Experts: Help needed for gay domestic violence victims in Santa Clara, other Bay Area counties
By Lisa Fernandez and Sean Webby
David X spilled his story to the other men seated around him, revealing how his boyfriend — angry about leaving the heater on too long — had punched him so hard that his eye socket shattered. Instead of receiving comfort at the counseling session, a man told him: You should have just punched him back. You’re a guy.
That was the moment that David, a 56-year-old San Jose gay man whose last name is not being used to protect him, realized he was in the wrong place.
Santa Clara County is the wrong place for many gays and lesbians suffering from domestic abuse, local experts say. There is a dearth of help for victims of abusive same-sex relationships. David said he’s never received the kind of therapy and support that he needed. He said it shocks and saddens him that such a large and progressive-minded county could be so far behind the times.
“I don’t think I’ve had any closure,” he said. “I wish the county would have given me productive counseling. I might have been able to get past this already. I still don’t feel like I have any real answers.”
Experts say as difficult as it is to report and deal with domestic violence involving straight couples, the abuse is even harder to identify, report and remedy when it involves gays and lesbians. Although there are gay domestic violence programs well rooted in San Francisco, experts from San Jose to Concord say their communities need to catch up.
That problem was grimly on display last month in the Willow Glen area of San Jose.
On Dec. 30, a 40-year-old Kaiser nurse was arrested on suspicion of hacking to death her 65-year-old mother-in-law, Yvonne Kirk, with a machete. Authorities say that Sagal Sadiq was enraged that her wife was breaking up with her. Later, Sadiq’s wife told police that she had been abused for some time.
She had never reported it.
The killing has galvanized community leaders to take action. They wonder if a gay-centered domestic violence program could have prevented the tragedy.
Last week, Santa Clara County’s Domestic Violence Council began studying the lack of services in Silicon Valley and is ramping up an outreach campaign.
“Same-sex domestic violence is a vital topic that is often overlooked,” said Amy Caffrey, a well-known lesbian therapist who is co-chairwoman of the council. “The most recent homicide is an example of the need for more information and more appropriate services for both the victim and the perpetrator of the violence.”
For example, the council plans to train all domestic violence hotline volunteers not to assume the abuser is a man and ensure that mainstream shelters include gays and lesbians in their brochure literature.
Although the topic is not widely discussed, abuse is just as prevalent in the gay and lesbian community as it is among heterosexuals — involving 25 percent to 30 percent of the population, according to several studies. In San Jose, where there are 1 million people, 100,000 may be gay and therefore at least 25,000 people could be suffering from domestic violence. In Oakland, a city of nearly 400,000 people, there could be an estimated 10,000 homosexuals suffering abuse from their partners.
Struck by the numbers, a law school student at Santa Clara University wrote a paper on same-sex domestic violence that is already being cited by prosecutors and experts in the field. Juliana Williamson noted the gay community is generally hesitant to acknowledge the problem of domestic violence. She says gays and lesbians are more focused on winning civil rights and fear that if they air their dirty laundry, it plays into harmful stereotypes that gays are “sick and perverted.”
“In contrast to the traditional notions of domestic violence,” her paper notes, “women can be and are abusers and men can be and are victims of domestic violence.”
Experts say that police departments from San Francisco to San Jose have been well-trained in recognizing the signs of same-sex battery. But mistakes still occur. For example, in abuse cases involving gay men, police sometimes handcuff both the abuser and victim. A recent nationwide survey showed dramatically increasing numbers of reported misarrests and police misconduct in cases of gay and lesbian domestic violence.
The state’s economic woes have worsened the problem.
The county program David attended in 2006, no longer exists because of budget cuts. The Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose also lost its funding in 2008.
David could go to Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence in San Jose, which welcomes all people. But only women can sleep there. So he’d be given a hotel voucher, said program director Patricia Bennett, who acknowledges that it’s an imperfect and potential unsafe situation.
“We always talk about culturally appropriate in this valley,” Bennett said. “But there’s not enough done for this particular cultural community.”
Leaders in Contra Costa County agree.
“I hate to say this, but we’re 20 years behind in what we should be providing to the community,” said Stacy Baird, director of intervention and residential services at STAND! For Families Free of Violence.
Her agency joined with Community Violence Solutions, and the Rainbow Community Center in Concord, which serves the county’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Last year, they won a five-year $625,000 state grant to provide same-sex specific therapy and advocacy to victims of abuse.
Agencies often look to San Francisco, the nation’s hub for progressive homosexual advocacy, as a role model. The nonprofit, Community United Against Violence, or CUAV, has been providing support, counseling and safe shelter for battered gay men and women in that city since 1979.
There, domestic violence isn’t treated as combat among two men or a “cat fight” between lesbian women. David would never be told to simply punch his boyfriend back because he’s a guy, said Stacy Umezu, CUAV’s membership director.
“It is a tip of the iceberg issue, filled with complexities” she said.
Gay men are not casually thrown into a shelter or a counseling group of straight men.
Cities such as Cambridge, Mass., New York and Los Angeles also have specialized programs. And in San Diego, the city attorney’s office employs a full-time prosecutor and an advocate to deal with such issues.
The fact that some groups are moving in the right direction heartens Williamson, the law student whose paper revealed a lack of same-sex domestic services.
“As same-sex relationships gain more legitimacy,” she said, “these other issues will also be brought to light. I think the more attention domestic violence gets, the more services will be provided. I really think things can change.”
Source: Mercury News