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Recognising Abuse from People in Positions of Authority

Would you be able to recognise abuse from someone in a position of authority? What do boundary-blurring behaviours look like? What should you do if something just doesn’t feel “right”?

“Is it me, or is something not right about the way they interact with me?”

As a young LGBT+ adult, you may already have a harder time navigating relationships. Indeed, members of our community have routinely been excluded from most conversations about consent.

Up until 2003, it was illegal in England and Wales to discuss or even mention LGBT+ people, or our relationships in education settings. Fortunately, more and more discussions are happening about how to foster healthy relationships with our peers.

What do you do if you’re not sure about how someone in a position of power is acting towards you?

There can be many situations in which the way someone in a position of power talks to you can feel wrong, without you being able to put your finger on why. Sometimes someone stops behaving professionally and slowly shifts interactions to make them
sexualised, and you might not know where to turn for support.

These experiences tend to be trivialised or even dismissed, especially for disabled people, LGBT+ people and/or people of colour. Because of the gradual or subtle nature of their changing
behaviour, you may feel like you are ‘overreacting’ or being ‘too sensitive’. It may be hard to trust yourself at first, but this blurring of boundaries can manifest in many different ways.

Signs to look out for

  • Have you noticed that they don’t have similar interactions with cis and straight people in your situation? Do they single you out?
  • Have they started behaving differently or strangely after learning that you’re LGBT+?
  • Do you find their attitude ‘icky’ because they make you uncomfortable, without knowing how to pinpoint it?
  • Do you avoid certain conversation topics, meeting alone, or interacting with them entirely because you don’t feel comfortable?
  • Do you feel like you’re taking steps to prevent their behaviours? Do you change how you dress, take different routes, or alter your gender expression?
  • Is your gut telling you that something they do makes you uncomfortable?

Examples of boundary-blurring behaviours

Callum – “Callum is quite involved with the LGBT+ society at their university, and out to the other PhD candidates. They noticed that their supervisor treats them differently than other students, and insists on being the only point of contact. This has evolved into Callum not being able to reach out to other professors, when other students do not seem to have this issue.”

Latifa – “Latifa has recently moved to a new city for her master’s programme, and registered with a new GP. Since reading her file and finding out that she is lesbian, her doctor has been regularly making comments about her sex life, and asking intimate questions that are not related to the situation.”

Meadhbh and Camille – “Meadhbh and Camille live together in a privately-rented flat not far from campus. They reluctantly get in touch with their landlord whenever there is an issue on the property, as he keeps making innuendos when he sees them, and has sent inappropriate messages.”

Nico – “Nico is proud to be pan, and has recently started a new part-time job. Upon learning about his orientation, his employer said Nico should tell his coworkers and be ‘more visible’, especially as it is Pride month. Nico doesn’t feel comfortable with the situation but doesn’t know what to do since he is isn’t being ‘forced’ to out himself.”

What should I do?

  • Don’t blame yourself for what is happening, or for your original reaction
  • If you’re not sure how you feel yet, keep a record of what’s happened in case you want to take steps later on
  • Trust your instinct if an interaction feels off or wrong
  • Voice your concerns. You can talk confidentially with people who are removed from the situation
  • It’s okay to not have the perfect explanation. You feeling uncomfortable is enough to ask for support

If anything of this feels familiar to you, please reach out to us here.