A new review of literature suggests that while domestic violence rates are higher for homosexual couples, they aren't as high as previous studies have found, and the authors of the paper say the minority stress model may explain the high prevalence rates.
Previous studies indicate that domestic violence affects up to 75 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. A lack of representative data and underreporting of abuse paints an incomplete picture of the true landscape, suggesting even higher rates. By comparison, 25 percent of heterosexual women report domestic abuse while heterosexual men have rates much lower.
Writing in the Journal of Sex&Marital Therapy, senior author Richard Carroll, associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, rationalizes the higher violence rates. "Domestic violence is exacerbated because same-sex couples are dealing with the additional stress of being a sexual minority. This leads to reluctance to address domestic violence issues."
Domestic violence is physical, sexual or psychological harm occurring between current or former intimate partners. Research concerning the issue began in the 1970s in response to the women's movement, but traditionally studies focused on women abused by men in opposite-sex relationships.
"There has been a lot of research on domestic violence but it hasn't looked as carefully at the subgroup of same-sex couples," Carroll said. "Another obstacle is getting the appropriate samples because of the stigma that has been attached to sexual orientation. In the past, individuals were reluctant to talk about it."
Of the research that has examined same-sex domestic violence, most has concentrated on lesbians rather than gay men and bisexuals.
"Men may not want to see themselves as the victim, to present themselves as un-masculine and unable to defend themselves," Carroll said.
He suggests that homosexual men and women may not report domestic violence for fear of discrimination and being blamed for abuse from a partner. They also may worry about their sexual orientation being revealed before they're comfortable with it.
Mental health services for people involved in abusive same-sex relationships are becoming more common, but this population still faces obstacles in accessing help, reports the paper.
"We need to educate health care providers about the presence of this problem and remind them to assess for it in homosexual relationships, just as they would for heterosexual patients," Carroll said. "The hope is that with increasingly deeper acceptance, the stress and stigma will disappear for these individuals so they can get the help they need."