An Important Advance In Tracking Domestic Violence

Intimate partner violence is often thought of in just one way: Something that men perpetrate against women. But anyone can commit it, and anyone can suffer from it — which is why what the Greater Manchester Police in the United Kingdom have just done is so important: They'll be the first police unit in their country to officially record instances of LGBTQ intimate partner violence. Specifically, this new system means that when an officer of the Greater Manchester Police responds to an intimate partner violence situation and the couple is LGBTQ identified, a code ("D66") will be used in the incident report to note that the couple is LGBTQ. Simple and effective. This system is a much-needed way to accurately track instances of LGBTQ intimate partner violence.

Domestic violence is underreported in general, but when it comes to LGBTQ people, it is even more difficult to pin down statistics; up until this point, no police force in Britain has had a formal system for recording sexual orientation or gender identity when responding to domestic violence situations. Not having concrete or reliable statistics on the rates of LGBTQ intimate partner violence can in turn make it difficult for groups geared towards supporting and providing resources for the victims of LGBTQ intimate partner violence to secure funding.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, intimate partner violence (IPV) is chronically underreported. The NAADV explains that only "25 percent of all physical assaults, 20 percent of all rapes, and 50 percent of all stalking perpetrated against females by their partners are reported to the police." There are many reasons people who are experiencing domestic violence or intimate partner violence may be fearful or cautious of contacting the police; for example, they feel embarrassed or ashamed, they may fear retaliation from their abuser, or they may feel that they won't be believed. Indeed, our culture often reinforces these ideas about domestic violence, in that victims are routinely silenced, shamed, and questioned when they come forward.

For LGBTQ people, this sense of shame and fear of coming forward can run even deeper. For example, many LGBTQ people who are not openly out fear that they will have to out themselves if they step forward and file a police report — and depending on your area and local laws and policies, this could mean losing your job or housing. Many police forces and units also lack a specific LGBTQ unit or liaison, which can make people feel fearful that their relationship or identity won't be understood by the person they're reporting to; LGBTQ people often have to defend and explain their identities and relationships in general, but this can be especially draining if you're reporting a crime or recovering from a traumatic event. For many couples, an "us against the world" mentality can also begin to develop and feed into the desire to keep the relationship — even if it's unsafe — private and secretive; it's easy for minority or oppressed groups to feel additionally isolated, excluded, and misunderstood by those around them.

Whether it's occurring in the LGBTQ community or in heterosexual relationships, intimate partner violence is a serious and underrepresented issue, period. Violence is violence, whether it's male against female, female against female, and so forth. The sad and scary truth is that intimate partner violence can and does happen to anyone — and that anyone can and does commit it, as well, even if they don't fit the stereotypical representation of how we tend to see domestic violence portrayed in the media. The more statistics and hard data we can gather concerning rates of domestic violence, especially for minority populations, will only help us increase funding for outreach and support organizations, and further our conversation about what needs to change.