When Anshika found love, the first few days were no less than a paradise. A few months later, the situation flipped over to reveal the dark underbelly.
The 28-year-old who identifies as a lesbian recalls, “Our relationship had patterns. We oscillated between good times and terrible times. We broke up way too often and patched up an equal number of times. We would fight and then get back together like nothing ever happened.”
She still gets nervous while recollecting the incidents. Seemingly, their relationship was marred with arguments and unresolved issues. It was a chain reaction set off through minute triggers. Anshika would feel ambushed when her partner would suddenly get violently confrontational. On most days, she would cite alcohol or playfulness to remain in denial.
“She was naturally aggressive right from the start and I didn’t pay much heed to it. We do not think women are capable of any harm. I did too, until the day she slapped me square on the face.”
Between the joie de vivre of Pride parades and our personal journeys of coming to terms with our sexuality, abuse in same-sex relationships has never come to the forefront of our minds as a beacon of concern. Why should it? It is something prevalent in just heterosexual relationships, right?
While a staggering 62.7% of people from the LGBTQIA+ community have, in some form or the other, been abused by their partners, according to an international study, only 34.8% are aware of the term "Intimate Partner Violence".
We often fail to acknowledge the red flags of abuse in LGBTQIA+ relationships.
Abuse conjectures an image of a man beating up a woman. Most of us have grown up thinking that this is the long and short of abuse. We do not think of abuse to be a layered and multi-dimensional entity.
Globally, intimate partner violence in the LGBTQIA+ community has recently come to light. Despite that, very few surveys or studies are conducted on this issue. Even when conducted, the numbers cannot be reliable since incidents like these are underreported and very few people come forth and talk about it. Nonetheless, it has been unanimously agreed upon that it exists and is comparable to abuse in heterosexual relationships, if not more.
CN: Domestic Violence— Stonewall (@stonewalluk) November 12, 2020
Lockdown has exacerbated the already overwhelming phenomenon of domestic abuse within our community.
Harrowing but important reporting from @BenInLDN/@BBCNews who spoke with LGBT survivors of domestic violence about their experiences.pic.twitter.com/OmkOhWEwlT
In the Indian context, the topic is still in the dark. Incidents of intimate partner abuse are hushed up because the community is still in its nascent stages, wishing to integrate with the mainstream society and find social acceptance. Another reason why it does not get reported is due to the lack of a legal structure.
One recurring theme that also comes into play is the ideology of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity.’ Often they become barriers due to which victims may not be able to even identify abuse. To maintain a certain structural balance of the society, if the victim belongs to a seemingly more ‘dominant’ gender role, they may resort to silence over this issue. Thus, we can safely assume that abuse is primarily power dynamics immaterial of the gender of the abuser.
Abuse is an umbrella term and is not curtailed to just physical aspects.
In the case of Anshika, the abuse is clear as day since it had manifested in the physical form. Intimidation and actual physical assault are grave matters, but we tend to underplay it sometimes because the perpetrator may be a woman.
Meanwhile, Rituporna*, an 18-year-old bisexual voices her own gut-wrenching experience with her lesbian partner. “She knew I had been with men, somehow it made her insecure. She insisted that we indulge in penetrative sex, often against my wishes. What I thought was her raw passion was actually a violation of my consent.”
Rituporna did not identify as a victim of sexual abuse, even though the act of it was sexual abuse.
Psychological abuse, on the other hand, is like silent cancer that spreads without detection. It can be direct through sudden outbursts or subtle, where the partner starts with slight criticism to open bashing. Berating, shaming, or debasing a partner to a point where they feel worthless or even neglecting a partner’s basic needs of affection constitutes as psychological abuse. Abandonment, isolation, and control also come under the ambit of emotional abuse.
Another lesser-known form of abuse is Economic abuse, which is a double-edged sword. Some become reliant on their financially stable partners to cater to their basic needs. Two possibilities arise here: One, where the one of them milks the other person and exploits them financially, leaving them drained. The other scenario is where one of them makes the other person entirely dependent on them for their basic necessities. In either situation, money becomes the factor pulling the strings of abuse.
Abuse has far-reaching detrimental effects. As Vibha Rungta, a clinical psychologist notes:
“Victims of abuse may carry the mental scars of an abusive relationship throughout their life. Given that people from the LGBT community are already vulnerable to mental health issues, the situation worsens when they are exposed to abusive relationships. It can cause crippling anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases, it may lead to the victim acting out on their suicidal impulses.”
These toxic relationships weaken the fabric of the LGBT community on the whole. They not only set poor precedents for future relationships to emulate but also cause great distress to the victims.
“I stayed because I was afraid that I may otherwise end up all alone,” Anshika trails off. And she is not the only one to feel that. The common underlying element behind the reason why victims stay in such relationships is fear. For some, it is the classic scenario of the boiling frog.
Noted historian, scholar, and LGBT-rights activist, Saleem Kidwai observes, “Abuse amongst gay couples is far less talked about than abuse in heterosexual couples and hence queer people are far more poorly equipped to deal with it. For one, queer relationships tend to be covert, and hence everything about them is hidden. Queer people have learned to live with isolation, discrimination, and violence. Hence, abuse within relationships gets subsumed within this larger violence. Secondly, to seek help to deal with abuse would necessarily mean outing oneself, which is not an option for many queer people. This leads to a deadly circle of silence and self-blame.”
With the lack of a legal framework to address the issue, marginalization from the mainstream society and complete apathy by officials towards the menace of abuse, the onus lies on us, as a community, to start a dialogue regarding the same. Sensitization towards abuse is necessary to break out from the mould of heterosexual abuse and identify domestic violence in LGBT relationships. Spreading awareness about healthy relationships is as important as shedding light on toxic relationships.
Once the ball is set rolling, we need to come together to set up support mechanisms to offer assistance to victims of abuse. The lack of organizational and legal backing implies that social support should stem from within the community. Safe spaces should also ensure the maintenance of anonymity of those reporting instances of abuse. Considering that the community is close-knit if the information of this nature leaks out and the abuser becomes aware of it, it may jeopardize the victim’s situation.
On the whole, we need to understand that the concept of Domestic Violence and Abuse transcends the borders of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.