hold tight tight hold

Feature on Same-Sex Domestic Violence/ Comic Relief

by Sheila McWattie

BEN, aged 21, is warm-hearted and open-minded. He says he's glad he had a fight with his boyfriend Tim - it led to their decision to split up, which Ben describes as the only mutual decision they reached in their 18-month relationship. Ben stresses that physical violence was not a characteristic of this relationship, as a picture emerges of an increasingly miserable situation where need is stronger than love, and attachment has replaced independence.

When Ben decided to speak out about the recent violence between them, the bruises around his eye were beginning to fade to yellow. The emotional wounds will take longer to heal: Ben feels shaken, used, distressed that someone he loves would treat him with contempt, and that he would resort to violence himself. Usually self- confident and accustomed to feeling in charge of his life, Ben is shocked at the effect of this relationship on his self-esteem. Searching for answers to make sense of the decline of their partnership, he struggles with ideas about negative dependency, control and power. Deep down, he says, he knows it must end, and that it is unhealthy to continue after trust has broken down. As we discuss the spiral of damage that can lead to same-sex violence, a call comes through from Tim on Ben's mobile phone. It is hard for Ben to resist.

At GLAM - Gay & Lesbian Arts and Media - project director Joan Beveridge believes that same-sex domestic violence within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities is an issue which has remained hidden for far too long. Recent research for the Count Me In project in Brighton shows that 9% of respondents have experienced same-sex domestic violence at the hands of their partners. In securing funding from Comic Relief for their new three-year domestic violence project, "hold tight tight hold ", Brighton-based GLAM are adopting a uniquely creative response to the problem. Joan is optimistic about the impact of this innovative project, not only in Brighton, but also at a regional and national level. She said, "GLAM aim to raise awareness within LGBT communities and within agencies providing support services to people experiencing domestic violence, produce a national information resource in the form of CD Rom and Internet Website, and empower individuals by helping them to develop skills, creativity, confidence and self-esteem in a safe environment. Individuals will be able to contribute to the content and visual presentation of the resources through artist-led training and development, using digital photography, art/graphics/video, drama and oral history." A spokesperson from Comic Relief added, "Comic Relief welcomes GLAM's innovative approach to the taboo subject of same-sex domestic violence. Their new project will help to make the issue more public, whilst supporting and involving lesbians and gay men who have experience of same-sex abuse."

The characteristic stages of relationships where same-sex domestic violence continues have been described as a build-up of tension followed by outbursts of violence, leading to a remorseful, loving period of re-bonding. The severity of the violence tends to escalate over time as the degree of powerlessness felt by those involved correspondingly increases.

Gradually, the reality of this issue is being acknowledged and dealt with by professional agencies. However, the shame, guilt and fear of coming out about the violence as well as being lesbian, gay or bisexual often inhibits reporting of incidents until the violence has reached very dangerous, even life-threatening levels. Michelle Pooley, Chair of Brighton and Hove Domestic Violence Forum, confirmed that it is extremely challenging for those caught in the negative patterns of violent relationships to break free of the dependency which keeps them together. She said, "The needs of survivors of same-sex domestic violence are often ignored by the voluntary and statutory services. It's vital that mainstream agencies and gay and bisexual people work together to develop relevant support services, delivering a strong message that physical, emotional and economic abuse is unacceptable." Detective Chief Inspector Sharon Rowe, Head of the new Anti-Victimisation Unit based at Brighton Police Station said, "Same-sex domestic violence is not uncommon in Brighton and Hove and is being increasingly reported to the police. In the AVU we aim to support victims in whatever action they choose to take, but also to reassure and guide them in this process. A multi-agency approach to this issue is essential, including a positive police response which can make the difference ultimately between life and death."

As two gay men feeling volatile with each other, no gender differences prevented Ben and his partner from using violence. For some heterosexual men, their conditioning against harming women may stop them from beating up their girlfriends. Of course, many straight men would take the opposite view, seeing the use of violence against women as their right. And reporting of domestic violence among gay couples is increasing. From any angle, lesbian, gay and bisexual partners resorting to abuse has serious implications for their mental and physical well-being, and therefore the health of the wider community.

Contact details:

To find out more about hold tight tight hold, including ways you can contribute to the project, contact GLAM (Gay & Lesbian Arts and Media) at: www.glam-brighton.co.uk
GLAM, 44-46 Old Steine, Brighton BN1 1NH
Telephone: 01273-707963

website: www.comicrelief.com
Comic Relief, 5th floor, 89 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TP Telephone: 0207820 5555