Delving into the issue of domestic and dating violence against lesbians, bisexual women and transwomen, we have decided to talk to a member of the Lithuanian LGBT* community, whose orientation falls under the so called “asterisk” of the community. The orientation we are speaking about is asexuality.
Since some members of the Lithuanian LGBT* community came out as asexual, the National LGBT* Rights Organization LGL has recently started working in raising visibility and awareness on asexuality as an orientation. The reason behind our initiative to interview Nadezda, an asexual young woman and a member of the local community, is to get more insight on how asexual women community perceive the problem of domestic and dating violence.
Though the interviewee did not personally experience any forms of dating and domestic violence, her opinions still shed some lights on the level of understanding of the problem within the LBT* community. Plus, it focuses on the issue through the lens of an orientation that at present time is still significantly invisible within the LGBT* agenda in many countries.
Sexual harassment and abuse are concepts disturbingly familiar to many members of the asexual community. Violence happening in romantic relationships, where an asexual person is involved can take many different forms. A sexual partner can perpetuate many forms of emotional violence that leverages on shame and guilt, on misguided ideas that asexuality has something to do with mental health problems and hormonal imbalances.
Domestic and dating violence against asexual women can degenerate in the form of forced sexual intercourses, perpetuated with the idea that the “beneficiary” of the act will be initiated to the magic of sex, enlightened on its beauty and eventually healed. According to AVEN [the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, the first established internet-based community to promote awareness on asexuality as an orientation], rape is dramatically escalating against asexual women and is often perpetuated by tehir partners.
As asexual activist Julie Sondra Decker points out in her book “The Invisible Orientation: An Intro to Asexuality”, “asexual people in relationships – especially women – face coercion and are at higher risk for sexual assault, which is often overlooked because outside observers may believe the aggressor deserves sex or that people who are in relationship are in constant state of consent and therefore are not capable of sexually assaulting each other”. At present time, lack of understanding on asexuality as an orientation is observed both inside and outside the local LGBT* community.
According to Nadezda, domestic and dating violence against asexual women is often related to the lack of awareness on the subject. Most of the times not having access to resources and wrong models of behavior and education during the individual’s upbringing have an impact on those who perpetuate emotional and physical abuses. The notion of respect becomes inevitably distorted, i.e. the sexuality of one partner might be used as an emotional and physical weapon against the asexuality of the other.
As in the previous range of interviews the police is not considered a competent authority to tackle the problem of domestic and dating violence. From the interview, it emerges also that the lack of trust in the police work often eludes LBT* issues. Generally speaking, most of Lithuanian women, whether LBT* or not, seem to experience discomfort in reporting episodes of domestic or dating abuse to police authorities. In most of the cases, women’s reports are generally discarded by police officials due to patriarchal view of family life and gender stereotyping.
Range of opinions from LBT* women – Interview with Nadezda
I: Nadezda, would you like to introduce yourself?
N: I’m 27. I identify as homo-romantic asexual. I live on my own. I finished university, I have a major degree in pharmacy.
I: Could you tell me if you identify as a victim of domestic or dating violence?
I: Have you ever witnessed some cases of domestic or dating violence among your friends, acquaintances, relatives?
N: I don‘t know. Maybe I did. I can‘t answer this right now, but maybe there was something…
I: In your opinion, is this problem of domestic and dating violence against LBT* women a visible one inside the LGBT*community?
N: I think it‘s not that visible. If for example we are considering a couple of lesbians, I am sure people still think that this problem of domestic and dating violence cannot relate to them. They would probably think that this cannot happen with girls. They would think that only men can be violent. Only men are perpetrators of violence, not women.
I: Do you think this way of thinking occurs more inside the LGBT* community or outside?
N: I think it happens inside and outside, as far as I know. The first time I heard about this problem of domestic and dating violence was of course related to heterosexual couples. However, one can hear these things are happening also inside the LGBT* community, though I personally found that quite late. I think I was 16 or 17-year old, when I found out that this happens also in our community. I mean, it is obvious that that this problem exists but it is always hidden, it is something people do not talk about.
I: Which are in your opinion the causes of dating and domestic violence when one person inside the couple is asexual? Can dating and domestic violence happen if both partners are asexual?
N: If one person inside the couple is asexual and the other one is sexual, violence could happen in relation to sex issues. For instance, it could happen if one person needs sex in the relationship and the other person doesn‘t, the latter person might be abused or raped by the partner. However, regardless sex issues, violence can also happen in a couple where both partner identify as asexual. There are cases of emotional abuses and also of physical abuses, because physical abuse is not necessarily related to sex. Maybe one partner can be beaten or hurt by the other.
I: Is this problem of domestic and dating violence very present inside the asexual community?
N: Since I have started reading the AVEN forum, I have observed this phenomenon. Several asexual people told in the forum how they were/are being harassed by their partner – a sexual person –and forced to have sex with them. Definitely, this is a problem that exists.
I: Do you think that in the asexual community domestic and dating violence occurs more in forms of emotional or physical abuse?
N: I think it can be either physical or verbal abuse. I think sexual attraction issues matter till a certain extent, a person can beat his partner because this person is just… an asshole.
I: Which is the reason why an asexual woman can be victim of dating and domestic violence? Because maybe there is a not enough understanding on what asexuality actually is? Not enough acceptance?
Maybe this is the point, yes. Or maybe some partners are just frustrated. I don‘t know, I still think they don‘t understand and they don‘t want to understand, so they force themselves not to do good things to another person. I think it is always a matter of lack of education and of knowledge on how to behave.
I: Speaking more broadly in the context of Lithuania, which are in your opinion the causes of domestic and dating violence against LBT* women?
N: I think, the causes are related to the upbringing of the person who is perpetuating this violence. It relates to how the person grew up, in which conditions, how parents taught them the notion of respect. If they taught them to respect their partner, then everything should be fine. Then you have the instruments to understand that you cannot hurt and pressure your lover to do something this person does not want. It is all about education, school. If the person doesn‘t finish high school or secondary school… Of course, there are bad and good people, there are people who cannot finish school and they will never commit abuses. But sometimes this might happen… I don‘t know. I think the problem it‘s mostly related to upbringing, to how the person grew up and what he* saw around himself. If, if in the growing up process he saw his father beating his mother, of course – well, not of course – but there is a percentage of possibilities that he will develop a similar attitude.
I: Do you think verbal abuse can be considered a form of domestic and dating violence?
N: Yes. It is a form of abuse because it still hurts. It‘s still an emotional form of abuse. Emotional abuse can lead to depression, sadness… So yes, I would say that it is.
I: Do you think that women victims of domestic and dating violence in Lithuania are reporting the experienced abuses to the police?
N: Right now, I think there are more reports about this because Lithuania finally passed these laws about domestic violence, in 2011… Or maybe 2009. Something like this, very late for Lithuanian‘s age [Lithuania re-gained its independence from USSR in 1991]. I think now policemen know how to act and they are able to react to this kind of situation. Before that, I think people were afraid to report crimes of such a kind because police was not able to do anything about.
I: Do you think the state protects women victims of domestic and dating violence in Lithuania?
N: I think that there is at least some kind of protection. However, I do not know if police reacts and how do women feel about calling the police… Because before the introduction of that law, I don‘t think women felt safe to go to police: as far as I know about, police was disregarding these cases by saying things such “oh whatever, he‘s your husband, he can do whatever he wants”.
I: Did the same happen in case of domestic and dating violence occurring inside same-sex relationships?
N: I have never heard of anything like this in Lithuania. I think that there is such stuff here, too. I think people are afraid. Homophobic incidents cause so much pain to a person that a homosexual person simply does not want to go to the police to report that. Thus, calling the police for cases of same-sex couple domestic violence would be even harder probably. I don‘t know how the police would react to that.
I: If not to police, where do you think that victims of domestic and dating violence seek for help or support?
N: I hope they manage to get support. In Lithuania, there are several organizations, I think… At least, I heard of some. In Kaunas there is the Women Crisis Center, this is a place where they might go. But are they going? I don‘t know. I haven‘t checked statistics to see if this happens.
*Note: the respondent tends to make use of the male pronoun while speaking of perpetuators of violence.
Interview was conducted in July 2015 by LGL’s EVS volunteer Alice Michelini. It has been published with consent and approval of the respondent for the purpose of Bleeding Love research project.
References on Asexuality:
– Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN): http://www.asexuality.org/en/
– Julie Sondra Decker, The Invisible Orientation: An Intro to Asexuality, Carrel Books, New York, 2014