«Why is something that specific so important? It’s important because this population has particular characteristics in the area of domestic violence. The one that I can point out as most obvious, and which is in the Guide, is that there is a form of domestic violence that only exists in these couples: the threat of 'outing'. »
Interview with Carla Moleiro, director of CIS-IUL and author of the study 'Domestic Violence: good practices in supporting LGBT victims'.
If you could, in a few words, underline the importance of this study, which is suggested as 'innovative' in the national panorama and within the studies carried out in the area of domestic violence, how would you present its component of innovation and necessity in Portugal?
Traditionally, the study of domestic violence has focused on violence in intimate relationships between couples of different sexes. Not only from the point of view of fieldwork, involved in empirical studies, but also from the theoretical point of view, much of the literature deals with violence in intimate relationships between couples of different sexes. And most of the time, the victim is a woman or a woman is framed as a victim, and the man framed as an aggressor. For some time now, in fact, it has been recognized that it is important to think about violence in intimate relationships, or in domestic relations, in a broader way. This includes the possibility of a man being a victim of aggression, even in an opposite sex relationship, the possibility of the woman being aggressive and other eventualities such as violence occurring in same sex relationships.
Sometimes it is easy to link issues of violence to gender issues and assume, and this is one of the myths that comes at the end of the Guide as a myth that is not true, this idea that a relationship between people of the same sex is a relationship between equals, so there are no asymmetries of power or gender. And that's not true. There is gender violence in same sex relationships. How come? Because we are all born and raised in a culture that emphasizes power, dominance, strength, competition, competence, which are associated with masculinity, and therefore lesbian women, gay men, bisexual men and women, and transsexuals also grow up in this environment and are not immune to sexism, to heterosexism. They are not immune to all these things we all ‘drink’ from society. Therefore, also in the relationships that they construct in intimacy, these ghosts of gender and violence appear, a violence that has to do with the need to control the other, manipulate the other. Sometimes this is a surprise to some people because the myth is 'so it’s a relationship between equals, of people of the same sex, so there are no gender violence issues, and there are no gender asymmetry issues here either', and that's not true.
Could this even foster some trivialisation of situations of violence between persons of the same sex?
This training is very important, because this population is already a victim of prejudice and discrimination by society in general, it’s already more vulnerable to a set of risk factors for their health, their mental health, their quality of life, which include, as shown in the Guide, the insult of individual identity, isolation and invisibility. And because in the literature we also find that this discrimination does not only happen in society in general, it also exists in services, schools, health services, victim support services and in the family. And, at least from this point of view, of health professionals, the State, in this case CIG takes up the responsibility of encouraging its professionals not to institutionally perpetuate this discrimination and enabling them to identify, support and respond in a sensitive way to this population.
Why is something that specific so important? It’s important because this population has particular characteristics in the area of domestic violence. The one that I can point out as most obvious, and which is in the Guide, is that there is a form of domestic violence that only exists in these couples: the threat of 'outing'. Meaning, used as a form of power and manipulation in the relationship 'I will tell your family that you are gay / lesbian'; 'If you leave me, I will tell them at your workplace'.
People can be more or less true to themselves in their personal, private, family or work life, and that is the choice of each or every one. No-one is obliged to present their true nature in all spheres of their life, but the fact that people have internalized this insult, this isolation and this invisibility, sometimes puts them in the position of being manipulated by the other who threatens to tell. And this in particular is of certain relevance: the ability of professionals to assess, especially at a stage of great vulnerability, which is adolescence. And so, we also assume here, in this context, the truth of of dating violence issues, increasingly visible, as domestic violence does not happen only when people are married on paper, but also in unmarried couples and in dating relationships.
The adolescence of LGBT young people is particularly vulnerable from the point of view of a series of risk factors, because they are neither financially, nor cognitively, emotionally or professionally independent from their families, and are often rejecting themselves and not acknowledging their true nature. And then the dating violence takes on this threat 'if you leave me I'll tell your parents'. Here, the issue is how professionals recognize these situations and manage to intervene and support these young people in a sensitive way. And these are specific aspects that deserve a different approach. Especially because most of us, considering that these professionals are policemen, researchers, social workers, psychologists, doctors and nurses who, in their basic college training, had little or no access to this kind of information. For a number of reasons, one because these legislative changes are very recent, and these people studied a long time ago, but also because there is in fact no information... One of the forms of invisibility is that in academics very few people are working in an explicit way, teaching and supervising explicitly and systematically about these things. Hence the innovative aspect of this Guide.
This will be one of the features that differentiates both on the side of the victims and on the side of the entities that provide support - some testimonials are described in the Guide - and taking into account the type of recommendations presented.
In these issues that are related to diversity, and diversity not only in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity, but many others: religious, ethnic, racial ... what is important in fact is to undertake training that has 3 components. On the one hand, it is necessary to give people knowledge, which is what they are seeking, to receive more information; Skills, that is, how this is done in practice. But a third component, which for us is the foremost, is to increase people's awareness, that is, to help the professionals to get out of their box, which is also a form of aggression of these people, involving heteronormativity. We all know that when we meet a little child and we are having a conversation, we quickly say 'so you have friends in school, and do you already have a boyfriend?' We assume the heterosexuality of the other very rapidly, very early. And so, if I, as a victim support professional, in an interview put myself in an unquestioned position of heteronormativity and ask a woman who makes a complaint about 'her husband', I've already 'lost' her in the interview, if she happens to be bisexual or lesbian and the abuser is a woman. She will feel that she is being discriminated, twice, and that is one of the reasons for many of the testimonies that have come to NGOs, to the associations in question, which is 'I will not make a complaint because one of my fears is to be teased by the police', as a gay man. Or 'I'm not going to complain because there's not going to be any receptivity to my situation. I'll be doubly victimized by the services.' This is a great barrier for people to come forward and complain.
We, as researchers, went to great lengths – we placed advertisements in various media formats and through personal contacts and professional networks – and we had a hard time finding people who would give voice to their story of domestic violence. This was the case in any of these situations but more in men and more in transsexual people; therefore, more women gave their voice and testimonies. I do not believe that it does not exist or that it is rare, and in fact the international literature tells us that, from the point of view of prevalence, these situations must be equivalent to that of people of different sex. There is no reason to think that in Portugal it would be different from other countries, but in truth the complaints do not appear also due to fear of institutional responses. So once again, the importance of enabling professionals not to repeat this bias in their services is huge.
To conclude, and taking the latter idea, is there self-awareness on the part of the services themselves that there is no adequate response for these populations?
CIG included a set of measures in its national intervention plan in order to comply with the constitution, and therefore to work in LGBT areas. CIG also made the investment in the study that we carried out here at CIS-IUL, with this Guide, they asked us to design a training plan - which we did - a training session of 3 days, and to plan training actions in 4 different cities in Portugal: Lisbon, Coimbra, Porto and Évora. Applications opened for 4 training groups, about 25 people each, or 100 in the country. 400 people signed up. CIG had to select them and we went to the 4 cities giving training, but only to groups of 25 to 30 people each.
Now CIG has opened new calls for further training, but the idea is that there is an awareness of the professionals who need training in this area, who indeed signed up to attend these training sessions. These were the first ones and the training occurred last year, exceeding CIG’s own expectations on the number of professionals who would be interested.
The calls are still open, CIG is doing the management, we still don’t know when they will take place.
For more information consult the complete document.