For intersex people, experiencing abuse in an intimate relationship can add a further layer of secrecy and shame to what may already be a secret existence.

From birth or early childhood intersex children grow up knowing they are different from other boys and girls. Intersex children often come into families as an unexpected event, their differences causing parents to panic, be confused and, at times, reject their children because of their differences.

If families reject their intersex children, this can lead to psychological abuse in the form of ostracising the child, shame and secrecy about the child’s differences and less favourable treatment than that given to siblings.

When intersex children have different genitals they may be subjected to surgery and gender assignments without consent. This starts a lengthy process of medical examinations throughout childhood. All of this may be cloaked in secrecy from other family members and friends.

In intimate relationships perpetrators of domestic violence can use a person’s intersex as another means of power and control over them.

“My boyfriend slowly and subtly began controlling how I identified. At first he would say he liked it when I looked ‘feminine’ and always asked me to wear dresses, skirts and makeup. He then started saying he didn’t want to be seen as ‘gay’ and that if I wanted to be with him, I would have to stop expressing myself as intersex. I didn’t know what to do.

“I thought he was accepting of me but then he began drawing attention to the parts of my body that were different. He would put me down and ridicule me about them. I knew I had to leave him when he demanded I have medical treatment so that I would be clearly a female.” (Laura)

Any form of abuse should not be accepted in any relationship. If you feel like your relationship is abusive, help is out there.

The Safe Relationships Project is the first fully inclusive intersex service in the world.

info: Contact the Safe Relationships Project 02 9332 1966 or 1800 244 481.

Kate Duffy is the Project Officer of the Safe Relationships Project and a solicitor at the Inner City Legal Centre.

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