Perhaps most of us would agree that there’s nothing better than being in a warm, loving relationship, whether with one’s own family or with that special someone. Humans are social animals after all, so joyful or tender moments with the souls we care about are particularly rewarding.
However, all too often, underneath supposed tranquillity lies the hidden spectre of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. According to the Guardian and the Independent, as a result of the public being forced to stay at home in the Covid pandemic, such distressing behaviour has skyrocketed.
Specifically with regards to the LGBTQ+ community, Peter Kelley, Head of Domestic Abuse Services at anti-violence charity Galop, pointed out that one could extrapolate from relevant data that there’s been a 40% increase in domestic abuse in this time period. He also commented that: “There’s some evidence to suggest that LGBT+ domestic abuse and other forms of abuse, such as sexual violence, is underreported by the community.”
A 2019 Galop report, Recognise & Respond: Strengthening Advocacy for LGBT+ Survivors of Domestic Abuse, states: “It is estimated that more than one in four gay men and lesbians, and more than one in three bisexual people, report at least one form of domestic abuse since the age of 16.” Furthermore, the study indicates that said victims, because of their gender identity and sexual preference, can encounter “distinct systemic and personal barriers” when attempting to access appropriate services.
“It was the mid-90s and, even though homosexuality had been legal in Sweden for over half a century and I considered Sweden to be a fairly liberal nation, I’d only just decided to come out to my parents. I was 16 and it seemed right as I didn’t want to hide that part of my character from them anymore. And it was a huge relief that not only were they all right with it, they were exceptionally supportive. However, any elation I experienced due to their positive response was obliterated just a few months later.
“Several weeks before I’d told my folks my ‘secret’, I’d already started dating my first guy, Niklas. He was 21 and, like myself, an office worker residing in my country’s sixth largest city, Örebro. I thought he was the perfect catch: articulate, gregarious and really caring. Nonetheless, after around half a year, he suddenly became incredibly possessive; if we went to any bars or clubs he got very angry when I innocently chatted with other blokes, and while we were alone together he’d blurt out unbelievable stuff such as ‘If you leave me, I’ll kill myself.’ I couldn’t comprehend why he was acting like this; I figured he knew I adored him.
“We were in his apartment one evening watching TV and out of the blue Niklas yelled that I had to prove my love for him. He seized hold of my arms with one hand and began stripping my clothes off with the other, all the while pinning me down on the settee. He was much more powerful than me, so there was absolutely no way I could fight him off. And I was afraid he might get even more violent, so I just relented. I will never forget how painful it was. But the physical agony was nowhere near as bad as the mental anguish.
“Afterwards, when Niklas went for a shower, I put my clothes back on and sprinted away from there to the train station. Once home, I didn’t cry. I suppose I was in shock. The sense of betrayal was immense. I had thought this ‘monster’ loved me. I didn’t disclose to anyone that I was raped. How could I? What would I say about this nightmare? My heart was broken and there was nobody to pick up the pieces.
“It took years to come to terms with such a hideous assault, particularly since I felt ashamed and even dirty. This was even though I knew it wasn’t my fault in any way. Finally, after a lot of counselling, I began to feel better within myself and was able to tell those close to me. They were all wonderful. I never reported Niklas to the cops, yet deep down believe I should have. How do I know he didn’t attack another person? I could never have lived with that. But to be brutally honest, I didn’t have the confidence that I would have had the strength to go through a court case. To drag up everything again – I just had to bury the whole experience in the dust. I never came across my former boyfriend anywhere again, thank God. Eventually, it was even possible to forgive him. I recognised I had to, because I didn’t want to carry so much hatred around inside of me.”
I’m a 25-year-old white British woman based in Bristol. In 2017, I met my future partner, Barbara in a bar in town on a blind date. Back then, she was 34, a mature German university student in her final year of an engineering course. Right from the off, we got on like a house on fire, so after only about four months I let her move in with me.
“Initially, everything was hunky-dory. But, after about six weeks Babs became very possessive. If my phone went off or I got texts, she wanted to know who it was. And even after I told her, she wasn’t satisfied and started to say I was playing around. I was flabbergasted as I cherished her and presumed she knew that. Over the next few weeks, things gradually escalated and she began exerting more and more control over my life. She forbade me from making or receiving calls or sending texts. And, if I tried to, she’d punch or kick me. Of course, it was always in a spot where the bruises wouldn’t show, like around my stomach area underneath my jumper or T-shirt.
“All the time this had been happening, there’d also been a lot of verbal abuse going on. I’m quite short and heavyset, while Barbara is tall, thin and, to be honest, pretty elegant. So she kept mocking me, with her favourite put-downs being ‘dumpy tits’ and ‘the walrus’. And in respect of actually making love, my ex claimed it was akin to ‘a welcome to flabberville’. She also constantly asserted that I was lucky to have her and that I’d never find anybody else. I’d always been especially anxious about my looks, so believed every word of it. That was a major reason I stayed with her.
“Matters took an even nastier turn when I came home early from work one day and found Babs strung out on cocaine in the kitchen. Even after five months of being an item, I had no idea she used. Despite everything she’d done, I offered my total support and said I would help her get treatment (perhaps in my own mind it was an excuse for her dreadful behaviour). It was at that moment, I can only speculate maybe because I had seen Babs at her weakest, that the level of craziness exploded.
“From then on, she basically wouldn’t let me out of the apartment unless it was for work. To prevent me from leaving she’d block off the door by sitting in front of it; and, if I persisted, she’d mete out a kick or three. Yet the degree of violence intensified still further. On one instance while I was lying in bed, she whacked the pillow next to my head with a hammer. Needless to say, whenever Babs struck out, straight afterwards she’d bamboozle me with her I-am-so-sorry or it-will-never-happen-again routine, or try and be all lovey-dovey. She was such an arch manipulator and control freak; it was as if she was the master and I was the terribly insecure and afraid puppet. “Psychologically, this was all having an atrocious effect on my mental health. I felt cut off from my family and friends and lost a substantial amount of weight as I’d stopped eating properly. Just waking up each day would send me into a deep depression, as I knew what lay ahead.
“One afternoon, I answered her back. She slapped me across the face catching me with a nail, drawing blood. It hurt so much I lost it, and ploughed into her with fists flying. I’d had enough. An almighty scrap ensued and I came off worst; but, I told her to get out of my flat, and said I didn’t care if she beat me to a pulp she was leaving. She begged to stay and feigned regret. I bellowed no. “Yet, it didn’t end there. Once Babs returned to her place around the corner, she stalked me for the next three months. There were texts, phone calls and details of the most intimate nature were posted online. I blocked her where I could, but was not able to thwart her from standing outside my front garden or following me into the local pub or supermarket. I reported my ex to the police and considered a non-molestation order, but they pointed out that as she lived nearby there were at least legitimate grounds for her to be in the area. They asked if I would contemplate moving. No way!
“After consulting loved ones I finally decided to push for the aforementioned injunction. However, just before I did, a mutual acquaintance told me Babs had graduated and buggered off back to Hanover. Auf Wiedersehen!
“It appeared as if I couldn’t escape from what he’d done to me, which led to bouts of depression”
“Even though it was over forty years ago, it’s still very hard for me to talk about what happened. But the events of that period are seared in my memory. I was about 8 or 9 at the time and my brother, who was eight years older, invited me up to his bedroom to play a ‘new’ game. I really looked up to him, so was eager to see what he’d in mind.
“After a while, he said we ought to lie on the bed then get under the covers, which seemed a bit strange. He chatted a bit then out of nowhere, just flopped it out. Initially, I was asked to hold his member before he whispered I should put this ‘thing’ in my mouth. But the ordeal wasn’t over: he requested I watch, as he fiddled with his backside. And in a blink one of the toys he’d just used was shoved right in front of my face. Inevitably, I felt über-queasy yet I didn’t realise what he was doing was wrong. After about 15 minutes my abuser said I could leave. Over the next 24 months or so, his degenerate mind’s idea of R&R occurred on another few occasions. “Approximately three years later in the mid-80s, a couple of important events collided: the onset of puberty and the AIDS crisis. In relation to the latter, my understanding of this viral epidemic was originally garnered from sensationalist TV adverts warning of impending doom. What was worse was that several of the tabloids of the day labelled it the ‘gay disease’ and that God was punishing homosexual men because of their orientation. The general media and societal consensus was that non-straights were ‘freaks’ and ‘perverts’. Unfortunately, as this witch hunt unfolded, I had my first crush. And as I’d been propagandised to be anti-queer, to my shock, dismay and horror it was on a chap from school.
“Flash forward to the late 90s, just after I’d left university. It was easy to convince myself that I was actually straight and fancying men was just a phase up until my late-teens, but by the time I reached 27 it was obvious to me that I was a homosexual. For many of those years in between, I’d eviscerated my soul in an effort to repress my sexuality; but, it had been about as effective as attempting to stop a charging bison with a butterfly net. Yet, the only relevant animal in the room was an elephant - the fact that my brother had sexually abused me. I considered that if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have liked guys and would have been a ‘normal’ heterosexual just like everybody else. It appeared as if I couldn’t escape from what he’d done to me, which led to bouts of depression.
“So here I was, preparing to join one of my idols, Jim Morrison, as a non-famous member of the still-all-sadly-missed 27 Club. Although I’d imagined going out in style with a bottle of champagne, expediency dictated glug after glug of White Lightning. Not to forget the most crucial ingredients of my ‘suicide cocktail’, some packets of paracetemol. Nevertheless, about three hours after I’d taken loads of them, I dialled 999: it took over 50 minutes for the sweet lady on the other end of the line to persuade me to go to hospital. Once inside, there was the obligatory emetic as the number of pills I’d wolfed down meant otherwise death would have followed.
“Before long, the medical services referred me to a local clinic where I had roughly 18 months of cognitive behavioural therapy. As we analysed my past, the psychiatrist encouraged me to rationalise my thoughts. He made me see that the negative assumptions and beliefs I held about myself, and my spells of depression, were linked to the abuse I’d suffered.
“Once my self-esteem was restored, my practitioner was instrumental in making me realise it was all right to be different, as in queer, and that I wasn’t so inclined because of what my brother had done, it was just the way I was born.”
Some of the names in this article have been changed for anonymity
If you are the victim of emotional, physical or sexual abuse or know someone else in that predicament, there are various specialist organisations that can help.
Galop is the UK’s leading LGBT+ anti-violence charity. It mainly operates in three chief areas: hate crime, domestic abuse, and sexual violence.
Helpline: 0800 999 5428 Website: www.galop.org.uk
The Survivors Trust is the country’s largest agency in respect of rape and sexual abuse. Helpline: 08088 010818 Website: www.thesurvivorstrust.org