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Social services barriers keep LGBTQ2S+ community from seeking help from abuse

Last Updated Apr 6, 2021 at 2:17 pm EDT

CityNews and OMNI News have launched a new investigative series “Behind Closed Doors” detailing the epidemic of family violence plaguing our communities. If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, please visit our dedicated resource page.

WARNING: This story contains graphic content related to violence and abuse, and may be disturbing to some readers.

The names and identities of the victims in our stories have been changed to protect them.

Their stories and circumstances aren’t unique. Thousands more are being silenced as their trauma continues daily behind closed doors. These are just some of their first-hand accounts.

To watch this story in Punjabi, click here.

The LGBTQ2S+ community is one that experts say is often left out of conversations surrounding family and intimate partner violence, despite their long history of facing injustices and violence.

For some, this happens in their own home and there are emerging calls to prioritize disrupting this violence.

The statistics are wide-ranging for LGBTQ2S+, but one Alberta-based organization Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society tells CityNews that anywhere between 25 to 80 per cent of people experience violence in their relationship.

Dr. Kathryn Bell, a clinical psychologist and Acadia University professor said, “Historically, violence within 2SLGBTQ+ communities was invisible, it wasn’t always recognized.”

“A lot of the research, historically, on partner violence has focused on heterosexual couples, where there’s usually cisgender men and women, so it’s just been in recent years that you’ve seen more research emerge in LGBTQ+ relationships.”

This means there are still many unknowns about the experiences of LGBTQ2S+ victims and survivors who have experienced family and intimate partner violence.

“Violence happens in all kinds of relationships, including LGBTQ relationships. Recognizing and validating that experience of survivors in LGBTQ relationships is important,” said Dr. Bell.

Dr. Bell is a part of this team of researchers from Acadia University hoping to change that. They recently carried out a major research project surrounding 2SLGBTQ+ people who have experienced violence at home and found that the pandemic is heightening vulnerabilities and risk factors.

She said those who are doubly marginalized, especially those in BIPOC groups, appear to be at heightened risk for experiencing violence in their relationships.

“We see risk-factors specific to relationships in experiences of internalized homophobia as well as minority stress,” said Dr. Bell. “So earlier experiences of discrimination and stigmatization, including one’s own internalization of negative stereotypes about LGBTQ+ (people), can also impact risk for experiencing violence within a relationship.”

That can be a challenge not just in conjugal partnerships, but also one that LGBTQ2S+ individuals may face with parents, siblings or other family relationships for the individual.

The group still has a lot of data to sift through, but already notes that 42 per cent of LGBTQ2S+ individuals who had to move back home during the pandemic were impacted and a quarter of them said they experienced less freedoms.

Over 17 per cent said their safety and security were changed as a result and some felt like they had to hide their identity, and were unable to express themselves if they had unsupportive families.

“That’s certainly going to have an impact on the individual’s overall well-being. We suspect that this may also increase risk for conflict for family.”

According to Statistics Canada, prior to the pandemic in 2018, the number of LGBTQ2S+ Canadians experienced some type of homelessness or housing insecurity in their lifetime was double the number of straight, cisgender individuals in the same circumstances.

Meanwhile seven per cent of LGBTQ2S+ were likely to report having to temporarily live somewhere other than home because they were leaving an abusive or violent situation. That’s compared to 3 per cent among other individuals.

Once again, like other forms of family violence, experts say the majority of victims don’t report abusive behavior since there’s been a high level of distrust with police in the community for decades.

Social services barriers hinder LGBTQ2S+ people from seeking help

Social services play a key role, but there are more barriers for people in these groups looking to access support, which can feed into dangerous situations.

Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society has joined forces with other groups and organizations to create Rainbow Ready, an initiative that is aimed at working with organizations to address some of these barriers faced by communities.

“Canada as a system and the justice system was not set up at all to support members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, if anything, it was set up to ‘other’ them in society and push them out of society. It takes a long time for society to change,” said Executive Director of Sagesse, Andrea Silverstone.

Silverstone says those barriers include homophobia, heterosexism, fears in the community that services won’t know how to properly address their needs, or a fear of being outed.

“There are all these biases within, that exist within society that will stop people from within communities from accessing support.”

Silverstone said our systems have been designed in many ways for a “very binary experience of violence” – assuming a male preparator against a female victim, for instance. That can be particularly challenging for trans individuals, who need more sensitive guidance on access criteria.

“So someone might find themselves wanting to seek services, but being told by both female-identified services and male-identified services that they don’t fit and then where are they supposed to go,” says Silverstone.

Silverstone said in some other cases, victims have to out themselves in order to access services because they are asked during an intake process who the abuser is.

This lack of support in services can lead to serious consequences for those victims.

“You’re more likely to stay in the abusive relationship for longer, to take that abuse, or internalize the abuse or assume that you’re accountable for that abuse,” said Silverstone.

Rainbow Ready is looking to make meaningful change to address the root causes of these barriers and make these spaces safe and inclusive for all.

“We are all partners in eradicating and ending domestic violence and addressing it. This isn’t a ‘behind closed doors’ issue.”

As we hit the one-year mark of the pandemic, experts are reminding Canadians to check in on their friends and loved ones. Find ways of reaching out, whether it’s by texting them, making a phone call, or a video call.

With files from Mahnoor Yawar

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