City offers little help for domestic abuse victims in LGBT community

Those who suffer domestic violence in same-sex partnerships have few avenues for assistance and are wary of mainstream NGOs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 5:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 5:03am

While attitudes towards sexual minorities are slowly changing in Hong Kong, large numbers of the city's LGBT community are suffering domestic abuse in silence, a new study has revealed.

City University researchers found that the system is failing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community when it comes to domestic violence.

"[The Social Welfare Department] tends to emphasise a neutral stance. They say [they offer] services irrespective of gender, race or sexual orientation - but that doesn't help LGBT people. They need a service to be highlighted as LGBT-friendly," said Leung Lai-ching, associate professor with the university's applied social sciences department.

Leung spent a year conducting in-depth interviews with nine victims of same-sex partner violence and five organisations dealing with LGBT and domestic violence issues.

The main issues were a lack of awareness of problems faced by LGBT couples, and a lack of support for abused partners.

Many counselling centres in the city are run by religious groups, and while the Social Welfare Department has some counsellors who are "LGBT-friendly", the wait for an appointment to see them can be long. One interviewee said she waited a month for an appointment.

"I heard from social workers that there's not much training available for them from the Social Welfare Department," said Connie Chan, chairperson of the Women's Coalition, an LGBT organisation interviewed by Leung.

"There were a lot of calls after the legislation [protecting same-sex couples under the Domestic Violence Ordinance] was passed, but after two years there were no more calls," she said. Chan said more resources needed to be allocated to NGOs dealing with LGBT issues so that they could set up appropriate counselling services.

Around half of the almost 400 people in same-sex relationships polled in 2009 by Chinese University said they had been subjected to physical assault or sexual coercion by their partners. Some said their partners had threatened to reveal their sexual orientation to family members or bosses who may be homophobic.

There is no law in Hong Kong protecting sexual minorities against discrimination.

Some 3.1 per cent said they were willing to seek help from non-governmental organisations, while 0.6 per cent and 0.9 per cent would go to the police or Social Welfare Department, respectively. Few institutions focused on violence between same-sex partners, 89 per cent of respondents said. And 76.8 per cent said they were not confident in the ability of mainstream agencies to deal with LGBT matters.

Hong Kong's LGBT population has been estimated at anywhere from 1 per cent to 10 per cent of the population.

There is also a lack of knowledge among legal professionals.

"Even lawyers didn't know there was a law protecting same-sex couples in cases of domestic violence," said Irene Lam Chi-ching, a senior research assistant who worked on the study.

A police spokeswoman said she did not know if there were any internal guidelines or statistics available, but that it was unlikely the police kept separate breakdowns for LGBT couples.