Domestic Violence and Abuse in the Relationships of LGBT+ People with Catherine Donovan

Being confined to your home could be the worst message to hear for somebody whose partner is violent, abusive or coercively controlling. Lack of privacy, space apart, escape routes are all made worse by government guidance that we should stay at home unless for essential activities. Catherine explains more.

COVID-19 has put people at risk in their own home

Over the last month during the COVOID-19 pandemic I’ve seen that domestic violence and abuse has been talked about a lot because of the specific needs of, and risks to, those being victimised in their own homes at a time when we are being told to stay at home.

“My research along with others suggests that LGBT+ people are not likely to report to the police or mainstream services but go primarily to friends/family for help”

Catherine Donovan

Part of the reason for this is because when domestic violence is talked about only one kind of story is usually told – this public story describes domestic violence and abuse as a problem of cis heterosexual men for cis heterosexual women, a problem of physical violence and a problem of a particular presentation of gender – a big ‘strong’ cis heterosexual man being physically violent towards a small ‘weak’ cis heterosexual women.

During the pandemic the news has focussed on the increased reporting of domestic violence and abuse but usually based on that public story. So I’ve been working with a national network of agencies and practitioners, researchers and activists, working on LGBT+ domestic abuse, to emphasise how vital this work is but to ask that the stories being told include those of LGBT+ people experiencing domestic violence and abuse; and that mainstream services carry on doing all they can to ensure that their services are accessible to and respectful of LGBT+ service users.

But I also want to ask the rest of us to do our bit.

As friends and family of LGBT+ people we can keep an eye out on anybody we know who we think is being victimised by and/or using violence/abusive behaviours.

There are things we can do to help, in a non-judgemental way, to let them know that we’re concerned, that can enable them to, when they’re ready, make decisions about themselves in ways that are safe and supported.

The network I’ve been working with have developed advice and guidance:
– For friends and/or family who are worried that the LGBT+ person they know is being victimised by their partner;
– For friends and/or family who are worried that the LGBT+ person they know is using violent/abusive behaviour towards their partner. You can access these here:

If you are worried about your relationship or a partner’s behaviour, if you are worried about a LGBT+ friend/family member and their relationship, you can ring the specialist LGBT+ Domestic Violence and Abuse national helpline or use the online chat service to share your concerns and get support: : 

LGBT Domestic Violence and Abuse Helpline 0800 999 5428 or via help@galop.org.uk

During these most strange times we must, more than ever, pull together and look out for each other. It is during these times that we might feel the most alone and the most excluded from services. Friends and family can make a huge difference in supporting people to get help.

Nobody should live in fear, all of us can make a difference in standing up to and speaking out against domestic violence and abuse, starting with our own friendship networks and families. It doesn’t have to be loud: just by starting a conversation with somebody, saying that you’ve been worried about them, could be enough to make the difference.

Read the guidance, ask for advice/support and challenge anybody who says that domestic violence and abuse doesn’t happen in our relationships.

Catherine (They/Them/She/her) has been conducting research into the lives of LGB and, more recently T+ people for over about 20 years. Catherine is the current Head of the Sociology Dept at Durham University, and part of a national network of practitioners and researchers working on domestic violence and abuse in the relationships of LGBT+ people.