Safe Horizonís Liz Roberts and Carolyn Strudwick Discuss VAWA and its Impact on the LGBT Community with VelvetPark

Posted on: Monday, March 4, 2013

Keywords: Safe Horizon, Liz Roberts, Carolyn Strudwick, Violence Against Women Act

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VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, has been passed by the Senate and has now moved to the House for consideration, where it is facing heated, bigoted, misogynistic, and homophobic attacks from conservative congressmen who oppose the included protections for LGBTers and other minorities.

To understand this issue and the LGBT community's relationship to it, I interviewed Liz Roberts and Carolyn Strudwick, both of whom are working in different capacities on behalf of VAWA. Roberts is the Chief Program Officer at Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest victim service provider, serving all five boroughs of New York City. As a lesbian mom from Brooklyn who has worked in the movement to end domestic violence since 1983, she is passionate about ending the silence, denial and exclusion that LGBT victims of intimate partner violence continue to face. Strudwick is the Associate Vice President for Homeless Youth and Anti-Trafficking programs at Safe Horizon. She leads the Streetwork project, an innovative, program for homeless youth in New York City serving a population that is 40% LGBT.

VAWA is known as a women's issue, but why is it a LGBT issue?

Liz Roberts (LR): At the beginning of the movements to end domestic violence and sexual assault, the public focus was on violence against women committed by men, and there was a lot of education done on the role of patriarchal family structures in perpetuating violence.  Unfortunately, this created a perception that intimate partner violence and sexual assault didn’t occur in LGBT communities/relationships.  Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we know now that intimate partner violence is just as common in queer relationships, and that homophobia and transphobia contribute to high rates of sexual victimization for our communities.

The constitutive segments of the collective LGBT movement have diverse interests. How would you convince gay men to become invested in advocating for its passage?

Carolyn Strudwick (CS): Most gay men probably know someone who has experienced intimate partner violence in a same sex relationship, and many have experienced it themselves.  That’s a statistical fact. When gay men understand that the new VAWA will address the needs of their community—their friends and loved ones—I have no doubt they will get behind it.

The trans community and transwomen especially are heavy targets of bigoted, misogynistic attacks. Does VAWA provide special protections for the trans community? How does it effectively fight trans hate?

LR: The version of VAWA that was passed by the Senate on February 13 directly addresses this issue, targeting funding to LGBT victims of violence, and prohibiting recipients of VAWA funding from discriminating against victims based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  We think this is a huge step forward, and will help to protect transgender women and transgender men who have been the targets of violence.  We still have a long way to go, but making VAWA more inclusive will be an important victory.

What are the domestic violence statistics within the LGBT community? How does VAWA address domestic violence within our community?

CS: A recent CDC report found that rates of domestic violence among same sex couples are roughly the same as for heterosexual couples, although abuse often goes underreported because the lack of services for LGBT victims combined with fear of biased responses from law enforcement discourages them from coming forward.  The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs' (NCAVP) 2011 national study found that 62 percent of LGBT domestic violence victims had been denied access to shelter.  Fully 28 percent of victims in the study reported they had been arrested by the police, evidence that improved training and policy guidance for law enforcement are critically important to help them better identify the primary aggressor and take appropriate actions.

LR: Safe Horizon is proud to have partnered with the New York City Anti-Violence Project for many years to ensure that LGBT victims of intimate partner violence have access to shelter in New York City.  AVP and other similar organizations around the country have shown tremendous and courageous leadership in raising awareness of the needs of LGBT survivors of violence.  Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, this kind of access simply doesn’t exist, particularly for gay men and transgender survivors.  The new VAWA language will help to end exclusionary practices by domestic violence service providers.

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