Palm Springs Law Blog

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Out of the Shadows - Sexual Harassment and Domestic Abuse

These are scary times as both women and men continue to come forward alleging serious sexual harassment incidents, many involving well-known celebrities. While all of this is at the forefront of the news and popular concern, a huge number of ordinary, everyday people suffer a wide range of harassment events, and we just don’t hear about them.

We allow so many frightening issues to remain hidden in dark shadows – violent events that cause injury in ways that can never be remedied. I’m thinking of domestic abuse – incidents that go far beyond sexual harassment of individuals in a social or business encounter. When violence becomes part of an intimate relationship, the result is often very serious lifelong physical or mental damage, and sometimes death.

These are methods of control by one person over another more vulnerable individual, and they can range in a wide spectrum from bullying to homicide. They can be physical, emotional or psychological events, and they occur everywhere, regardless of culture, country, age group, economic condition, gender identity or sexual orientation. Studies show that such incidents are chronically underreported, and it is likely that only 30% of serious events are ever reported to the police or other authorities. However, the number of reports are increasing each year and we can hope that this reflects more people reporting incidents rather than an increase in actual violent events that occur.

There are legal definitions of harassment and abuse that determine how a person can get protection when needed, and how a perpetrator will be handled:

According to California Courts, civil harassment is abuse, threat of abuse, stalking, sexual assault, or serious harassment by someone you are not in an intimate or close family relationship with, and the violence or threats seriously scare, annoy, or harass you and there is no valid reason for the harassment.

Domestic violence is physically hurting or trying to hurt someone intentionally or recklessly, sexual assault, threats or promises to harm someone, or harassing, stalking threatening or hitting someone, disturbing someone’s peace, or destroying someone’s personal property. A major difference from civil harassment is that the abuser and the abused have or previously had a domestic relationship, such as current or former spouses and registered domestic partners, cohabitants who live or lived together and have or had a consensual sexual relationship, and those who have or had a dating or engagement relationship. Close family relationships, such as parents or brother or sister are also domestic relationships.

What is the domestic violence picture in the LGBTQ community? Let’s take a look at the results of a range of studies that help identify what’s going on:

  • It is estimated that about 35% of women in the U.S. general population have been subjected to physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, with around 4% just in the past year. Lesbian women are estimated to have experienced physical violence at around 44%, but with around 10% in the past year. Bisexual women were more likely to have been subjected to violence, with an estimate of 61% facing violence during their lifetimes.
  • It is estimated that about 29% of men in the general population have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, with around 5% in the past year. About 26% of gay men are estimated to have faced violence in their lifetimes, with about 12% in the past year. Studies show that the estimated number for bisexual men is 37%.
  • Incidence of domestic violence among transgender people is 45% to 50% according to recent studies, with a somewhat higher rate for transgender females than for transgender males.

Historically, LGBTQ people have very low rates of reporting harassment and abuse, even though the studies show aggression rates are similar between heterosexual and homosexual couples. Filing an official complaint of violence opens the door to public scrutiny of same-sex relationships at a time when the abused partner is most vulnerable. And many in the LGBT community fail or refuse to acknowledge what a serious problem violence is, resulting in little or no support network for the victim.

Some states still have laws that don’t recognize same-sex domestic abuse, and authorities in many states often don’t treat such incidents with the same concern and support that they offer to heterosexuals. Fortunately, California has strong laws that define harassment and domestic abuse in gender-neutral terms, and offer protections for all victims. Programs promote education of the public and regular training of law enforcement, medical and social service personnel in the best ways to understand and care for harassment and domestic violence victims of all kinds.

Shining a light on the damage these events cause to all of us is a critical step toward preventing future harassment and abuse for everyone across our country.

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