"Why Doesn't He Just Leave?": Gay Male Domestic Violence and the Reasons Victims Stay

By Cruz, J. Michael | The Journal of Men's Studies, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

"Why Doesn't He Just Leave?": Gay Male Domestic Violence and the Reasons Victims Stay


Cruz, J. Michael, The Journal of Men's Studies


While the popular literature is replete with stories related to gay male domestic violence, there continues to be a dearth in the academic literature related to domestic violence in gay romantic relationships (see Bartolomeo, 1990; Giampetruzzi, 2002; Island & Letellier, 1991; Kirby, 1994; McCoy, 1995; Tuller, 1994; Symanski, 1991). The little empirical evidence that does exist, however, indicates that the etiology of family violence in gay relationships is similar to that of heterosexual relationships (Cruz, 2000; Cruz & Firestone, 1998; Merrill, 1998). Like previous work on gay domestic violence, the theoretical foundation of this article is based on the literature of violence within heterosexual relationships, in general, and specifically literature related to why women stay in abusive relationships with their male partners who batter them. Thus, reasons why battered gay men stay with their same-sex partners will be compared to the mainstream heterosexual literature documenting why women stay with abusive heterosexual partners.

Island and Letellier (1991) estimate that one in five gay men will experience violence or abuse within a romantic relationship. However, the actual prevalence of gay male domestic violence is unknown for various reasons. For example, not everyone describes the same behavior as "violent" behavior. Further, because a man may be gay and/or battered, he may not have the support needed to disclose his situation, and thus may not report experiences with domestic violence. Additionally, since we continue to exist within a heterosexist and homophobic society, it is frequently unsafe for a gay man to divulge his relationship situation to authorities who might be able to document the experience as gay battering. Last, gay men involved in a violent romantic relationship may be unable to view it in these terms, when we remember that males are typically socialized to express anger and aggression via physical means; some gay men might view domestic violence as proscribed and gender-typical behaviors (see Cruz, 2000).

LITERATURE REVIEW

Recently, Merrill and Wolfe (2000) in their study of gay men in abusive relationships have reported that of 52 respondents, most had experienced pushing, shoving, or grabbing (79%); restraining or the blocking of an exit (77%); punching, hitting, or striking with hands or fists (64%); and slapping (54%). They also indicate that persons stayed in violent relationships for the following reasons: hope for change, love, fear, lack of assistance, loneliness, loyalty, and lack of knowledge regarding domestic violence. In another study, Merrill (1998) found that the majority of gay men (N = 52) had been threatened or assaulted with a weapon (62%) and had suffered significant property or financial loss (85%). Additionally, a number of respondents had been forced to have sex against their will (39%). In 1983, Moore and Bundy found that 86% of gay men surveyed (N = 156) had experienced samesex battery where perpetrators and victims were friends, partners, or roommates. These persons reported behaviors like being punched, kicked, shocked, and bitten.

Cruz and Firestone (1998) indicated that gay respondents defined domestic violence in similar ways as domestic violence in heterosexual relationships, with an emphasis on power and control. Respondents also provide reasons for domestic violence like jealousy, control, and internalized homophobia. While focusing on the social construction of masculinity in gay relationships, Cruz (2000) documented male socialization and hegemonic masculinity patterns as having an impact on those who engage in violent behaviors. Last, in Cruz and Peralta (2001), respondents reported that alcohol and drug use played a role in gay male domestic violence.

While we tend to frequently ask why a battered victim stays in an abusive relationship, the victim is better served by the question, "Why does the batterer do it? …

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