HERVotes: Why VAWA Is a Queer Issue
January 31, 2012
Having lived through the controlling behavior, the physical violence, the fear of what would happen next and the terror of being in danger, Davis did what it takes many victims of domestic violence years to do—he left. But Davis’ partner found him and threatened to kill him. Davis had nowhere else to go after having exhausted his only safe, and now found out, place, so he did what thousands of victims of domestic violence do: look for safe and confidential shelter. For the most part Davis was rejected from domestic violence shelters because he was a man. Occasionally he could stay in a domestic violence shelter for a night or two, and once he stayed in the administrative offices of a homeless shelter because he was too traumatized by the violence he experienced to be safe in the shelter itself. But most often Davis was turned away from shelters as he sought safety. He had to travel all the way across the country to find a safe place to stay.
Domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are serious crimes and all victims deserve access to life-saving services. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first authorized in 1994, is at the core of our nation’s response to these insidious and pervasive crimes. VAWA creates and supports comprehensive, effective and cost saving responses. The current bipartisan bill (S. 1925) introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) clarifies that VAWA protections and services include LGBTQ people.
LGBTQ people experience violence at the same rates as any other community: 25-35 percent of relationships. However, LGBTQ victims receive fewer supportive services—and are often actively discriminated against. Davis’ story is not unusual: A 2011 survey of National Coalition of Domestic Violence Programs (NCAVP) coalition members and affiliates found that nearly 85 percent of survey participants responded that they had worked with an LGBTQ client/survivor of domestic and intimate partner violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking who reported that they were turned away or denied services (such as shelter, crisis intervention, police or legal response) because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
We have made much progress in recognizing and responding to domestic violence in the U.S. through VAWA. But have we done enough for LGBTQ people? In a report recently released by the NCAVP, 2009 saw a 15 percent increase in reports of domestic violence in LGBTQ relationships across the country. We’ve seen a 50 percent increase in domestic violence-related murders from 2007 to 2009.
Over the past 16 years since its passage, VAWA has provided billions of dollars for social service agencies helping victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. This funding provides crisis intervention, safety planning, counseling, shelter and advocacy for survivors of domestic violence. Very little of those services have been focused on LGBTQ people. This year VAWA is up for re-authorization. It is time for VAWA to explicitly include LGBTQ people. We must support a bill that reaches and supports all victims of violence.