External Barriers to Help-Seeking Encountered by Canadian Gay and Lesbian Victims of Intimate Partner Abuse: An Application of the Barriers Model

Article excerpt

While understanding of intimate partner abuse (IPA) in gay and lesbian relationships has increased within the past decade, there remain several gaps in the help-seeking research. In particular, research examining the external barriers to help-seeking encountered by gay and lesbian victims of IPA has been largely atheoretical. To address this gap, an application of The Barriers Model was undertaken. This mixed-methods study surveyed 280 gay, lesbian, and/or queer participants living in Canada. Findings revealed that victims encountered external barriers in the environment (i.e., Layer 1 of the model), such as lack of availability of gay and lesbian specific services. Results also suggested that barriers due to family/socialization/role expectations (i.e., Layer 2 of the model), such as concealment of sexual orientation, had an impact on help-seeking.

Keywords : accessibility of formal services ; availability of formal services ; outness ; gay and lesbian intimate partner abuse

It is now commonly accepted that intimate partner abuse (IPA) against heterosexual women is a serious social problem. Statistics Canada reports that over 38,000 incidents of spousal violence were reported to the police in 2006. The National Violence Against Women Survey in the United States ( Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998 ) indicates that 2.1 million women are victims of rape and/or physical assault every year. Estimates of IPA in gay and lesbian partnerships suggest that this is also a serious issue. Approximately 11% to 12% of gay men and lesbians experience physical abuse at the hands of their partners ( Rohrbaugh, 2006 ). Although the topic of same-sex partner abuse is no longer in its infancy, with seminal works dating back to the mid-eighties to early nineties (see Brand & Kidd, 1986 ; Island & Letellier, 1991 ; Lobel, 1986 ), additional empirical research founded in theory is needed.

Similar to the reports of battered heterosexual women, a range of negative psychological, social, and physical effects have been reported by victims of same-sex partner abuse ( Chesley, MacAulay, & Ristock, 1998 ; Heintz & Melendez, 2006 ; Renzetti, 1992 ). Much like battered heterosexual women, victims of same-sex partner abuse may seek a variety of formal and/or informal sources to start the process of leaving their abusive partners, or help deal with the consequences of IPA. However, seeking help is not always a simple task for victims. Battered heterosexual women encounter several barriers to seeking formal help, including: lack of response from service providers, minimization of their experiences of abuse, and lack of available IPA resources (e.g., Bent-Goodley, 2004 ; Fugate, Landis, Riordan, Naureckas, & Engel, 2005 ; Logan, Evans, Stevenson, & Jordan, 2005 ; Sorensen, 1996 ). Gay men and lesbians encounter many of the same barriers to help-seeking identified by heterosexual women ( Cruz, 2003 ; Renzetti, 1989 ; St. Pierre, 2008 ). But beyond these barriers, gay men and lesbians face additional challenges related to societal homophobia and heterosexism. Absent from the literature is the application of a theoretically based model for understanding the external barriers to help-seeking encountered by gay and lesbian victims of IPA.

Grigsby and Hartman (1997) introduced a conceptual framework to help therapists recognize the barriers to seeking formal help encountered by battered heterosexual women. The flexibility of this model and its ability to theorize about the experiences of other marginalized populations is promising ( Grigsby & Hartman, 1997 ). The primary tenet of Grigsby and Hartman's model is that help-seeking is impeded by mainly social and contextual factors rather than individual-level determinants. The Barriers Model describes four layers of barriers arranged in concentric circles from the broadest social and environmental influences to the most personal and individual: barriers in the environment (Layer 1); barriers due to family/socialization/role expectations (Layer 2); barriers from psychological consequences of violence (Layer 3); and barriers from childhood abuse and neglect issues (Layer 4). …