Report to Governor’s Council Highlights High Prevalence of GLBT Domestic Violence and Significant Barriers to Services for GLBT Survivors

On October 1, 2013 (the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month) the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual and Domestic Violence was presented with a report that documented the disparity in prevalence and access to services for GLBT survivors in Massachusetts. GLBT sexual and domestic violence advocates hope the report will lead to increased policy prioritization for responding to GLBT survivors and an increase in access to services for GLBT survivors.

The report cites sexual and domestic violence prevalence for GLBT individuals at rates equal to or greater than the general population, with gay men and lesbians at rates ranging from equal to almost double that of heterosexuals, bisexuals at slightly higher rates and transgender individuals at significantly higher rates, almost double that of gay and lesbian individuals. According to the Massachusetts Behavior Risk Factor Survey, gay, lesbian and bisexual youth were almost four times more likely to experience sexual violence victimization than heterosexual students.

The report also cites barriers to access for GLBT survivors including denial of services, poor responses from service providers (including discrimination), and insufficient culturally-specific services. The primary recommendations for responding to the disparities faced by GLBT survivors were to improve and expand current GLBT culturally-specific services (there are currently only 5 GLBT-specific safe home beds in the entire state) and to increase mainstream service options for GLBT survivors. The report acknowledges that it is more expensive to provide culturally competent and accessible services for marginalized high risk populations; but that doing so is both necessary and appropriate.

The comprehensive report, Disparities in Prevalence, Access to Services and Outcomes for Sexual and Domestic Violence Survivors from Five Underserved Populations, is a product of the Council’s Services Accessibility Working Group and it focuses on disparities for GLBT, immigrant, rural and elder survivors, as well as survivors who are living with disabilities. All of these populations experience domestic violence at rates greater than the general population and all face significant additional barriers to accessing services. State Agencies and Advocates specializing in each of the five populations have been working on the report for several years and it represents the most current thinking and analysis of sexual and domestic violence within marginalized and underserved communities.

Sheridan Haines, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Governor’s Council to Address Sexual and Domestic Violence, stated that “While it is clear that each population has its unique and urgent needs, what is striking from this report is the common themes that are emerging from these underserved populations and the realization that, by addressing the common themes, we may not only be serving these distinct populations, but that we will be likely increasing accessibility for multiple underserved populations.”

Curt Rogers, Executive Director of the GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project and the Co-Chair of the Services Accessibility Committee that issued the report, said “the report is groundbreaking in that it not only gathers the overwhelming data on disparities faced by GLBT survivors, but it underscores the compounding prevalence rates and barriers to accessing services faced by GLBT individuals that also identify with another underserved group, such as an elder GLBT survivor who lives in a rural area – and this is true for any of the underserved populations.”

The report comes out on the same day that Federal non-discrimination provisions go into effect for GLBT survivors at Federally funded sexual and domestic violence services through the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA, passed in February and signed by President Obama in March of this year, explicitly addresses GLBT survivors of violence by naming GLBT survivors as an underserved population and by prohibiting VAWA grantees from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity when providing services.

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