Same-Sex Couples and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is an issue that can affect anyone. It impacts people regardless of financial situation, geographical location, education, gender, or sexuality. Unfortunately, in some areas of the United States, same-sex couples do not receive equal treatment under the law when it comes to domestic violence laws.

Understanding Domestic Violence

The term "domestic violence" itself can be misleading and confusing because it assumes or requires that a couple lives together in one household. Domestic violence, or more correctly, intimate partner violence, occurs whenever there is violence or fear of violence between two people who are in a relationship or were in a relationship. Intimate partner violence is an important issue in both the gay and straight communities and deserves equal protection regardless of the gender and orientation of the people involved.

Prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence

Media portrayals of intimate partner violence almost always have to do with a cis woman being abused by a cis man. In fact, intimate partner violence is more common among gay and trans people. According to a 2010 CDC report, 44 percent of lesbians experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lives. Bisexual women experience an even higher rate, with 61 percent facing this issue. One-fourth of gay men experience intimate partner violence. A 2016 U.S. Transgender Survey Report found that 24% of transgender and non-binary people experience violence from intimate partners at some point in their lives. That same survey found that the rate of intimate partner violence within the general U.S. population is 18 percent. 

These statistics make it clear that intimate partner violence is of great concern within the LGTBQIA+ community and that the rate of violence it higher within the community than in the general population. 

What to Do If You Are in Danger

If you are in immediate danger, you can call 911. Be aware that police often try to defuse a situation rather than make an arrest, even though your state may have a mandatory arrest policy for domestic violence when there is reasonable cause to believe it has occurred (New York has a mandatory arrest policy). One of you might be encouraged to leave. A study published by the journal Violence Against Women found that police are less likely to make an arrest when the same sex couple is male, compared to when the couple is female. There is a bias leading people to believe that men are not victims of intimate partner violence

Another option is to go to a domestic violence shelter. In New York state, all state-funded shelters are required to help all victims, regardless of gender identification or sexual orientation. In other states, however, many shelters will only assist only cis women. If you do not know where to locate a shelter that will assist you, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. 

In New York, you can also contact the New York State 24 Hour Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906. In New York City, the NYC Anti-Violence Project (AVP) provides services to LGTBQ and HIV-affected survivors or all forms of violence in the five boroughs. Reach them at 212-714-1141. 

If you are not in immediate danger but are experiencing violence or the threat of violence, you should create a safety plan so that you know how to get help when and if you need it. You can also work with an attorney who is experienced in domestic and intimate partner violence.

Protections for Intimate Partner Victims

Every state has domestic violence laws in place designed to protect people who are harmed or threatened by their partners. These laws may provide for orders of protection, stay away orders, exclusive occupancy of the shared home, and orders requiring the surrender of firearms. There are extensive protections available, but the problem for the LGBTQIA+ community is accessing those protections. 

A recent case in North Carolina highlighted this issue. One member of a female same sex couple was experiencing violence from her partner and sought a protective order in court. The court refused to grant the order because the couple did not live together. North Carolina law allows for protective orders for a heterosexual couple that does not live together but is in a relationship, but does not extend the same protection to same-sex partners. This decision is currently being appealed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

New York domestic violence law covers all couples who are intimate relationships. This includes same sex couples, couples who do not reside together, and couples who do not have a sexual relationship. It's up to the judge to determine if the relationship meets the test of being an intimate relationship by looking at the frequency of the interaction and its duration. The law states that casual acquaintances and ordinary fraternization in business or social contexts do not meet the test. 

New York offers a broad range of protections for intimate partners experiencing violence, including:

  • Exclusive occupancy of the home
  • Forcing the abuser to leave the premises
  • Order prohibiting abuse of the victim, their children, and pets
  • Stay away order (directing the abuser to stay away from the victim's home, workplace, and family)
  • No contact order (prohibiting the abuser from contacting the victim in any way, including through social media, email, phone, text, gifts, or by contacting them through other people)
  • Belongings order (allowing either person to get their personal items out of a shared home with a police escort)
  • Child support
  • Firearms order (requiring surrender of firearms)

Domestic violence orders can be issued in family court, criminal court, and Supreme Court (if you are in the midst of a divorce). Violating an order can result in jail time for the offender. 

Intimate partner violence is a serious issue that affects people of all gender identifications, sexual orientations, income levels, and backgrounds. If you are experiencing intimate partner violence or threat of violence from an intimate partner there is help and support available. 

If your situation calls for an order of protection or restraining order, the experienced attorneys at Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield can help.

If you’re in immediate need of help, please contact 911 or NYS’s 24 Hour Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906.