Whether it happens with someone new or develops over time, relationship abuse can affect anyone, so it is important to be aware of the signs for your own safety. In order to recognise an unhealthy relationship, you must be aware of the different ways abusive relationships can manifest themselves.

Some LGBTQ+ people find it incredibly difficult to recognise their relationships as abusive, particularly if the relationship has two men or two women. Many people think of abusive relationships as a man as the abuser and a woman as the victim. In reality, a woman can be an abuser and a man can be a victim in any relationship, so it is possible for abuse to occur in an LGBTQ+ relationship. These are some examples of ways domestic abuse might appear in a relationship:

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can be very hard to spot, as it often involves manipulating a person into believing they do not know what is best for themself. Emotional abuse might look like this:

  • Enforced social isolation
  • Intentional separation from necessary aids (for mobility, hearing, mental health)
  • Preventing expression of religion, opinion, or choice
  • Disrespecting privacy (reading personal messages, going through belongings)
  • Intimidation
  • Use of threats
  • Humiliation
  • Harassment
  • Coercion to participate in unwanted activities
  • Patronising (saying “I know what’s best for you”)
  • Threatening abandonment
  • Threatening to harm oneself
  • Gaslighting (manipulation into feeling that one’s own feelings or reality are invalid)

Emotional abuse can cause significant changes to the emotional and physical well-being of a person. Some of the following are changes you may notice if you or a loved one have been a victim of emotional abuse:

  • Insomnia
  • Withdrawal
  • Low self-esteem
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Increased feelings of fear, anger, or distress
  • Ownership of blame for the received abuse
  • Fear of intervention

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse refers to the exploitation or unauthorised use of another person’s assets, money, or material belongings. This can occur in any relationship (romantic, familial, etc.) and might present itself in any of the following ways:

  • Theft of money or possessions
  • Preventing access to personal funds
  • Use of assets without permission (such as use of car)
  • Use of bank account without permission
  • Occupation of another person’s home without paying rent, and without agreement
  • Forced purchasing of material possessions for another person

Financial abuse does not display itself the same way emotional abuse does, so the signs to be aware of look different as well. Below are some possible indicators that a form of financial abuse may occurring:

  • Missing personal possessions
  • Unexplained lack of money
  • Unexplained withdrawal of funds from bank accounts
  • Partner or other loved one showing unusual interest in assets

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can be simply defined as any sexual activity which a person does not consent to. This may involve consistent non-consensual activity over extended periods of time. Some examples include:

  • Rape or attempted rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Inappropriate touching of any kind
  • Non-consensual masturbation of one or more parties
  • Non-consensual sexual or attempted penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth
  • Any sexual activity which a person lacks the ability to consent to (due to intoxication, unconsciousness, underage status, etc.)
  • Sexual harassment
  • Forced use of or witness to pornography, photography, or sexual acts
  • Indecent exposure
  • Coercion into sexual activity

The signs of sexual abuse primarily appear in physical or psychological distress. Here are some indicators that sexual abuse may be occurring to you or someone you know:

  • Bruising to thighs, buttocks, upper arms, or neck
  • Torn or bloody clothing
  • Bleeding, pain, or itching on or around genitals
  • Difficulty walking or sitting that is out of the ordinary
  • Fear of being alone with a particular individual
  • Self-harm
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fear of relationships
  • Fear of receiving help

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse involves intentionally inflicting harm onto another person physically. This can be direct assault, or any form of neglect. The following are types of physical abuse to be aware of:

  • Assault (hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, biting, hair pulling, pushing, etc.)
  • Burning
  • Physical punishments
  • Unlawful restraints
  • Forced isolation
  • Intentional misuse of medication/drugs
  • Forced feeding
  • Withholding food
  • Intentional neglect

Since this type of abuse often involves intentional physical harm, many of the indicators can be noticed on the body of the victim. There are additional behavioural markers that someone has been abused, which can appear in adults or children. Indicators that physical abuse may be occurring may be:

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Inconsistent story for cause of injuries
  • Injuries inconsistent with lifestyle
  • Bruising, cuts, burns, marks on body
  • Frequent injuries
  • Signs of malnutrition
  • Failure to see a doctor

Can abuse really happen to me?

Unfortunately, abuse can happen to anyone, no matter their gender or sexual orientation. It is harder to notice when someone you love may be causing you harm in some way, so it is important to educate yourself and those around you about what abuse might look like.

I think I might be in an abusive relationship, what should I do?

First and foremost, acknowledge that the abuse is not your fault. Abuse may be hard to recognise, and you are not weak if you are unable to stop it. It may be difficult to accept that abuse has happened to you in an LGBTQ+ relationship, and any feelings you might have about it are completely valid. Many LGBTQ+ men who have experienced abuse may feel devalued in their male identity, but it is important to acknowledge that being a victim of abuse does not make you any less manly. The same can be said for women and non-binary victims of abuse, being a victim of abuse does not make you any less who you are.

If you have received any injuries, seek medical attention or visit your GP, and avoid retaliation to reduce risk of further harm to yourself. You may want to confide in a trusted family member, or contact the police if you are comfortable doing so. If you would like more help and information about your options, contacting organizations like Galop, which provides support for LGBTQ+ people who have experienced domestic abuse, or Men’s Advice line may be a good action for you to take.


What Next?

MORE READING

For more about how this issue impacts the LGBTQ+ community, check out domestic violence advice.

SUPPORT

Galop gives advice and support to people who have experienced biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, sexual violence or domestic abuse. You can get in contact either by calling 0800 999 5428 (National Helpline), 020 7704 2040 (London advice line), or visit galop.org.uk.

Men’s Advice line – a helpline for men who suffer from domestic violence and abuse. Call 0808 801 0327 – free from landlines and from mobiles using the O2, Orange, T Mobile, Three (3), EE, Virgin, and Vodafone networks – or email [email protected] 

If you would like to speak with someone about LGBTQ+ issues, call Switchboard at 0300 330 0630 between 10am-10pm, email [email protected], or access their web text chat here.

If you would like to speak to someone about coming out, family problems, sexual health, or training for your company or provider, contact Support U at 0118 321 9111.

Check out our OutLife Forums for a safe and non-judgmental space where LGBTQ+ people can talk to one another about their issues and life experience.