The Vicious Circle: Psychologists’ Studios and Fear of Being Stigmatized As Factors Keeping Domestic and Dating Violence Concealed

However, are psychologists in this country trained to deal with LGBT* issues? I asked this question to Kamila Gasińska, researcher, psychologist and author of the National LGBT* Rights Organization LGL’s study “Homophobic Bullying in Lithuanian Schools: Survey Results and Recommendations”. Kamila, who had the opportunity to meet and survey many Lithuanian LGB students during the research for her publication, replies to my question by giving some insights on several interesting facts.

Among these the fact that no education is given to Lithuanian students of psychology on LGBT*related issues stands out. It means that many psychologists are specialized and competent to deal with issues of domestic and dating violence, but lack even the very basic knowledge on LGBT* related topics. To pour some salt into a wound, not only general awareness on the subject is not observed, but also homophobia tends to be quite widespread inside psychologists’ studios. As a consequence, LBT victims of domestic and dating violence might talk about the experienced abuse to their psychologists, but heavy self-censorship on their sexual orientation and gender identity tends to become a pattern in their stories. Coming out in a psychologist’s studio for many LBT* women in Lithuania is a very remote option: in particular if the clients are transgender women, stories of domestic and dating abuse miss many components of the puzzle.

Very few LGBT*-friendly psychologists operate in the country and their clientele is generally assembled by a word of mouth. Any attempt to find them through an online research goes mostly unheeded. On the same page, statistics or facts on domestic and dating violence against LBT* women are invisible in the web as in the public discourse. The same concept of “dating violence” seems not to be even taken into consideration by the Lithuanian legal system. The whole subject seems to be wrapped up by a thick and impenetrable nebula.

But talking about the problem becomes problematic also for another prominent reason – the fear to be stigmatized, to be inevitably condemned by society’s disapproval and shame. If violence happens inside heterosexual couples and it is considered a deplorable crime, violence tends to be considered even nastier when it involves persons of different sexual orientation and gender expressions. In a country that is at present time considered as the most homophobic in the European Union, behavioral pressure plays a significant role inside the local LGBT* community. Hiding the painful reality of domestic and dating violence becomes for many members of the community a desperate attempt to save face, to keep the LGBT* rights window clean in order not to deteriorate the society’s generally negative perceptions towards LGBT* minority. Despite the fact that the support for LGBT* rights inside the Lithuanian society has slowly increased with the passing years, consensus fluctuates and tends to drive on a razor’s edge.

When the fear penetrates in such an invasive way in both protected spaces (i.e. psychologists’ studios) and public ones (i.e. society’s discourse and the appeal to authorities), it can be inferred that any problem-solving strategy to approach the problem seems to have reached an impasse. According to Kamila, the only way to solve this dilemma is to actually exploit the exact instrument that fear represses, i.e. the determination to talk about the problem. Externalizing the issue of domestic and dating violence is the only key to unlock the other ones. Only by talking it is possible to shed more light on the topic, to foster more awareness inside and outside the psychologists’ circles and to achieve a normalization of perceptions on LGBT* issues at society’s level.

Interview with psychologist and researcher Kamila Gasińska

I: Kamila, would you like to introduce yourself?

K: My name is Kamila Gasińska, I‘m 26-year old. I am a psychologist and a researcher.

I: What are domestic and dating violence for you?

K: Domestic violence is that violence which occurs between people who are living together. It doesn‘t matter if it happens between spouses, between parents and kids… It applies to people who are just living under the same roof. Dating violence is, in my opinion, mostly related somehow to sex and situations related to sex. It usually happens between two people who are dating each other.

I: Does the law in Lithuania provide a definition of domestic violence?

K: Yes, it does and it does not extend to same-sex partners because same-sex partnerships are not recognized in Lithuania. Anyway, domestic violence is defined in Lithuania as a form of violence occurring between people who are living under the same roof, thus occurring between people who live together.

I: Does the Lithuanian law provide a definition of dating violence?

K: There is nothing about that in the Lithuanian law, no definition at all.

I: Does the law on domestic violence extends to transwomen?

K: Not really. I mean, in general, it should include transgender women and men since the law on domestic violence applies to people who are living together under one roof. Consequently, the gender of the persons living together should not be taken into consideration. However, transgender people are not at all legally recognized in Lithuania. The law does not contain any reference to cases involving transgender people or same-sex partners.

I: In your opinion, does dating violence represent a criminal offence?

K: Yes, for sure.

I: Which are the remedies that the law offers to victims of domestic violence?

K: If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can call the police to report about it. Then police comes and takes away for few days the person who is violent from the habitation of the couple. Some legal issues might occur afterwards. It‘s a new thing in Lithuania, it has been like that for only few years. Before that, most of the women who reported to police to be victims of domestic violence, had to deal with an often recurring procedural scheme: police was generally just writing down a note about the episode occurred, reporting that the husband had a violent behavior. However, the perpetrator of violence was still left in the household, with the risk that could act even more violently after the violence was reported.

I: Do you think threat represents a form of domestic or dating violence?

K: Yes, for sure. Threat and verbal abuse cause psychological violence, they are a form of emotional violence.

I: How many cases of domestic and dating violence have you dealt with?

K: None. There are none statistics about dating violence in Lithuania. I worked as a researcher about homophobic bullying, but that was not covering this topic a lot.

I: During the interviews for this research on homophobic bullying, were respondents also sharing some personal stories about violence between partners?

K: No, this did not happen. I surveyed LGB students. I think it might happen. I think one reason why they were not sharing this kind of stories, might be because they still have to fight for the status of their relationship to be accepted inside society. They want to look like normal, good people, part of the society as anybody else. In my opinion, they have difficulties in sharing these stories because it will show [to society’s eyes] that they are “bad” in some way. I guess violence it’s a taboo topic in same-sex relationships, or in relationships involving transgender women. Because they might fear to look even worse from society’s perspective if they share too much of their daily stuff; stuff that might actually happen in every kind of relationship. They feel like they have to fight first for their relationship to be accepted. I guess in many case they are not sure, [if it is worth to make these aspects of their private life to become a public matter].

I: Do you mean that admitting that violence exists against LBT* women might risk to diminish society’s support for LGBT* rights?

K: Yes! This might foster reactions and thoughts inside society such as “look what happens inside their couples, we shouldn’t give them civic partnerships. They’re violent people”. They would be pointed out as “bad” people.

I: Do you consider this as one of the cause why LBT* women are not reporting episodes of domestic or dating violence to police?

K: Yes.

I: Which could be pointed out as other causes for not reporting these abuses?

K: I think reporting is particularly challenging for transgender women because they are not legally recognized. Transgender persons cannot change their documents in this country. This creates more difficulties to report abuses: since their gender is different in their passports, sometimes people who should be receptive for listening to these problems (i.e. police officers) are not taking them seriously. Thus, even from a legal point of view, it could be tough for transgender women to report incidents of domestic or dating violence.

I: Do you know any statistics about victims reporting to police in Lithuania?

K: No…There are some statistics available on reporting domestic violence but these statistics are done on very general grounds. About cases of reports coming from transwomen and lesbians there are no official statistics.

I: If LBT* women victims of violence cannot rely on police, where else can they seek for help and support? Do you think they go to charities?

K: Yes, I guess they can try to seek help in some NGOs, in some psychological centers, crisis centers or charities… However, I guess in most cases they’ll have to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity, in order to be taken seriously. Even if they go to a psychologist. When I was doing this research on homophobic bullying, a lot of students told me “I tried to go to a psychologist but even there I couldn’t speak about the fact that I’m gay or lesbian”. Because they are afraid of being discriminated once again, even in a psychologist’s studio.

I: Do you think discrimination inside a psychologist’s studio might happen in both the public service and in the private one?

K: I guess in both. Maybe in the public sector it happens more often than in the private one. You can never know if a psychologist is homophobic. And there are a lot of homophobic psychologists in Lithuania. So LBT* women could just feel afraid to tell their real story. In general, they can talk to psychologists that they are getting abused, but not all of them could tell that these abuses come “from my same-sex partner”. Plus, coming out is especially hard for transwomen and that’s the reason why there are no statistics. Generally speaking, the majority of people doesn’t talk openly about their sexual orientation and gender identity. They are afraid.

I: Do LBT* women who want to seek for a psychological support, have access to some public information about where to find LGBT*-friendly psychologists?

K: No, actually it’s really tough to find LGBT-friendly psychologists. I’m often asked this questions, if I can recommend some psychologist who is LGBT-friendly. I personally know some and I tend to recommend these people I know. However, there is no public information available. You can basically never find such kind of information. Psychology students who are studying at University here in Lithuania don’t have access to any course about LGBT*-related topics. Sometimes there are some LGBT*-friendly professors, who can talk about these topics in their lectures. However, when you take a look at the courses program of a Faculty of Psychology, there is no reference to LGBT* topics at all. Thus, even if the psychologist has a good reputation, you can never know if this person is homophobic or not. I heard a lot of stories about homophobic psychologists and I know how tough it is to find a good specialist.

I: What is in your view the scale of domestic violence between lesbian partners?

K: I don’t know. I guess it happens in the same proportion as it happens inside other relationships. But this is just my guess.

I: Dating or domestic violence against LBT* women is a visible problem?

K: No, not at all. No one is talking about it. When actually something is published about LGBT* people it generally comes from organizations such as LGL and other LGBT*-friendly organizations. This information mostly has a positive content. They don’t cover negative information related to LGBT* people in general, because there is concern on how to foster acceptance inside society towards LGBT* people. This topic is really uncovered.

I: Do you think the LGBT* community exercise some pressure on the victim of domestic violence, encouraging them to avoid reporting? Or does this work the other way round?

K: Maybe. I guess there are some pressures. However, I guess these pressures are exercised in a very individual way, so that this community doesn’t look worse than it looks now at society’s eyes.

I: Have you ever got access to some material about dating and domestic violence against LBT* women?

K: No, not really. In Lithuania not at all. Outside Lithuania, I heard there are some researches about that, but I am not familiar with them.

I: Which group in the LBT* community is more like in danger to experience domestic and dating violence?

K: I guess transwomen. In general, from a legal point of view, they are not recognized at all: their gender is not recognized, they are men in their documents. Consequently, they generally cannot seek for any help at all. Any help from the government, from the police… Plus, transgender women is one of the groups inside the LGBT* community more at risk of undergoing hate crimes.

I: Do you think dating violence is taken into consideration by the state, the media, by civil society?

K: Dating violence? Not at all.

I: Not even when violence affects heterosexual victims?

K: Not even in this case. It is impossible to find statistics about that. If you search for “dating violence” on Google, you can just find some statistics from the US. There is nothing about Lithuania. Not even the term is really known here.

I: In the case of transwomen, who do you think are the perpetrators of dating violence?

K: I guess the men they are dating.

I: Can perpetrators also be women?

K: Yes, they can. I guess, in most of the cases, in Lithuania, perpetrators are more the men they are dating.

I: Do you think that violence targeting transwomen tends to be crueler?

K: Yes, I guess so. Lithuanian society is very heteronormative. For instance, if a transwoman is dating a man who does not know she’s transgender person and after a while he realizes that… This can create a really tough situation. I can’t even imagine how tough it could be, considering the culture of our country.

I: Do you think this precludes many transwomen from even starting any attempt to date?

K: Yes, this might happen. You must really have a strong personality to engage in dating.

I: What now needs to be done to tackle this problem? And how can psychologists contribute to solving this issue?

K: Psychologists need to get more informed on LGBT* topics by universities, this would be a good start. In general, just talking more about the problem would also help to normalize somehow LGBT* people’s relationships. […] In order to foster recognition of LGBT* people, it is important to also talk about the fights that occur inside their relationships. It is important to normalize relationship topics. […] People who have been abused should report it and just know that it’s ok. If no one talks about this subject, everything keeps to stay unknown: then some people might feel like something is wrong with them and not with their relationship – while it’s not like that.

I: Do you think the state should provide to psychologists working in the public sector compulsory trainings on how to deal with couples where domestic and dating violence is affecting LBT* women?

K: Yes, for sure. The most basic part of the problem is that there is still no recognition [in the psychologists’ community] of different sexual orientations and gender expressions. If these people are not recognized, how the problems they are experiencing could be recognized? More information should be available to psychologists, to police officers, to everyone. About everything.

I: Do you think psychologists should work in synergy with some specific actors, such as police officers, LGBT* rights organizations and charities?

K: Yes, I guess it would be really great. When you consider a complicated issue such as dating or domestic violence, the problem cannot be solved by only one institution. Help has to be provided by police officers, by psychologists, by social workers. To consider, for instance, if problems of domestic violence inside a couple can affect also the couple’s kids. Different institutions should work together, in this case also school should be involved. Since different actors work in synergy to help heterosexual women who are victims of domestic and dating violence, the same work should be done when violence affects same-sex partners and transwomen.

This interview was conducted in July 2015 by LGL’s EVS volunteer Alice Michelini. It has been published with consent and approval of the respondent for the purpose of “Bleeding Love” research project.

erasmus_logoLGL is carrying out the 10-month project “Volunteering for Visibility and Inclusion” under the Erasmus+ programme EVS (European Voluntary Service).