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Thursday 09 April 2009

Violence in our relationships: Breaking the silence

Posted in: People
By Ché Vara Newth - 14th February 2009

Rihanna & Chris Brown
The alleged attack on singing star Rihanna by her partner Chris Brown has got people talking about relationship violence - including LGBT abuse victims.

This week several readers have shared their own stories of partner abuse via our Forum. Below, Ché Vara Newth tells us why gay or lesbian victims of violence are less likely to seek a way out, why they should, and where they can turn to for help.


The latest celebrity scandal to hit the headlines is not about weight, botox or secret liaisons. It is a very serious report that singer Chris Brown has physically assaulted his girlfriend, fellow chart topper Rihanna. This comes shortly after their successful New Zealand tour.

In late 2007 Brown appeared on the Tyra Banks show where he disclosed painful childhood memories of watching his mother being beaten by her boyfriend. When asked how the experience has affected his relationships with women, he answered; "I treat them differently, because I don't want to go through the same thing, I don't want to put a woman through the same thing that person put my mom through."

The alleged attack of Rihanna, by Brown has got everyone talking, and it seems as though we are not all on the same page. Intimate partner violence is like cancer. Everyone has either been affected by or knows someone who has been. The difference is that so many people keep this type of violence hidden. The abuser does not want their friends or colleagues to know, and the victim is embarrassed or scared.

The sad truth is that domestic violence is prevalent in all walks of life.

The worst part of this travesty is that the victim can often belittle the seriousness of the situation. Even to the point that the victim can begin to believe it is not so bad, or that they did something to provoke the attack.

When we are not immediately faced with violence, we are often able to see it as common sense that no one should put up with a bully. When violence occurs, we teach children to seek the help of an adult, we teach adults to walk away and we teach both to turn the other cheek. Why then do we choose to keep quiet about the worst kind of bullying there is?

Abuse is not always easy to detect when it first begins. Mental and emotional abuse can be brushed aside and passed off as unimportant, though it can often be more damaging than physical abuse. It can be even harder to notice within same sex relationships. If a man hits a woman it is easier for the responding police officers to make a quick determination of who the aggressor is. This is not so simple with same sex partner assaults. Due to a number of factors, with same-sex partner violence, it can be harder to draw a clear line as to who is the abuser and the victim. Under the NZ Family Court System, all couples, including those of the same sex, are eligible for six funded counselling sessions around relationship difficulties including violence. The problem, however, is that many in our community are not aware of this funding or how to access it. There are a number of gay/lesbian identified private counsellors available who also provide counselling around relationship violence.

Counsellor Victoria Marsden has spent time working with both heterosexual and homosexual couples in the battle against intimate partner violence. "Relationship violence is unacceptable for people of all sexual orientations," she explains. "Despite this, it is becoming more visible in our community, and many men and women are suffering this abuse in silence. If you or someone close to you is the victim of relationship violence, do not hesitate to get help.

"Same-sex relationship violence is a serious issue for both individuals and for our community as a whole."

Victoria is a gay woman who has a private counselling practice and works with gay and lesbian clients. Some of the issues surrounding Gay and Lesbian domestic abuse, which she discovered through research, include how we often do not disclose or report the abuse to authorities for unique reasons. Some of these stem from the fear that reporting the abuse could in some way, add ammunition to homophobia. Staunch feminists are afraid that talking about domestic violence between gay women will somehow challenge the work of feminism. Another concern is that if the victim is not 'out' to colleges or family, the abuser may have threatened to 'out' him/her if the abuse is reported.

When two women are involved in intimate partner violence they both have access to Woman's Refuge. This is a serious concern as, if that is the only place of safety for the abused; the abuser may then gain entry and carry on the violence. Sometimes same sex abuse is not taken seriously by officials, which can stem from the fact that it is not yet widely accepted that this problem affects our community.

We see the commercials on television, we know that intimate partner abuse is not okay, so why are we not speaking out and getting help? It seems even Rihanna was influenced by fear about disclosing her partner's violence. She reportedly told officials that her relationship with Brown was abusive throughout, yet she did not seek help until she feared for her life. It is sad that she felt that she could handle the abuse up to that point. No abuse is acceptable.


If you or someone close to you is suffering from intimate partner abuse or any other issues that you make you feel as though the light at the end is not getting any closer, you can call the team at OUTLine NZ on 0800 OUTLINE from anywhere in New Zealand, or email Victoria Marsden at

Ché Vara Newth - 14th February 2009