There can be no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has knocked us all off our feet a bit; schools are shut, businesses closed, streets are quiet and we are all trying our best to stay isolated with our own households and to practice social distancing. But what does this mean for LGBT young people who may be living in unsafe or abusive households? We speak to Janice Stevenson, a Development Officer here at LGBT Youth Scotland, to find out more.
Janice has 5 years’ experience leading much of our domestic abuse work, including providing direct support to LGBT people who experience domestic abuse.
What do you mean when you talk about ‘domestic abuse?’
In Scotland, domestic abuse is a criminal offence and takes place between partners or ex-partners. Many people think of domestic abuse as being just physical violence, but it can include a whole range of abusive, coercive, and controlling behaviours that a partner (or ex-partner) can use to cause physical, emotional, or mental harm. This can include homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse; isolating you; withholding money; monitoring your online activity or threats to out you.
Some LGBT young people may experience abuse from a partner or ex-partner and some may be witnessing abuse in their families, for example between parents or carers. Research shows that more than half of LGBT young people report experiencing abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner, and over 60% witness abuse in their family.
What about young people experiencing abuse from other people, such as family members?
We know many LGBT young people experience abuse from family members too, such as homophobia, biphobia or transphobia and other forms of abuse including; domestic abuse; physical abuse; sexual abuse; psychological abuse and neglect.
It can be very difficult and frightening to live in a house where abuse is taking place and you might feel hurt, angry or ashamed about what is going on. It’s important to remember that you are not to blame, and that help and support is available whether you witness domestic abuse in your family, or you experience abuse yourself.
What impact might the COVID-19 crisis be having?
Being on lockdown is difficult and stressful for most of us and this will undoubtedly lead to conflict and tension in our relationships as we adjust to our new, albeit temporary, way of life. For people living with domestic abuse, the impact of self-isolation and social distancing due to COVID-19 can increase risks of abuse and the likelihood of abuse happening.
Evidence from other countries that have taken similar steps to control the spread of the virus, such as isolation and social distancing, has shown an increase in women experiencing domestic abuse. There are no specific statistics about in LGBT domestic abuse during COVID-19, but we can assume that, since LGBT people experience domestic abuse at the same rate as heterosexual women, there would be a similar increase.
I know there will be LGBT young people currently having to self-isolate with an abusive partner who will be feeling anxious and fearful about the abuse they are experiencing. There will be people who are worried that abusive ex-partners will know where they are while they isolate and will use the opportunity to abuse them further. There will be young people who are witness abuse between their parents or carers as they isolate with family, fearful of what is happening or could happen.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak many LGBT young people will be spending almost all of their time in their family homes. We know that many of these environments do not feel safe or welcoming for LGBT young people, and this can have an affect on health and well-being.
Many people will be worried that support services will not be available or will be too busy due to the impact of COVID-19, but it is important to know that help is available. Some LGBT young people might think that the abuse they experience is not bad enough to report or that other people deserve the support more than they do, but no one deserves to be abused and there are services that can help.
What support is available for LGBT young people experiencing abuse during the COVID-19 outbreak?
It is really important that people call the 999 and ask for Police in an emergency or if they feel they or someone else is at risk of harm. The police will take the report seriously and will take steps to ensure that everyone is safe and has access to support if they need it.
You can also report domestic abuse to the police using their online reporting form.
If you are worried that you might be experiencing or witnessing domestic abuse, you can find information about the signs of domestic abuse; safety; reporting to the police and how to access support on the LGBT Domestic Abuse Project website.
There are helplines available that offer confidential support. The Scottish Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is available 24/7 to offer support by calling 0800 027 1234 or through online chat. If you are under 19, you can contact Childline online or by calling 0800 1111 to speak to someone about your experiences.
If you are under 16 and experiencing or witnessing abuse, you can talk to a trusted adult such as police; a teacher; a health professional; a social worker or a youth worker. You can search for social work support through your local authority’s website.
If you are over 16 and experiencing or witnessing abuse, you may be able to make a Homelessness application with your Local Authority, who may have a duty to provide you with safe accommodation. More information about making a homelessness application is available from Shelter Scotland.
What would you say to an LGBT young person who is worried about domestic abuse?
“You matter. You do not need to put up with abuse. You are not responsible for fixing someone else’s abusive behaviour. You deserve to live your life free from abuse and fear. You deserve help and support and there are people and organisations who can help.”