This week’s Women’s Safety Summit brought together many voices calling for the government to take substantive action to address violence against women. This is happening ahead of the finalising of the next National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children in 2022.
However, the national safety summit failed to adequately include a significant part of our population: LGBTQ+ communities.
Research shows men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violence against women and children, and that women experience victimisation at greater rates than men.
However, research also shows LGBTQ+ people experience violence and abuse at similar, if not greater, rates than cisgender, heterosexual women. These rates are even higher for people who face multiple structural disadvantages, such as racism, the effects of colonisation, and ableism.
The Women’s Safety Summit did include a private round table discussion on LGBTQ+ issues, but LGBTQ+ people were not part of the public talks. Indeed, even the focus on “women’s safety” frames the issue in a fundamentally hetero-normative way.
And though the current national plan acknowledges LGBTQ+ people, this has been criticised as superficial.
So, how can we do better?
What we know about violence experienced by LGBTQ+ people
Rates of family, sexual and domestic violence in LGBTQ+ communities are under-researched in Australia. However, some data are emerging.
Notably, in a survey of the LGBTQ+ community conducted last year, researchers found over 40% of participants reported being in an abusive, intimate relationship in their lives. A similar percentage had suffered abuse from a family member (both chosen and family of origin).
A sexual health survey for trans and gender diverse people in 2018 also found that 53% of respondents had experienced sexual violence or coercion.
Other national surveys do not provide robust data. The census and the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ personal safety survey do not even collect information on sex, sexual orientation or gender diversity.
The Pride in Prevention report released by La Trobe University researchers last year, meanwhile, sought to identify the specific drivers of violence and abuse in LGBTQ+ communities.
They found that while gender inequality was a driver of family violence, LGBTQ+ people can face additional discrimination based on their gender and sexuality, which can further fuel violence and abuse.
Barriers to help seeking
Research suggests that myths and stereotypes about sexual violence and LGBTQ people impact their ability to speak out about their experiences and get support. This also affects the way that sexual violence involving LGBTQ+ people is reported in the media, further perpetuating these stereotypes.
LGBTQ+ people frequently experience discrimination from some mainstream support services, or simply do not know if they will be met with a homophobic or transphobic response. In other cases, service workers may be supportive, but lack an understanding of queer relationships.
And in rural and remote areas, accessing LGBTQ+ specific services may not be possible or safe.
There is also a history of police violence and intolerance towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Further, some LGBTQ+ people are politically opposed to engaging with the criminal justice system and want to reimagine ways of doing “justice”.
How can LGBTQ+ people be included in the discussion?
The experiences of LGBTQ+ people must be urgently addressed in the next National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children. Our communities are diverse and we do not speak for everyone, however, we suggest some important starting points.
1) The next national plan must meaningfully include LGBTQ+ people beyond just acknowledging us as a minority group. To do so, it needs to build on the gendered drivers of domestic, sexual and family violence to include those outlined in the Pride in Prevention report. LGBTQ+ victim-survivors must be consulted widely to ensure the diversity of our voices are included.
2) There must be recognition of how LGBTQ+ identity intersects with other disadvantages (such as racism) and how this impacts experiences of violence.
3) There must be discussions of how support services can be better tailored and more sensitive to the specific needs of diverse genders and sexualities.
4) There should also be an emphasis on developing innovative, community-led justice responses to violence in the LGBTQ+ community, recognising the resistance from some in engaging with police and legal systems.
The exclusion of LGBTQ+ people from discussions like last week’s summit is also a missed opportunity, as we have insights that could be valuable.
For example, queer communities and organisations have been educating on sexual consent in an inclusive manner for decades.
Research has also found that LGBTQ+ people are often actively seeking more egalitarian ways of building intimate relationships.
And LGBTQ+ communities have built strong networks of care and support, which could help inform what community-based responses to family violence can look like.
Meaningfully including the experiences and knowledge of LGBTQ+ people and other diverse groups is not only important for those communities, but will likely strengthen responses and have benefits for all survivors.