On any given weekday, BRAVO advocates offer a lifeline to survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, hate and bias violence, stalking, and harassment. On October 20th, they will join millions across the country in wearing purple to raise awareness about domestic violence.
A program of Equitas Health, BRAVO is Ohio’s only LGBTQ+ anti-violence organization for survivors. The program’s advocates answer calls, texts, and chats 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. They also represent BRAVO at Pride and other community events. They give presentations and provide education about sexual, relationship, and hate and bias violence in the LGBTQ+ community.
I sat down with one of BRAVO’s advocates to learn more about their work on the HelpLine and the need for LGBTQ+ survivor support in Ohio. Miranda has answered calls, texts, and chats for the past two years.
BRAVO advocates use their first names in public settings. We will do the same here.
MLF: Helplines exist to give support and link people to services. In the past, advocates only spoke to people on the phone. Now people can text and chat. Does this make it easier for them to make that first call? Does it change what they talk about?
Miranda: People reach out in the way that is most comfortable for them. The text and chat functions give them time to ask for what they need and think about the answer. Seeing something written down can be helpful. For others, hearing a voice on the phone is important.
MLF: Are people finding it easier to talk about intimate partner violence?
Miranda: Yes, people talk more about intimate partner violence these days. There is more knowledge and awareness of what is healthy and unhealthy in a relationship. This could be in their own relationship or a friend’s. Knowing those signs makes it easier to reach out. It’s hard to ask for help when you don’t know how to talk about what is going on.
MLF: What are some of the reasons that LGBTQ+ people facing intimate partner violence don’t ask for help?
Myth: Relationship violence only happens in straight relationships.
Fact: LGBTQ+ relationships have an equal or higher rate of relationship violence than straight relationships.
Myth: Two men or two women cannot really hurt each other.
Fact: Relationship violence can happen regardless of relationship status or gender identity. Often violence between people of the same gender is trivialized and dismissed as a cat fight or brawl. It is vital to know that domestic violence is about power and control, not gender.
Myth: A person cannot be sexually abused by their own partner or spouse.
Fact: The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found 1 in 5 bisexual women and 1 in 10 heterosexual women have been raped by an intimate partner. Sexual acts must be freely consented to. If consent is not given then it is not sex, it is rape, period.
Myth: You need to be in an intimate long-term relationship to experience relationship violence.
Fact: Intimate Partner Violence is a form of relationship violence that happens between intimate partners. It can happen regardless of relationship length or status. You don’t have to live in the same household. It can happen between family members, roommates, or even caretakers and their charges.
Miranda: LGBTQ+ people already face judgment and bias from loved ones, social services, and law enforcement. For many, they are afraid that reporting intimate partner violence would only prove them right. They don’t think the services will be affirming. They also fear being outed, which can be very dangerous. This is why having resources that affirm LGBTQ+ people is so important.
MLF: What are other hurdles LGBTQ+ survivors of violence face?
Miranda: There are many misconceptions about sexual violence in general. For LGBTQ+ survivors, it gets even more complicated. Some people think a woman cannot sexually assault another woman, because there isn’t the power imbalance that often exists between a man and a woman. If it’s two men, they think they should just suck it up or not let it happen in the first place. When shelter staff or the police don’t see their idea of what a survivor looks like, they may not know what to do.
MLF: What has surprised you since you started taking calls?
Miranda: I wasn’t prepared for the impact of affirming a survivor’s identity and experiences. Sitting down and having a conversation that affirms a survivor and assures them their experience is not their fault is the most important service we provide.
MLF: What do callers need?
Miranda: Some want a number for a shelter. Others want to talk about their experience.
It is rare to get a call from somebody in the community who has dealt with just one type of problem. Most of the people we talk to have gone through an abusive relationship, discrimination, and hate violence.
MLF: What tends to be the most challenging problem?
We get a lot of calls from people who experience anti-LGBTQ+ violence. There are not a lot of resources for that. Who do you call when it doesn’t rise to a level where the police will get involved? Or you don’t want to call the police? Sometimes, the police may be the perpetrators or bystanders in anti-LGBTQ+ violence. There are a lot of aspects to take into consideration.
MLF: What can those who experience hate or bias violence do?
Miranda: Depending on their situation, survivors can lower their risk by making a safety plan. They might change their daily route to work or their daily routines in cases where there is an element of stalking involved.
Unfortunately, social services don’t have a simple response to anti-LGBTQ+ violence. The options the system offers are to call the police or figure it out yourself. We try to help people find ways to mediate and de-escalate. Oftentimes, the goal is to find what they can do to be safer and to control the situation.
MLF: What about going to a shelter?
Miranda: Some people don’t want to go to a certain shelter, and it may be the only one in their area. We’re statewide, and we’re the only LGBTQ-focused, anti-violence service. In rural areas, the shelter staff might not be affirming or inclusive. Our goal is to be a resource to those shelters so they can make their services more affirming for LGBTQ+ people.
42% of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, and 35% of heterosexual women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.
26% of gay men, 37% of bisexual men, and 29% of heterosexual men experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.
30 to 50% of transgender people experience intimate partner violence at some point in their life.
89% of transgender youth reported having experienced physical dating violence.
43% of LGBT youth and 29% of heterosexual youth reported being victims of physical dating violence.
MLF: You mentioned COVID’s impact on the calls to BRAVO. Is there more you can tell us about this?
Miranda: COVID clearly raised the level of violence for people, especially during the height of the quarantine and shutdown. During this time we expanded the way people can call us by adding the chat service. As a result, we saw an increase in calls from survivors.
MLF: Have proposed anti-LGBTQ+ laws added to the rise in violence and calls to BRAVO?
Miranda: We may not see it in the number of calls, but those who call feel more and more unsafe. With every challenge to trans people’s rights, we see the effect on the community. Our trans clients are incredibly vulnerable and our system is not designed to affirm them and meet their needs. It can be very hard to navigate options knowing you are incredibly vulnerable. That has been affirmed for me over and over, and it is why I am an advocate.
MLF: What else drew you to the work of BRAVO?
Miranda: I have always been interested in understanding why things happen. The more interested I became in the “why,” the more interested I became in the human side. Intervention and victim services like those provided by BRAVO are incredibly important.
MLF: What is the significance of Purple Thursday and Domestic Violence Awareness month?
Miranda: It directs people to the issues. It give us the chance to talk about relationships. Challenges in relationships happen for all people. How can we improve our own relationships? It invites us to ask what a healthy relationship is, why intimate partner violence happens, and how we can prevent it.
If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, call BRAVO at (866) 862-7286, text (614) 333-1907, or chat live at BRAVO-Ohio.org.