considered suicide (compared to 47% of straight street youth), 20-40% had attempted suicide (2-3 times more than straight street youth), and such attempts were four times more likely to require medical intervention.

Even when homelessness is not a part of the abuser's history, the ongoing impact of childhood abuse is severe. Farley (1996) reported that 87% of male abusers had a prior history of mental health treatment, with 27% being hospitalized, and 33% reported suicidal ideation at some point in their lives. Clearly, family abuse in childhood and adult years is highly correlated with adult abusive behaviors, and can have a lasting impact on the adult and his relationships. This is consistent with the generally held view that violence in the family is "passed on" across generations.