By Osvaldo Caballero, MSW, LCSW
Osvaldo Caballero, MSW, LCSW is the Supervisor for Elder Abuse at the Metropolitan Family Services in Chicago, Illinois. Throughout his social work career I has worked in violence prevention and intervention having an opportunity to see a life span of violence. He started work as an intern working with children witnesses of domestic violence, and co-created a teen dating violence prevention program for high school freshmen. Mr. Caballero has also worked with perpetrators of domestic violence for the court system.
Q. Is intrapersonal violence more of a problem in the LGBT community than in the heterosexual community?
It’s a problem in any relationship gay/straight couples, parent/child, and care-provider/dependent person, etc. The available research indicates that domestic violence occurs at the some rate in gay relationships as in heterosexual relationships. I think that in the gay community it is under reporter because not enough programs are focused on LGBT relationship violence, little advocacy and research is happening and people in abusive situations may not feel the support or confidence needed to report the incidents.
Q. How are the dynamics different, if at all? What are the catalysts?
I have worked with many forms of intrapersonal violence and strongly believe that the similarities are worth mentioning, much of the violence in our society stems from the Power and Control dynamic. Other similarities of an abusive relationship; no one deserves the abused, the abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual and/or verbal, the abuse is cyclical and may be lethal, the victims feelings of isolation, loneliness, fear, powerlessness and guilt and the difficulties and dangers of attempting to leave the relationship. Violence is a learned behavior and in our society there are many ways in which you directly or indirectly learn to use one of the many forms of violence as a way to deal with any given situation. I say this because I truly believe that violence is a choice. A choice made to gain power and/or control of a situation and/or person and anyone of us is but one choice away from becoming an abuser.
I have never worked directly with the LGBT community on this issue but I think that one of the differences is that in a same sex relationship it may be harder to determine who the primary aggressor is. I also think that in the LGBT community you would find other forms of oppression faced by both the victim and the aggressor. Realizing that the aggressor may have been a victim in another situation challenges the response of police, programs and available curriculum. Further research and more programs are needed to service same sex relationship and deal with intrapersonal violence to better understand the effects and identify the catalysts for change such as challenging gender roles, homophobia, stereotypes and heterosexism.
Q. How can social workers help? Are some abusers more likely to respond therapy and change, for example a young batter in his late teens or 20s versus someone in his or her 40s?
My work with batterer and substance abusers in the court system helped me understand that in order to change the person needs to believe that because of their behavior they are at risk of losing something. What a person risk losing may take many possible forms; a committed relationship, status in a social group, employment, their driver’s license, freedom just to name a few, so that the more commitments a person has the more likelihood for change and I believe that this would be regardless of age or sexual orientation.
I don’t recall ever working with someone in a same sex relationship, in part because not many LGBT were being arrested for domestic violence and because I have never worked in an environment which actively seeks out LGBT clients. I have been a supervisor and as such I encourage staff to keep an open mind and learn about LGBT issues so that they are prepared to ask the right questions and deal with the situation at hand. As Social Workers we should all be prepared to do the same because the people who come into our practice may not bring up being LGBT if they don’t feel safe or assumptions are made automatically. We need to challenge the heterosexist frame work from which much of our work is defined and challenge our own thoughts, beliefs and feelings about homophobia, heterosexism, gender identity and roles, stereotypes and the many other “isms” in our society.