People of all genders, sex and sexual orientations can experience family violence. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, intersex, queer and asexual or aromantic people have family violence experiences that mirror those within heterosexual and cisgender families and relationships.1
Because of biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism and heteronormativity there are also some distinctly different risk factors and barriers to support experienced by LGBTIQA+ people.
Commonly experienced family violence tactics and impacts for LGBTIQA+ people include:
- Perpetrators using homo/bi/intersex/transphobia and lack of support to control. This could look like:
- Threatening to “out” someone
- Trans and gender diverse people who rely on others for care having access to gender affirming care or hormones denied or controlled
- Threatening to share the victim survivor’s HIV status without their consent
- Threatening to limit access to children
- Violence, emotional abuse and homo/bi/intersex/transphobia from family of origin, particularly for young people. This can lead to:
- Monitoring the victim survivor and stalking them. For example, using dating apps and technology to monitor location
- Emotional abuse and other forms of violence can negatively impact LGBTIQA+ people’s mental health and lead to risk of suicide. Being LGBTIQA+ is not the cause of suicide; it is the violence, both interpersonal and systemic, that people face that leads to higher rates of suicidal distress and attempts. The risks of suicide are extremely high in young LGBTIQA+ people, particularly trans and gender-diverse young people.
For a more comprehensive list of observable signs across age ranges see the MARAM Practice Guides for more information.
Barriers to support for LGBTIQA+ victim survivors may include:
- Fear of isolation and losing community connections when reporting family violence
- Social pressure not to name or identify violence or abuse for fear it may contribute to homo/bi/intersex/transphobia
- Fear of discrimination from services because of social, systemic and structural homo/bi/intersex/transphobia. For example, current and historical discriminatory laws against people on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity (among other attributes), such as where it conflicts with religious beliefs.
- Distrust of the service system due to previous experiences of historical institutional and interpersonal abuse, discrimination or uneducated responses. This can result in LGBTIQA+ people:
- Only seeking support in crisis;
- Not reporting to Police;
- Seeking support from community not the service system;
- Withholding gender identity, sexual orientation or intersex status from services.
- Limited access to LGBTIQA+ dedicated services, and inclusive specialist family violence services.
- Limited crisis services and crisis accommodation for male, transgender and non-binary victim survivors.
There are many things you can consider and put into practice when supporting victim survivors from LGBTIQA+ communities.
Understand and Recognise:
- The dominant understanding of family violence primarily recognises heterosexual cisgendered male perpetrators and their cisgendered female partners. This contributes to low levels of identification and reporting and is a key factor in the ‘invisibility’ of family violence against LGBTIQA+ people.3
- Acknowledge and validate each person’s unique experience and ask appropriate questions to ensure people feel comfortable and safe enough to share their story.
- Don’t assume people’s relationship structure, context or positioning. Ask open questions to create a space where people can share more about their relationships and what they mean to them. Questions to explore relationships might include:
- Who do you live with?
- Can you tell me about your family of choice and your family of origin?
- Do you have more than one partner?
- How does your partner identify? Do you have children? Can you tell me about your parenting arrangements?
- What is important for us to know about your relationship to help us support you better?
- Remember LGBTIQA+ communities are not homogenous. There are differences and intersections in experiences across gender, sexuality and relationships, cultures, faiths, disabilities and if a person is Aboriginal and/or from Torres Strait Islands. Remember that due to intersecting oppressions and marginalisation it may take time to develop a clear picture of the narrative.
- Name the person’s experience as family violence. LGBTIQA+ people may not see themselves in family violence narratives. Provide examples of where you can hear abuse, power and control. This can assist with supporting someone to identify their own risks, normalise their experiences and make decisions about their safety.
- “We understand family violence as a pattern of behaviour, coercion, and control. We understand that family violence can look all different ways in relationships, what I am hearing X, Y, Z.”
- “Family violence is often thought about in heterosexual relationships between straight people in couples, we understand that family violence can exist in many forms and does not rely on those stereotypes.”
- “Based on what you have told me, I can hear a pattern of behaviour that has made you feel intimidated, controlled, and scared. What you are describing to me is family violence.”
- Listen out for financial, emotional, psychological, sexual and physical abuse and ways that power, coercion and control are enacted. Reflect on and ask questions about risk factors. Some additional factors to listen out for include:
- Is there isolation from community? People may be, or have a history of isolation from family. People might be connected to subcultural groups that play an important part of support networks and belonging i.e a ‘chosen family’ network.
- Is there concealment within the relationship? Have people had to hide their relationships, and this may create risk for isolation.
- Is there pressure to do or be certain ways reflecting gender presentation, expression or sexuality? Does this make this person uncomfortable?
- Are there parts of this person’s identity/expression that are being controlled or made to supress in their relationship/s?
- Are there ways that parenting status/biological ties are influencing decision making about child-care?
- Safety planning and support for LGBTIQA+ people may mean you need to be creative, flexible and a strong advocate for the people trying to access support. Not all people within LGBTIQA+ communities will be able to access support from mainstream family violence services. They might need guidance for how to access and advocate for themselves, or they might need you to act as a strong ally to support them to find a service that is appropriate. Considerations for safety planning or further service engagement include:
- Are there referral pathways that feel safe for them to access?
- Be mindful of how much information you are sharing with services and ensuring to ask for consent when disclosing identity factors such as gender, sexuality, pronouns, what name they would like to be referred to as
- How might you advocate for this person to receive access from particular services?
- How can your service support and assist with maintaining safety?
- What ways can you advocate for this person to get support from your service if they don’t qualify on the basis of gender or sexual orientation?
Check throughout the conversation if it is ok to ask these questions and explain why you need to ask the questions. This is important to build trust and ensure the person has agency.
Tools and resources
Switchboard Victoria is a community based not for profit organisation that provides a peer-based support service for LGBTIQA+ people and their friends, families and allies.
We’ve partnered with Switchboard to develop a tip sheet to help practitioners responding to family violence provide LGBTIQA+ inclusive support, assessment, safety planning and referral.
Multi-Agency Risk and Management Framework
Under the Family Violence Risk and Management Framework (MARAM) many Victorian workforces have prescribed roles and responsibilities in recognising and responding to family violence. The MARAM Practice Guides provide more information and detailed guidance regarding risk factors and presentations, barriers to accessing and engaging with support, and practice considerations. This resource provides supplementary information to prompt further consideration and support your development as a family violence professional.
Supporting trans women to access specialist family violence services webinar
On Thursday 26 May, in recognition of the national day for the prevention of LGBTIQ+ family violence, we joined with Zoe Belle Gender Collective and Switchboard, for a webinar centring on the voices of trans women of colour. Facilitated by Zoe Belle’s Starlady, three trans women of colour – Amao, Sasja and Carolina – shared their lived experience to start a conversation about:
- men’s violence against trans women, including the learnings from the new resource www.transfemme.com.au,
- the disproportionate level of risk of violence for trans women of colour and sex workers,
- how specialist family violence services can provide culturally safe and inclusive services for trans women.
Watch the webinar recording and read the key messages from the panellists in the PowerPoint below.
Transfemme is a website designed to promote healthier relationships between trans women and cisgender men. This website has been created by the Zoe Belle Gender Collective in collaboration with a collective of Victorian-based trans women and cis men who have experience in dating or are in relationships with trans women. The content is based on the collective’s own lived experiences and is drawn from 30 confidential interviews conducted in mid-2021.
Specialist services and programs
Rainbow Door is a specialist LGBTIQA+ helpline providing information, support, and referral to all LGBTIQA+ Victorians, their friends and family. Rainbow Door is available for secondary consultation for practitioners responding to family violence.
Phone: 1800 729 367
Text: 0480 017 246
Hours of operation: 10am – 5pm, 7 days a week
Supporting organisations to make their services more inclusive of LGBTQIA+ clients- https://www.rainbowhealthvic.org.au/rainbow-tick
Queer Family Violence Sector Network
A network and resource for professionals working in the family violence sector https://www.rainbowhealthvic.org.au/projects
Free help for LGBTIQA+ people in Victoria with regards to their legal problems including discrimination, family violence, change of name issues and more.
1. Family Safety Victoria (2021). MARAM Practice Guides: Foundation Knowledge Guide. Melbourne, Vic: State of Victoria, page 83.
2. Family Safety Victoria (2021). MARAM Practice Guides: Foundation Knowledge Guide. Melbourne, Vic: State of Victoria, page 85.
3. Family Safety Victoria (2021). MARAM Practice Guides: Foundation Knowledge Guide. Melbourne, Vic: State of Victoria, page 85.