: NOT so straight forward

NOT so straight forward

Domestic violence in Australia

The picture of domestic violence in Australia is stark and compelling. Approximately 1.2 million women have experienced violence at the hands of a (usually male) current or former partner.1 Responses have understandably and necessarily focused on reducing the prevalence of male violence against women.2

It is important to remember, however, that domestic violence knows no boundaries. It can occur in all relationships, regardless of the sex, sexual orientation or sex or gender identity of the persons involved. Research suggests, for example, that domestic violence occurs at a similar rate in same sex relationships as in heterosexual relationships.3

Yet the voices and experiences of victims / survivors of domestic violence in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (‘LGBTIQ’) relationships are often missing from the picture of domestic violence that is depicted in Australia. LGBTIQ domestic violence, consequently, remains largely invisible.

So long as LGBTIQ domestic violence remains hidden, effective action against domestic violence will remain difficult. If we are serious about reducing rates of domestic violence, it is imperative that the voices and experiences of LGBTIQ communities are included in initiatives to address domestic violence and the full spectrum of our identities is celebrated regularly.

This requires a strong commitment from government, civil society and LGBTIQ advocates, backed by adequate and ongoing funding and resources. There is also a role for domestic violence service providers.

During Australia’s first Universal Periodic Review, the Australian government committed to introduce federal legal protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Once enacted, these protections will send a clear message to the community regarding equality and help in reducing discrimination, vilification and harassment against people who identify as LGBTIQ. They will also lay an important foundation for reducing LGBTIQ domestic violence.

There is, however, more we can and should be doing to strengthen responses to domestic violence. I will mention just three things.

First, there needs to be a focus on better educating the general community about LGBTIQ domestic violence. People need to know that, while most LGBTIQ relationships are built on love and respect, domestic violence occurs in these relationships just as it occurs in other relationships. There also needs to be greater awareness about the serious harms of a lack of acceptance and recognition of LGBTIQ communities. Relatedly, people who identify as LGBTIQ need to understand that domestic violence is something that can happen to them and they need to know where they can go for help.

Second, there must be adequate and ongoing funding and resources to ensure that responses to domestic violence are inclusive of LGBTIQ communities. Domestic violence service providers need to be supported in their efforts to be inclusive of LGBTIQ communities.4

Finally, the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children needs to be implemented in an inclusive way. It’s also important to consider the ways the Plan can be implemented to celebrate all of the identities that make our society so vibrant.

Everyone should be able to live their lives free from all forms of violence, including domestic violence. The significant progress made in addressing violence against women, which until thirty years ago remained largely invisible, shows that there is reason to be hopeful that similar progress can be achieved in relation to LGBTIQ domestic violence.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner. This article is an abridged version of the Commissioner’s keynote address in September 2011 at the 3rd biennial (first national) LGBTIQ domestic violence conference.
© 2011 Elizabeth Broderick




1. See Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety, Australia, 2005 (Reissue), Catalogue No 4906.0 (2006), 10.
2. See, eg, FAHCSIA, National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children (2011).
3. See generally William Leonard et al, Coming Forward: The Underreporting of Heterosexist Violence and Same Sex Partner Abuse in Victoria (ARCSHS, 2008); Janine Farrell and Somali Cerise, Fair’s Fair: A Snapshot of Violence and Abuse in Sydney LGBT Relationships 2006 (ACON, 2006); Marian Pitts et al, Private Lives: A Report on Health and Wellbeing of GLBTI Australians (ARCSHS, 2006), 51–52.
4. Annaliese Constable et al, One Size Does Not Fit All: Gap Analysis of NSW domestic violence support services in relation to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities’ needs (ACON Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project, 2011), 16–17.


(2011) 36(4) AltLJ 224
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