Those Most at Risk of Domestic Violence
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Biphobia is making some relationships toxic — and dangerous.
By Pallabi Munsi
In Love Is Blind, the dystopian dating reality show on Netflix, 34-year-old contestant Carlton Morton was already engaged to 28-year-old Diamond Jack when he sat her down to come out.
“I don’t feel like you’re going to want me after this information. In the past… I have dated both genders,” Morton said, teary-eyed. Later, Jack lashed out and the pair broke off their quick engagement, both storming off the show. It was dramatic, but not violent.
Not everyone is so lucky. Amy Kaplan, a 36-year-old schoolteacher, says she was “beaten black-and-blue” by her partner and had to “run out of the home to deal with the fit of rage” when she finally mustered enough courage to come out to him as a bisexual. She’s now fighting a divorce lawsuit. In fact:
Bisexual women are far more likely than any other group to be abused by their partners.
That’s according to a 2019 study by the Center for Victim Research. Among more than 18,000 U.S. respondents, 36 percent of bisexual women reported being subject to physical or psychological abuse from an intimate partner in the last year, 90 percent of them at the hands of a man. The next most abused group was heterosexual men, 23 percent of whom reported abuse. Least likely to be abused by a partner were gay men, and still, 17 percent reported such behavior. Seventeen percent of straight women reported such abuse, and 18 percent of lesbians.
All female bisexual victims reported that the behavior included psychological aggression, but more than a third said that was accompanied by physical violence. A 2018 UN report on the subject described the rates of sexual violence against bi women as “shocking,” and bi women as “especially at risk.” And studies across several countries, including the U.K., the U.S., and Canada, have shown that bi women are the most vulnerable to rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. For example, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner as compared to 44 percent of lesbians and 35 of heterosexual women. In the UK, studies have found that bisexual women are five times more likely than heterosexual women to be abused by a partner.
This may be due in part, says intimate partner violence researcher Dr. Nicole Johnson, to stereotypes that bisexual women are hypersexual compared to their straight peers. “There are hypotheses that this can lead to increased jealousy or mistrust of one’s partner which can increase violence,” she says. Another factor is that men may feel threatened by a partner’s bi identity and lash out with violence. Johnson estimates that up to 75 percent of bi women have been raped or sexually assaulted.
Kaplan, meanwhile, believes that bi women are victimized partly because their identity is often rendered invisible. Johnson concurs: “There’s often this idea that bisexual women are actually straight, and they’re just experimenting,” she says. And those in a relationship — whether straight or gay — “might not push back and say no, actually, I’m still bisexual. So I think visibility will come only when bisexuals own up to their identity and do not settle.” As well as experiencing homophobic discrimination, bisexuals can struggle to find community in the mainstream LGBT scene: A survey conducted by queer women-focused dating app Her found in 2016 that 43 percent of bi women didn’t feel comfortable at Pride marches.
So far, researchers admit, there are few mechanisms in place to reach out to the bi female community in cases of abuse. A 2015 survey from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that only 27 percent of U.S. LGBT survivors of abuse attempted to access a shelter — and 44 percent of those who tried were denied, most of them due to their gender identity. Abusers, too, can use a person’s sexuality against them, threatening to out their abused partner if they leave, raising the specter that homophobic authorities will discriminate against them further. Most resources for domestic violence aren’t aimed at the LGBT community specifically and counselors may not be trained to handle their situations.
“It’s hard because there’s a desire to want to focus on the victims and say ‘what can you do differently?’,” explains Johnson. “And what we know is that a victim can be perfect and do everything right and can still be a victim.”
- Pallabi Munsi