Understanding and Preventing Domestic Violence in the Lives of Gender and Sexually Diverse Persons

By Lorenzetti, Liza; Wells, Lana et al. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, December 2017 | Go to article overview

Understanding and Preventing Domestic Violence in the Lives of Gender and Sexually Diverse Persons


Lorenzetti, Liza, Wells, Lana, Logie, Carmen H., Callaghan, Tonya, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


A climate of structural violence, built on heteronormativity, heterosexism and sexual stigma shapes the lives of gender and sexually diverse (GSD) persons. This reality creates the social conditions within which interpersonal and intimate partner relationships are established, and within which domestic violence can occur. This article argues that a climate of structural violence against GSD persons creates specific risk factors for domestic violence victimization and unique barriers to receiving safe, appropriate and accessible services and supports act as obstacles to healthy intimate relationships. We purport that GSD persons experience additional risk factors such as heteronormativity, heterosexism, sexual stigma; traditional gender and sexuality norms; early stigma and homophobic harassment; social exclusion and isolation; and lack of appropriate domestic violence prevention services and supports which enhance the risk for domestic violence within GSD intimate relationships and limits the potential of prevention efforts. They emphasize that domestic violence will not be eradicated using a solely heteronormative interventionist approach and that the inclusion of a primary prevention approach that takes account of these additional risk factors is necessary to stop the violence before it starts.

KEY WORDS: Domestic violence, gender and sexually diverse, prevention, risk factors stigma

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Heteronormativity, heterosexism and sexual stigma influence the lives of gender and sexually diverse (GSD) persons. These contribute to a climate of structural violence, which establishes and (re)produces hierarchical relations and systems (Iadicola & Shupe, 2013) that negatively impact GSD communities in economic, legal, cultural and social spaces of society (Logie & Gibson, 2013). Structural violence theory conceptualizes the multiple levels (micro to macro), types (direct, indirect) and actors (individual, institutional) involved in producing violence against marginalized and oppressed communities (Farmer, 2004). Within this often hostile environment, interpersonal and intimate partner relationships are established, and at times domestic violence (DV) occurs.

Domestic violence is "a regimen of domination that is established and enforced by one person over [another] ... through violence, fear, and a variety of abuse strategies" (Bopp, Bopp, & Lane, 2003, p. 12). Beyond the scope of individual actions and behaviours, DV is a "multi-factoral social syndrome" (p. 12) that exists within multi-level hierarchies and result in myriad challenges (p. 13). DV transcends class, race, ethno-cultural background, gender and sexual orientation (Fong, 2010; Smith, 2004). For the past four decades, male-perpetrated domestic violence against women (VAW) has gained increasing recognition as a serious social concern, and a violation of human rights (Krug, 2002; United Nations [UN], 1995, 2008). Although 27 countries have released VAW prevention plans, current efforts have been insufficient in stopping this violence (UN, 2014). Researchers have noted, however, that many national government VAW prevention plans do not prioritize or reflect an understanding of DV within GSD communities (Canadian Women's Health Network [CWHN], 2012; Simpson & Helfrich, 2005; Walters, 2009). A review of national, state and provincial domestic violence plans in the "Global North" (N = 101) uncovered only one national plan, advanced by Sweden, that included domestic violence in GSD communities (Wells, Forman, Aspenlieder, & Esina, 2014). Ristock (2011) observes, "when same-sex violence is considered, it is most commonly as an 'add on', without close attention to the specificity and meaning of violence within the lives of [GSD individuals]" (p. 2). This exclusion is indicative of heterosexism on a global scale, which includes the social processes and power structures that normalize heterosexuality and result in the invisibility of GSD persons and relationships (Hyman, 2008; Rubin, 1994). …

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