Friday, April 18, 2014
Most gay and lesbian couples are happy and well-functioning, just like the majority of male-female couples. Unfortunately, same-sex pairs also experience domestic violence — physical, emotional, sexual and verbal — at about the same rate as their heterosexual counterparts.
This fact became sadly evident in Westbrook last Saturday, when 22-year-old Matthew Rairdon was found dead, allegedly at the hands of his former partner, Patrick Milliner, 30, in an apparent murder-suicide. Police are calling the killing a domestic violence homicide.
Victim advocates, lawmakers, policymakers and law enforcement officials here have done a lot to raise awareness about intimate partner violence, which is a major public safety issue in Maine. Rairdon’s slaying will highlight ongoing efforts to better address domestic violence among same-sex couples, and this is a good thing. But it should also draw attention to the need for education, prevention and support for all victims of abuse.
No doubt, lesbians and gay men who have been abused face unique challenges. Reporting the abuse requires the victim to reveal that they are or have been in a same-sex relationship. Even in states such as Maine, where someone can’t legally lose child custody or their job for being gay, a same-sex abuse victim still may be in the closet to friends or co-workers and reluctant to “come out” about their sexual orientation.
What’s more, not every anti-domestic violence agency is equipped to recognize and address same-sex abuse, though agencies in Maine have committed themselves to being open to abused gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Mainers. In fact, the coalition of agencies is updating the curriculum used by its members to train staff and hotline volunteers in LGBT issues. It’s a laudable effort to recognize the economic and legal rights secured when Mainers approved same-sex marriage in 2012.
Same-sex and heterosexual abuse victims, however, do have some challenges in common. For example, partners of people in law enforcement, such as Milliner, who was training to be a state corrections officer, often are reluctant to report abuse for fear of jeopardizing the abuser’s job. (It’s not yet clear whether Rairdon experienced abuse at Milliner’s hands during their relationship, which ended recently.) Police say Milliner bought a gun the day before the shooting; the period after a breakup is considered dangerous, especially if one partner just purchased or has access to a gun.
Domestic violence in gay or lesbian relationships does raise unique issues, but there are more similarities than differences between Rairdon’s and Milliner’s relationship and any other couple’s relationship, including the possibility of domestic violence. We need to recognize this reality if we hope to prevent another tragedy like the one that played out last weekend.