Same-sex domestic violence: the elephant in the living room
By Michelle Lowenstein
It is unfortunate, but the term “domestic violence” generally makes us think in terms of women being abused by men. With 30 to 40 percent of heterosexual relationships experiencing domestic violence, and the amount of media exposure the issue receives, it is easy to make this assumption. However, some statistics show that the rate of domestic violence among same -sex couples may be just as high, or even higher for gay male couples. Perhaps the reason for the confusing statistics is that many gay and transgendered people are afraid to report incidents to police or mainstream domestic violence support organizations. To the extent that these incidents go under-reported, the problem will get less attention than it warrants.
Domestic violence is a very serious issue, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or identification. The support organizations sympathetic to the gay and transgendered community are both unpleasantly paltry and surprising, considering that each couple registering as domestic partners in California pays a mandatory $23 fee to the State for the exact purpose of supporting such organizations. This fee is supposed to be “used to develop and support a training curriculum specific to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender domestic abuse service providers” and “to provide brochures specific to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender abuse.”
Regardless, it is important to understand that everyone has a right to obtain a restraining order through the state Supreme Court as a result of domestic violence or abuse, and that these services are available to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. Under California law, if you have been abused by a person with whom you have a close relationship—a marriage, domestic partnership, divorce, separation, dating situation or blood relation—you can apply to the court for a domestic violence restraining order. However, the relationship must be more involved than just being roommates.
Let’s take a moment to define abuse according to California. To hit, kick, hurt, scare, throw things at, pull the hair of, harass, push, follow, or sexually assault another—or even threaten to— constitutes abuse in California.
You can ask the court to make a “no contact” order that requires the abuser to move out of the home and not have any contact with you, your children or your pets. You can also ask the court to order custody, visitation, and child, partner or spousal support.
You can choose to represent yourself at the hearing, and neither you nor the other party will have to pay any filing fees to the court. The California Superior Court has an excellent website, courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/protection/dv/canhelp.htm, which provides all of the specifics of obtaining a domestic violence restraining order.
Victims of domestic violence are oftentimes reluctant to address the issues in court. Sometimes they feel they have nowhere to turn. There are community agencies in San Diego for victims of domestic violence that can provide legal assistance and shelter. However, in researching this article I have learned that these shelters (which originally came into existence as a result of domestic violence perpetrated upon women by men) have very limited access for men—gay or straight.
Traditionally, domestic violence has been seen as a women’s issue; something women have suffered at the hands of men. Yet, with the prevalence of domestic violence in our society, it is time to provide the same assistance to people of all sexes and orientations.
Additional local resources for victims of domestic violence include The Center for Community Solutions, ccssd.org, and the San Diego Family Justice Center. Nationwide, there is the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project, gmdvp.org. Abuse victims who visit these websites should be careful, remembering to clear their computer caches and to take other precautions so as not to leave a cyber trail.
And, finally, remember that if there is a domestic violence incident in your home, law enforcement must be called immediately. Police can arrest the perpetrator and you can ask the officer to request an emergency protective order from a judge any time, day or night. The emergency protective order will only last for five court days or seven calendar days and in order to extend it, it will be necessary for you to file a motion for a restraining order with the Superior Court.
—Michele Sacks Lowenstein is a Certified Family Law specialist in San Diego. She has been practicing family law for 28 years and is the co-chair of the Family Law Section of the San Diego County Bar Association and a member of the Greater San Diego Business Association (GSDBA).