A broad smile comes over John*’s face as he talks about his current partner of almost two years.
The 52-year-old father-of-three has been rebuilding his life as a survivor of same-sex family violence.
John suffered both emotional and physical abuse from an ex-partner.
It started as verbal abuse and eventually turned to violence.
“It was always about sex. If I said no, he would get very violent, very physically violent,” he said.
“I wore a couple of kicks, there was a smack to the mouth, I had a black eye and broken ribs with him. Some of that was trying to get away from him”.
The violence came at a time when John was dealing with the breakdown of his marriage of almost five years.
He had separated from his ex-wife and was battling to get access to their three children.
While struggling to deal with those combined stresses, he snapped.
“He was physically violent at home, I had her creating an anxiety about all the changeovers between us for the children and so in the end, I just cracked. I slapped her and I’m still wearing the consequences of that now,” he said.
A counsellor referred John to the Victorian AIDS Council where he took part in a behaviour-change program tailored exclusively to gay and bisexual men.
Senior Clinician in Training & Capacity Building with the VAC, Doctor Kieran O’Loughlin, said the program had two main objectives.
“The basic aim is to explore the violence and the underlying anger and work at ways of firstly getting participants to take full responsibility for that violence, and to learn to understand how anger affects their behaviour,” he said.
Researchers believe one in three same-sex couples experience family violence and figures released by Victoria’s Crimes Statistics Agency show rates have been increasing over the past five years.
In 2011, 263 men were attacked by their current partner and 33 abused by an ex-partner.
While last year, 386 men were victims of same-sex abuse by their current partner and 90 abused by an ex.
It’s a similar story for women with 321 abused by their current partner last year – up from 188 in 2011 – and 82 the victims of an ex compared to 27 five years ago.
Doctor Philomena Horsley, from Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, suspected the actual figures were probably higher as victims could be reluctant to come forward, fearing they won’t be believed.
“It was always about sex. If I said no, he would get very violent, very physically violent.”
She told SBS there was a critical need for targeted services.
“If you’re a gay man who’s been physically assaulted by your partner, there’s not a refuge you can go to,” she said. “Who do you approach in order to find a place to be safe?
“If you’re a lesbian who’s actually abusing your partner, the men’s behaviour-change programs are not a safe place for you to be to learn to be different.”
Kara House refuge is the only one in Victoria that accepts lesbians and transgender people.
But chairperson Margaret Morrissey told SBS that inclusive policy had its challenges.
“If we get transgender or same-sex in, we have to house them in motels and, as you can imagine, a motel is not a really good place.”
Australia’s first Royal Commission into Family Violence is due to deliver its findings on March 29 and advocates are hoping one of the recommendations will be training for judges, magistrates and police so they are better equipped to understand the needs of people affected by same-sex family violence.
“We know that women have really, you know, left relationships in fear of their life so we do think there needs to be more education for the judiciary,” Ms Philomena said.
Police said they recognised more needs to be done to keep the issues front of mind among both recruits and existing officers.
Assistant Commissioner Dean McWhirter from the Victoria Police said there were clear guidelines in place.
“We have a code of practice which clearly outlines to our members considerations when they go to family violence incidents involving the LGBTI community and their considerations about how they should respond, so we have a lot of processes which we have in place already but we need to enhance and improve them.”
For John, life is now more settled.
He’s in a new same-sex relationship of almost two years which he said had been free of violence.
“We’re steady, the kids love him,” he said.
“We went away for a holiday in January, the four of us, and my son said to me, ‘Yeah Dad, he’s a keeper, I like him.'”
*Name has been changed.