Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse experienced by LGB&T people receives little acknowledgement and visibility from the police and health services. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who have experienced domestic abuse from family members or partners rarely report these incidents to the police, and of those who do more than half were not happy with the response they received.

Tackling domestic abuse requires action from the police, from the health service and from support services. This information page provides evidence on the prevalence and types of domestic abuse experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to inform these key agencies.

Lesbian and Bisexual Women

Stonewall’s research into the health needs of lesbian and bisexual women, Prescription for Change (2008), found worrying levels of domestic abuse in relationships with both men and women. Many have been belittled and made to feel worthless, and many have never reported incidents to the police.

This research showed:

  • One in four lesbian and bisexual women in Scotland have experienced domestic abuse in a relationship. Three in five of those say the perpetrator was a woman, and two in five a man. One in four of the general female population has experienced domestic abuse.
  • UK wide figures show that four in ten (39 per cent) lesbian and bisexual women with a disability have experienced domestic abuse in a relationship

Over half of lesbian and bisexual women in Scotland who have experienced domestic abuse from a female partner have experienced some form of physical violence. Lesbian and bisexual women have experienced the following in relationships with women since the age of 16:

  • One in five have been pushed or slapped by another women
  • One in five have been kicked or bitten
  • One in five of all lesbian and bisexual women said that they had been repeatedly belittled and “made to feel worthless”
  • Sixteen per cent have been stopped from seeing friends and relatives
  • One in fifteen say they have been forced to have unwanted sex
  • One in 25 say they have experienced death threats

Lesbian and bisexual women also report that they have experienced domestic abuse when in a relationship with men, including physical and emotional abuse. One in seven say that a male partner once forced them to have unwanted sex, and seven per cent say that their sexuality was used against them.

Domestic abuse reporting:

Four in five lesbian and bisexual women who have experienced domestic abuse have never reported incidents to the police. Of those who did report, a third were unhappy with how the police had dealt with the situation.

Gay and Bisexual Men

Stonewall Scotland’s Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health Survey (2012) demonstrates that domestic abuse directed towards men is worryingly high. A greater number of gay and bisexual men have experienced domestic abuse from a family member or partner since the age of 16 than both men and women in general.

This research showed:

  • Half (49 per cent) of gay and bisexual men in Scotland have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse from a family member or partner since the age of 16. One in six (17 per cent) men in general have experienced domestic abuse from a family member or partner since the age of 16
  • UK wide figures show that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of gay and bisexual men with a disability have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse from a family member or partner since the age of 16
  • More than a third (37 per cent) of gay and bisexual men in Scotland have experienced domestic abuse from a partner
  • One in eleven (nine per cent) have experienced domestic abuse in a relationship with a women

One in three (33 per cent) gay and bisexual men have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse in a relationship with a man. Gay and bisexual men have experienced the following in relationships with men since the age of 16:

  • One in six (17 per cent) gay and bisexual men said that they had been repeatedly belittled by a male partner and made to feel worthless
  • One in six (17 per cent) have been pushed, held down or slapped by a male partner
  • One in six (16 per cent) have kicked, bit, or hit with a fist
  • One in eight (12 per cent) have been stopped from seeing friends and relatives by a male partner
  • One in fourteen (seven per cent) have been forced by a male partner to have unwanted sex
  • Three per cent have experienced death threats

One in four (24 per cent) gay and bisexual men since the age of 16 have experienced domestic abuse from a family member. Gay and bisexual men have experienced the following from family members since the age of 16:

  • One in six (15 per cent) have been repeatedly belittled and made to feel worthless by a family member.
  • One in fourteen (seven per cent) have been pushed or slapped
  • One in sixteen (6 per cent) have been kicked, bit or hit with a fist
  • One in sixteen (6 per cent) have been stopped from seeing friends and relatives
  • One in nine (11 per cent) have had their sexual orientation used against them

Domestic abuse reporting:

Three in four (73 per cent) gay and bisexual men who have experienced domestic abuse have never reported incidents to the police. Of those who did report, one in four (25 per cent) were not happy with how the police dealt with the situation.

Transgender People

The LGBT Domestic Abuse Project and Scottish Transgender Alliance’s research, Out of sight, out of mind? is the first piece of research of its kind looking specifically at transgender people’s experiences of domestic abuse. The report found extremely high levels of domestic abuse experienced by respondents, much of which was targeted specifically at their transgender identities.

Of the 60 people who took part in the research:

  • 80% of respondents stated that they had experienced emotionally, sexually or physically abusive behaviour by a partner or ex-partner
  • Despite this, only 60% of respondents recognised the behaviour as abusive
  • 60% of respondents had experienced controlling behaviour from a partner or ex-partner
  • 45% of respondents hadexperienced physically abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner
  • 47% of respondents had experienced some form of sexual abuse from a partner or ex-partner

“[My partner and I] had gone to a bar… I was chatting to [a] guy… he went mad, totally mad…it’s scary…I was very scared… he just snapped”

  • 33% of respondents had been stopped from being able to express their gender identity through their appearance (e.g. clothes, hair, make-up)
  • 52% were made to feel ashamed, guilty or wrong about their trans identity or background
  • 7% were stopped from taking medication or having treatment that they needed to enable  their physical bodies to more closely match their gender identity (e.g. hormones or surgery)

“She knew about my transgender status, at first she was okay about it, but then she started using it against me... She started threatening to tell my friends about it if I didn’t do what she wanted”

Of those who had experienced domestic abuse:

  • 98% identified having experienced at least one negative impact upon their health and wellbeing as a result of their experiences of domestic abuse
  • 76% identified having experienced psychological or emotional problems as a consequence of the abuse
  • 15% said they had attempted suicide as a consequence of the abuse

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone… But once you’ve been burnt, it’s very hard to trust people again.”

When asked about seeking help and accessing support services, over half of people had contacted a friend, relative, neighbour or colleague and 40% contacted a general counselling service:

  • 24% told no one about the domestic abuse they had experienced
  • Only 7% of people contacted a specialist domestic abuse service

Domestic abuse reporting:

Very few respondents felt confident in contacting the police regarding the abuse they had experienced. Of the respondents who had not contacted the police, 31% said it was because of concerns about revealing their trans status or because of fear of transphobia. Many respondents were uncertain about how to classify their experiences:

  • 18% felt that the abuse they had experienced was “just something that happened”
  • 51% thought that the most recent domestic abuse they had experienced was “wrong but not a crime”

“At the time I did not recognise it as abusive. [I] Felt it was my fault.”

“It was only when the relationship broke up that I realised it was wrong… I thought it was wrong to be transgender and so could understand why it upset her so much.”

Young LGBT People

The Voices Unheard Project was established by a group of young people from LGBT Youth Scotland to find out young LGB&T people’s experiences of domestic abuse. The young people used peer research to find out about young people’s understanding, knowledge and experiences of domestic abuse in their families and relationships, by holding workshops at local groups and through a national online survey. They found that a worryingly high number of their peers had witnessed abuse in their families and had experienced abuse within their relationships.

Witnessing abuse in their families:

  • 61% had witnessed some form abuse in their families
  • 42% had seen someone in their home behaving in a jealous or controlling way
  • Over half (53%) said they had seen someone in their home being put down so that they felt worthless
  • All of the young people who had witnessed abuse said the abuse was being directed at their mother, siblings or themselves
  • 79% of the young people believed that someone who had witnessed domestic abuse in their family would feel less confident to ‘come out’ as a result 

“I never told him, until I was eighteen because I had seen what he had done to my mum”

Experiencing abuse in their relationships:

  • 52% of the young people reported experiencing some form of abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner
  • Only 37% of the young people felt that they had experienced abuse from a partner or ex-partner

“I didn’t tell anyone for a long time because I wasn’t sure that what I experienced was proper domestic abuse”

  • 24% said they had experienced physical violence from a partner or ex-partner
  • 45% said a partner or ex-partner had behaved in a jealous or controlling way
  • 41% said they had been stopped from seeing family or friends
  • Alost a third said that a partner or ex-partner had threatened to hurt them and 14% said a partner or ex-partner had threatened to kill them
  • 50% of the young people who identified as transgender said that a partner or ex-partner had made them feel insecure about their gender identity

Of the young people who had experienced domestic abuse:

  • 30% had deliberately tried to hurt themselves since experiencing domestic abuse
  • 20% had tried to kill themselves since experiencing domestic abuse
  • 37% had experienced psychological or emotional problems, such as depression, low self-esteem, or nightmares as a result of the abuse they had experienced

“It’s hard enough to come out under normal circumstances never mind if you’re being abused too.”

“Men would be much less likely to talk about it because people think it’s something that happens to women”

When asked about accessing services, 47% of the young people said that fear of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia would make them less likely to access domestic abuse services.

“I don’t think anyone would want to have help from someone who… looked down on them, because of who they loved.”

“I found that they [a women’s domestic abuse service] were sometimes insensitive and uncaring… I think the staff need to take more care of LGBT young people.”

Domestic abuse reporting:

  • Most of the young people said they would not feel comfortable reporting domestic abuse to the police
  • Only one of the young people who had experienced abuse said the police came to know about the incident(s)

“Some police still discriminate with LGBT people”

What can you do?

For more information about what to do if you feel that you may be experiencing domestic abuse, see here.

The Studies

The findings in this briefing are taken from a number of Stonewall publications:

Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health Survey

In 2011 Stonewall and Sigma Research asked gay and bisexual men from across Britain to complete a survey about their health. 6,861 men, including 633 from Scotland responded making it the largest survey of its kind in the world.

Prescription for Change: Lesbian and bisexual women’s health check 2008 

In 2007 Stonewall and De Montfort University asked lesbians and bisexual women from Britain to complete a survey about their health. 6,178 women, including 514 from Scotland, responded making it the largest survey of its kind in Europe.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Findings around transgender people’s experiences of domestic abuse are taken from the LGBT Domestic Abuse Project and Scottish Transgender Alliance’s research Out of sight, out of mind? (2010)

Voices Unheard

Findings around LGBT young people’s experiences of domestic abuse have been taken from LGBT Youth’s Voices Unheard Project (2011)


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