A Matter of Layers: When Domestic and Dating Violence Comes Second to Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

As a way to analyze the phenomenon of domestic and dating violence against lesbians, bisexual and transwomen, I decided to take a broader approach to the subject by taking also into consideration opinions and perception by LBT* women from the local community who do not identify as victims of this kind of violence.

The reason behind this focus on this specific group is also to test the average understanding of the problem within the Lithuanian LBT* community and to assess whether Lithuanian LBT* women rely on the state law-enforcement authorities to have their rights protected. Among all the opinions I collected, none of the respondents showed any confidence in the work of the competent authorities – for several reasons, reporting an abuse of domestic and dating violence does not seem a realistic option for Lithuanian LBT* women. What emerges from the interviews is that the only possible form of help and support comes from women organizations, LGBT* organizations, help lines and services of psychological and emotional support.

In the framework of SapfoFest, I had the chance to interview Aušra, a very involved member of the local LGBT* community. According to Aušra, the invisibility of the problem of domestic and dating violence against LBT* women has often much to do with gender and sexual orientation issues. In a society that is still struggling to recognize and accept people with unconventional sexual orientations or not strictly fitting the binary system as far as gender identity and expression are concerned, domestic and dating violence hitting these groups often comes in the second place. In society’s eyes, the first problem is these people’s sexual orientation and gender identity. Not much else of the individual is taken into consideration: what lays behind the layers of sexual orientation and gender is still nebulous, and to some extent, frightening because of the lack of knowledge around it.

In addition to that, whenever this knowledge actually exists, it is often exploited by media to make sensationalist statements. Thus, if a case of domestic and dating violence involving LBT* women was disseminated outside the LGBT* circles, it would realistically represent a handed delicious “meal” on media’s plate. Mass media will enjoy the banquet and a serious problem of violence will be diminished and ridiculed to a new number of freak show to feed society’s prejudices and stereotypes.

On the other side, whenever the problem increases its visibility inside the LGBT* community, episodes of domestic and dating violence tend to often become a matter of gossip. In an LGBT* community of small dimensions such as the Lithuanian one, gossips run fast and spread like wild-fire, eventually fostering tensions and divisions inside the community itself. However, since gossip is by its nature such an airy and elusive source of information, there is often no drive inside the community to verify the legitimacy of the rumours.

As a consequence, it seems that problems of domestic and dating violence against LBT* women keep being stagnant in a vicious circle fed by fear, insecurity, lack of understanding of the issue and fueled by media’s pressure and by a gossip culture, respectively outside and inside the LGBT*community.

Range of opinions from LBT* women – Interview with Aušra

I: Aušra, would you like to introduce yourself?

A: My name is Aušra and I am 28. I consider myself as a lesbian or a queer. I live with my roommate, who is not my girlfriend. I have an university degree, i.e. a Bachelor’s degree.

I: Do you identify as a victim of domestic or dating violence?

A: No.

I: Have you ever witnessed, among your friends, close acquaintances or in the LBT* community, some episodes of domestic or dating violence?

A: Actually, no. I have just read about it in newspapers or on websites. But what I have read was not focusing on the LBT* women’s community, it was about domestic violence more in general.

I: Do you think this problem actually exists in the local LBT* community?

A: I think it might exist, but it’s more complicated to observe it because there are not so many people who are openly homosexual or bisexual inside society. Plus, it is also a matter of layers. Maybe nobody concentrates on that issue because the focus tends to be more on the fact that we are homosexual, that we have non-traditional sexual orientations. Thus, this issue tends to fall outside of this…

I: In the second place?

A: Yes, it is in the second place. It’s really hard to talk about it. However, it is easier to perceive this problem in our community if we are speaking more of psychological violence rather than physical one. It is more visible. It often happens that in the community, there are couples where sometimes you know that one person is stronger, more controlling and more dominating than the other. It is hard to predict, sometimes maybe there are some problems of psychological violence behind, but it is hard to detect when you meet the couple and communication is happening together with both partners. It might seem that everything is fine, but then you have no idea of what is happening at home behind closed door. You need to be really close to the person who is a victim of psychological violence, to actually know about this.

I: Which ones are, in your opinion, the causes of dating and domestic violence here in Lithuania?

A: Most of the times dating or domestic violence depends on the person’s character and individuality. If the person is really controlling, dominating and wants to be in a leader position in every field, this person might act like that also inside the relationship. It is also a matter of jealousy: if a person is jealous in a really, really, extreme way, this might be one of the causes. I really doubt there are cultural reasons behind domestic and dating violence. It is much more related to a personal sphere: who you feel you are, how you perceive yourself and how you see the others in relation to you. Perhaps, sometimes, one is not adult enough to have a healthy relationship: then violence gets involved inside the relationship.

I: Is there in Lithuania some habit to report this kind of emotional and physical abuses to the police?

A: Absolutely not! Reporting dating or domestic abuses is even more complicated for same-sex couples because there is the fear that police will not help. Since same-sex partners are not officially married, it’s everything much more complicated. Nobody calls the police when there is a fight between lovers. Thus, LGBT* persons do not call the police to complain about domestic violence. I guess, reporting abuses, it’s even more rare inside the LGBT* community.

I: Do you think the state protects victim of domestic and dating violence?

A: This was a slow process. In the end of 2012, a law on domestic violence was signed by Seimas [Parliament of the Lithuanian Republic]. It was established by that law that you can call the police and ask for help if you are abused by your lover or your partner. Before that, if you had experienced an abuse, you would have called the police and police would have replied: “It’s not our business, we cannot get involved in this”.

I: Because the abuse was something related to the private sphere?

A: Yes. So the situation now changed, but I do not know how much it did for LGBT* persons. I guess you can call the police and say “my partner is using domestic violence against me” and then they should react and behave according to the laws. However, I am not sure if this is happening. I think that they should take the report into consideration but maybe the whole case will be treated as something just more exotic for newspapers…

I: What do you mean?

A: Generally, what happens, is that the male partner is the abuser and the female one the victim. Well, this is not such a usual thing but generally, when you read about murders in the criminal section, it is always the male partner who killed his female partner. If the case involved same-sex couples instead, the article would perhaps make much more sensation, for instance if a male partner killed his male partner during a domestic conflict. The news will become much more popular.

I: If lesbians, bisexual and transwomen cannot rely on police or law-enforcing authorities to have their rights protected, where can they at least find some emotional and psychological support? Are some organization in Lithuania trained to deal with that?

A: I think victims of domestic and dating violence can call some organizations, where you can ask for support and talk about psychological issues including maybe psychological violence. I am not sure if in these cases you can call and talk or also have a consultation taking place. I guess you can probably go to LGL [National LGBT* Rights Organization] or Tolerant Youth Association [youth organization dealing also with LGBT* rights, based in Vilnius]. These are organizations standing for LGBT* rights. However, I don’t know if people do that, probably not.

I: What in your opinion needs to be done to solve the problem of domestic and dating violence against lesbians, bisexual women and transwomen? Is in your opinion an invisible problem?

A: People should start talking about it publicly. If not immediately publicly, at least in the community at first and then publicly. To discuss that problems of domestic and dating violence are happening in either heterosexual relationships or homosexual relationships. These kind of issues should be discussed first at community level and in a second step these issues can reach the mass media. It is also important to raise awareness on what politicians and ministries who stand for LGBT* rights in the Parliament can do on this subject. But again, first of all we need to start discussing about this topic inside the community. Even if it’s really hard. Because maybe it is not so easy to talk about this and to openly say: ‘Yes, my partner used to beat me or my partner used psychological violence against me”. Nobody likes to say something like that. Especially, because in this community everybody almost knows everybody. And then if there is person who used to beat somebody else, then the second person might date someone else later and inform the new group of people she is hanging out that “you know, that person used psychological violence against me”. Then, everything spins around gossiping.

Interview was conducted in July 2015 by LGL’s EVS volunteer Alice Michelini, in the framework of SapfoFest, an independent-community based festival taking place in the district of Jonava, Lithuania. It has been published with consent and approval of the respondent for the purpose of Bleeding Love research project.