Opportunity to Abuse: Power Differences



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

Large power differences between men and women, while perhaps less tolerated today, still exist. Stereotypic gender roles are shifting to more egalitarian roles, but men still make more money than women do, and still spend less time performing housework compared to women.

Where two gay men with more traditional ideas about "a man's role" partner, they may have little idea as to how to share power, and sometimes take a less powerful position with considerable anxiety, and sometimes take a more powerful position with little grace. Where income, age, and social status differences exist, one man may find himself in the less powerful position more often. Johnson and Ferraro (2000) note that violence decreases a woman's chance of maintaining 30+ hours per week of employment by two-thirds, and often as a result leads to increased dependence on the abuser or homelessness. Batterers cause shame and embarrassment, interfere in transportation to work, cause harm that decreases the physical and mental health required for work, and often harass their victims at work and cost them their job due to the "personal disruptions." Thus, initial small power differences can lead to increased or larger power differences over time.

Legal issues come into play as well. While some would question the support a woman abused by her male partner would receive from law enforcement, others argue gays and lesbians, ethnic minorities, and ethnic minority gays and lesbians receive far less support. For example, Burke et al (2002) reports that seven States (Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, Montana, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia) prohibit gays and lesbians from applying for protection orders against violent partners. Other States (Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Washington) include gender-specific laws, stipulating that domestic violence is only between former spouses, blood relatives, or people of the opposite-sex, and thus exclude gays and lesbians from protection (Jablow, 2000; Fray-Witzer, 1999).

Other States with gender-neutral protection laws may still discriminate. For example, Maryland required a sexual relationship between adults before violence between them was classified as being "domestic." However, Maryland also maintained a sodomy law, meaning that in order to be applicable for help under domestic violence protection laws, a gay victim had to admit to a felony first. While he may or may not have been prosecuted for it, he had no guarantee of this when asking for help (Fray-Witzer, 1999). Only in 2003 did the US Supreme Court rule that State sodomy laws prohibiting gays from consensual sex were illegal. Fray-Witzer (1999) also reports that 17 states do not extend the term "domestic violence" to couples who did not live together. Thus, a gay man who felt it unsafe to live with another man in his community, and maintained his own residence, thus would be ineligible for protection under these State domestic violence protection laws (Fray-Witzer, 1999).

Even though there may be States with gender-neutral domestic violence protection laws that do not discriminate against gays, of note is that only four States (Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio) specifically include some language to extend equal protection to gay and lesbian couples (Burke et al, 2002; Jablow, 2000) and only the State of Vermont makes it completely clear that gay and lesbian couples are covered under State law.

Jablow (2000) points out that some may counter gay victims can still seek damages against abusers in criminal courts. However, criminal courts set a much higher standard of proof compared to civil courts, and criminal courts may act on charges of domestic violence much more slowly, providing little help to the abused man. Even if convicted, the abuser may or may not serve any time in jail. Even if jail time is served, in criminal cases the abuser may be able to pay bail within a day and leave jail, returning to the home, and leaving the victim homeless for several months until the trial is held (Potoczniak et al, 2003). Jablow (2000) refers to this kind of treatment by the law as "a denial of equal protection."

Fray-Witzer (1999) discusses how as the result of such discrimination, gays are often denied an order of protection and their only option is to obtain a restraining order. The problem, however, is that a restraining order assumes equal blame. A protective order is designed to protect the victim by forcing the abuser to keep away from a victim, while a restraining order is designed to keep to mutual combatants away from each other. Thus, by denying protective orders to gays, laws in effect blame the abused for their victimization. Even where a State may allow an order of protection, Cabral and Coffey (1999) point out that gays and lesbians often have no choice but to come out to judges and courtrooms full of people. Coffey recalls incidents in which victims had to come out in courtrooms over a microphone, adding, "Proceedings involving gay and lesbian victims, witnesses, and defendants always drew more people into the courtroom. It was not unusual, in these cases, to hear rumblings of inappropriate, homophobic comments." Thus, a victim's sense of danger could actually be exacerbated by help-seeking.

Where police are known to harass gays, one study found that 70% of victims would decide to not even report the violence to police (Burke et al, 2002). Further, where a police report would risk disclosure of one's sexual identity or HIV status, for example, to family, friends, coworkers... many victims in the gay community may feel it wiser to keep quiet and avoid the further trauma reporting would cause even if someone else calls the police. Some who do file reports find police unprepared and unsuportive. Victims and abusers may both be arrested, handcuffed to each other (Merrill and Wolfe, 2000), taken to jail in the same car, and held in the same cell (Burke et al, 2002). Where police do respond in an effort to be supportive, they may not have needed resources or knowledge of what to do. "At one recent conference, police reported taking male victims [of domestic violence] to Denny's or to homeless shelters" (Burke et al, 2002). Merrill and Wolfe (2000) report of a client who was left with a bleeding bite wound from his partner. Police who came to the scene told him, "You're going to need to learn to defend yourself better."

While some might argue that where courts and police may be unable to help, friends, family, counselors, and mediators might. While such people may undoubtedly provide aid and emotional support, they do not replace the kind of aid available only through the civil justice system. Lundy (1999) points out that friends, family, counselors, and mediators have no power to order a batterer to leave the home, halt a their efforts to harass their victim at work and interfere with their job, and surrender any weapons they hold. Further, friends and family may have no more expertise in handling the abuser than the victim. Counselors and mediators may find the batterer is just as domineering and manipulative in sessions as outside of sessions, and either fail to halt the emotional abuse or actually validate it by seeing the violence as a couple issue (Lundy, 1999).