Domestic violence in the LGBTQI community is not taken seriously enough and victims often don’t report crimes, according to leading community health and legal advocates.

The murders of Sydney couple Luke Davies and Jesse Baird, allegedly by a police officer, who was initially mischaracterised as an ex-boyfriend, have shone a light on the topic.

Eloise Layard, manager of LGBTQ+ Health Programs at ACON, a Sydney organisation dedicated to supporting the health of LGBTQI communities, said victims often felt invisible when dealing with support services, encountering dismissive attitudes and poor accessibility.

“Some of the things that can impact people’s ability to report is a real fear of not being taken seriously, discrimination from service providers, and not being aware of the existence of LGBTQ support services,” she told Central News.

“It’s important that all service providers are regularly accessing training and focusing on affirming work. Despite this, LGBTQ community members have mixed experiences when reporting domestic violence.”

According to the 2020 La Trobe Private Lives Report, over four in 10 LGBTQI respondents reported experiencing abuse in an intimate relationship throughout their lives. However, 72 per cent of individuals chose not to report their partner’s abusive behaviour to services including counsellors, police or doctors.

Further, LGBTQI access to support services such as non-profit organisations, crisis accommodation and legal advice is subject to eligibility.

“So many of our domestic and family violence services are gendered. That is for a good reason, because we know overall that most people experiencing violence are women, and this violence is perpetrated by men, but this does create barriers in terms of accessing support,” said Layard.

She added ACON had mixed experiences with service providers, which varied from affirming LGBTQ+ people to exacerbating myths surrounding their relationships.

We work with people who have genuine fears and need protection, who are often convinced by police against making a formal statement.

“Ideas like ‘you’re two men, just fight back’, are common… and violence perpetrated by one woman against another can be dismissed as a catfight,” she said.

The controversy surrounding Police Commissioner Karen Webb’s statement referring to the murders of both Davies and Baird as “a crime of passion” further raised questions around the importance of the language used by service providers.

Ben Bjarnesen, director of the LGBTQ Domestic Violence Awareness Foundation, told SBS News that “using this term minimises the seriousness of this violent crime… a murder has been committed – and there’s no provocation or justification for that.”

The La Trobe report also showed low levels of confidence in state police as opposed to other support services. While 5.9 per cent of LGBTQI victims of intimate partner violence chose to report abuse to police, only 45 per cent of these respondents consequently felt supported.

Sarah Gore, a solicitor at the Inner City Legal Service (ICLC) that provides advice to LGBTQI people experiencing intimate partner violence in Sydney, said the significant role of the police as a first responder could not be understated.

“The police response is critical and impacts the next two to three years of the client’s life, including whether they seek legal assistance,” she said.

“Our advice work involves working with people who have genuine fears and need protection, who are often convinced by police against making a formal statement.”

Gore, who coordinates the Safe Relationships Project at ICLC which aids low-income clients in processing ADVO applications and provides representation at the Downing Centre Local Court, believes it is important to consider the impact of LGBTQI marginalisation that has led to underreporting of domestic violence to police.

“When we’re talking about people experiencing legal assistance, the more targeted you are by police, the less likely you are to seek support from them,” she said. “Police failed to properly investigate LGBTQI hate crimes throughout the 1970s and ’80s, and queer people may avoid reporting after this discrimination.”

The Inner City Legal Centre is the only specialist legal service for LGBTQI people in NSW. The ICLC currently receives funding through charity grants, donations, and the National Legal Assistance Partnership.

“It is quite astounding that in 2024, we don’t have any government funded LGBTQI legal service in the city”, Gore told Central News.

“Due to a lack of funding, we sometimes have to turn people away. It’s usually first come, first served, but to prioritise vulnerable people, we might have to dismiss others seeking legal aid.”

Layard agreed there needed to be greater government efforts to improve the accessibility of LGBTQI support services.

“What we really want to see is service providers working closely with LGBTQ communities to make those spaces safe and welcoming”, she said, adding there was a need for increased visibility and affirming support for victims of domestic violence.

Both ACON and the ICLC support an increase in statistical reports to reflect the nature of intimate partner violence within the LGBTQI+ community, and advocates believe greater research may spotlight victim experiences and break the silence on this issue. In 2024, the University of New South Wales is launching a National Survey of LGBTIQA+ Experiences of Domestic Violence.

“Because our communities’ experiences haven’t always been measured well in surveys, we don’t have that kind of representative, ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) type data, so it’s hard to see trends,” Layard said.

Main image created in GenCraft.