- Intimate partner violence in LGBTQIA+ relationships
In general, South Asia is considered to have a high prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), particularly against women, and what’s more, the statistics that show us this are entirely based on reported cases. This prompts the question of just how many cases go unreported because of countless people suffering in silence.
According to the Ceylon Medical Journal, the prevalence of IPV in Sri Lanka ranged from 25-35%. However, these numbers are based on the experience of legally married women. The review itself notes that the many complex relationships that experience violence in Sri Lanka have not been comprehensively investigated, adding that persons who experience IPV are likely to underreport such acts of violence, particularly that of a sexual nature.
What about domestic violence when people already judge you?
Taking into consideration the general reluctance expressed by victims to come forward, when it comes to those in relationships that are not socially accepted – like LGBTQIA+ relationships, it can be assumed that such persons would be even less likely to report their suffering.
Speaking to Brunch, Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera, who is a vocal advocate for the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons in the island, shared that when it comes to LGBTQIA+ persons experiencing intimate partner violence, i.e. domestic violence, he has come across numerous instances where they chose to suffer in silence rather than approach the police.
He said that often, LGBTQIA+ persons would face ridicule at the hands of the police, regardless of what reason they are seeking the services of the police. “It is ridiculous how some police officers tend to treat people who are of the LGBTQIA+ community. Especially those who exhibit those stereotypical characteristics,” Perera said, adding: “If you are a trans woman you are most likely to get dismissed and I have come across many instances where their complaints have not been accepted.”
The United Nations defines domestic abuse/domestic violence/intimate partner violence as “a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner”. It is provided that the abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats and it can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. It can occur within a range of relationships including couples who are married, living together or dating. Victims of domestic abuse may also include a child or other relative, or any other household member.
In Sri Lanka, the enacted legislation Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (No. 34 of 2005) only applies to persons in a legally recognised relationship as it refers to “the spouse, ex-spouse or cohabiting partner.”
What if you’re LGBTQIA+?
Perera, addressing this piece of legislation, shared that because of the nature of LGBTQIA+ relationships and how they are not accepted in our country, it is unlikely that such a person may seek justice via this legal provision. However, by virtue of being a citizen, regardless of your gender identity or sexual orientation, you are afforded a set of fundamental rights. Therefore you are entitled to protection regardless of whether it is acquired under this particular act or not.
Perera noted that protection may be sought under the Penal Code Ordinance No. 2 of 1883 and the Code of Criminal Procedure Act No. 15 of 1979. He said that as a citizen you are entitled to make a complaint against another for their violent acts, regardless of the nature of their relationship to you. However, once again Perera noted that in practice when it comes to reporting domestic violence, even in the case of the protected marriage relationship – the authorities are quite flippant. “Even when you go to the Women and Childrens’ Bureau, officers tend to lean towards advising the couple in the hopes of reconciliation,” Perera said, adding that where even married women face difficulty placing a complaint and being taken seriously, most LGBTQIA+ persons face far more obstacles in seeking justice.
“There is this supremacist mentality in this country, just like the bias towards the Sinhala majority there is a bias towards the straight male and female, over everyone else; anyone who doesn’t fall squarely within those boxes are treated differently,” he said. Additionally, Perera also explained that when it comes to relief in matters like domestic violence, the socio economic factors play an important role. Your status in society may dictate how much influence you have over the authorities and them taking your complaints seriously.
Making use of your protections
Despite this however, when speaking to Sri Lanka Police ASP Fredrick U.K. Wootler, he shared that regardless of the nature of your relationship, if you are being abused, then by the simple virtue of being a citizen of this country, you are entitled to seek protection.
Wootler said that in terms of relief you can either file a petition at the Magistrate Court regarding your grievance and the relief you seek, or you are well within your rights to go to your nearest police station and file an official complaint against your partner. He said: “The matter can be a citizen making a complaint against another citizen. The fact of your relationship status should not matter in such an instance, if a crime has been committed against another then you are encouraged to file a complaint with the police.”
While ASP Wootler assures that you will be afforded the protection you are owed as a citizen of this country, Attorney Perera remained sceptical considering his past experiences when dealing with the police.
While each individual case may differ owing to the varying different factors and circumstances, it must be noted that regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity, if you are experiencing a form of IPV then as a citizen of Sri Lanka you are owed protection from the State. So, we encourage that you do not hesitate to seek help.