Some people who experience domestic abuse are in relationships that are not defined by the traditional heterosexual or same-sex models. People are mixing it up and non-monogamous, open and polyamorous relationships are more common. It’s important that professionals should not make assumptions and that people can explain their situation without judgement. This is especially important where domestic abuse is concerned, as it can affect every person from any background and in any type of relationship.
Bi-sexual or pan-sexual people are often misunderstood. They may be considered straight when they are in a heterosexual relationship, but gay when they are dating someone of the same sex. Bisexual people can face accusations when they form new relationships, with comments such as, “I thought you were a lesbian!” or “So, are you gay now?” In reality though, sexuality for some people is flexible, not static and sexual attraction is indiscriminate.
In some relationships, one partner has a higher sex drive than the other. This may be due to illness, medication, work/life balance or age. In a hybrid or Poly/Mono relationship, one partner is granted permission to have sexual encounters outside of the relationship, while the other remains monogamous. It’s possible some people feel pressured into this agreement to save their relationship, while others are happy to focus primarily on security, parenting and friendship. Each couple will have different conditions to this agreement.
Many people are rejecting the traditional model of exclusive dating and are dating two or more people at the same time. A sexual relationship may exist with one or all of them. This kind of dating has been made easier by internet dating sites, allowing connections to people in numerous locations and making it less likely that people will settle for the first perspective partner that comes along.
There are more swinging clubs and private parties than ever before and the trend has been building for the last decade. What used to be considered a guilty secret is becoming more socially acceptable. The swinging scene is diverse with couples of all ages and backgrounds who feel they belong to a like-minded community. Although the swinging community is known for practicing safe and consensual sex, there is potential that some people may feel pressured or coerced.
Polyamorous (or poly) people form relationships with more than one person. There may be three or more people in a relationship which can be open or monogamous. Sexual relationships may involve all parties or they may share their time between partners. Some poly people have a primary partner they consider their number one, and everyone else is secondary. Others love multiple partners equally. If it’s a three-way bond, it’s known as a triad or a throuple; if there are four, it’s a quad.
Domestic Abuse in non-traditional relationships
There is no evidence to suggest that domestic abuse does not exist in flexi, hybrid or poly relationships in the same way it does in other relationships, but there are additional complications and risks to consider.
Someone could face abuse from more than one person in the relationship which naturally increases their risk of harm. It might be harder to tell someone what’s happening because they don’t want family or the community knowing about their relationship status. This could be used as a blackmail tactic by the abuser.
Family finances may hinge on contributions from all partners in the relationship, making it difficult to leave, and the parentage of children may be unknown. It’s also possible that a victim wants to get away from one person in the relationship, but still be in love with the other/s.
It is likely to be more difficult to report the abuse, for fear of being judged or misunderstood by the police or other agencies. Also, multiple partners may be denying the abuse has occurred, possibly affecting court outcomes and housing applications.
Good Practice when speaking to new service users:
As professionals, when we talk to service-users we should always be open to the possibility of a non-traditional relationship. Never assume the partner they are talking about, is their only partner. We should ask open, non-judgmental questions about who lives at the property and about the relationship, without assuming the parentage of children. Some service users might refer to an additional ‘friend’ living at the address as a lodger or a housemate, rather than explain the complexities of a poly relationship. We can start by asking open questions such as, “Is there anyone else you are at risk from?”
It’s not for us to judge anyone else’s relationship, but to ensure people feel safe and comfortable enough to tell us what has been happening.
National Training Manager, NCDV