Opening the Door on Lesbian Violence

( Herizons )

Lesbians have been in the forefront of the battered women's movement -- heterosexually battered women, that is. Lesbians who work in battered women's shelters and as counsellors have been outspoken about men' s violence against women. Yet lesbians seeking safety in shelters have experienced homophobia and ridicule when they report being battered by a female partner. They have been questioned as to whether any real abuse has occurred and reminded that men, not women, are violent.


Lesbian partner abuse exists but it is a hidden problem, much like incest, child abuse and heterosexual spousal abuse were 20 years ago. Even parts of the lesbian and gay community are in denial about it and there are few support groups and fewer treatment programs.


In their handbook, "Abuse in Lesbian Relationships," Laurie Chesley, Donna MacAulay and Janice Ristock state that "Violence in lesbian relationships is an issue that has been kept `behind closed doors' until fairly recently. It has only been in the recent past that women have begun to name and discuss their abusive experiences."


Lawyer Barbara Hart defines lesbian battering as "that pattern of violent and coercive behaviors whereby a lesbian seeks to control the thoughts, beliefs or conduct of her intimate partner, or to punish the intimate for resisting the control over her." The abuse often, but not always, includes physical violence.


"Lesbian battering is the pattern of intimidation, coercion, terrorism or violence, the sum of all past acts of violence and the promises of future violence, that achieves enhanced power and control for the perpetrator over her partner," Hart explains.


Why do lesbians batter? Why does anyone batter? To gain and maintain power.


There is no particular profile of a lesbian batterer. As in men who batter women, all lines of age, class, race, socio-economic status are crossed. She may or may not be bigger or stronger than her victim; she may or may not have more personal power; she may or may not have experienced violence as a child; she may or may not be homophobic; she may or may not feel contempt for women; she may or may not identify with men; she may or may not feel victimized by the world; she may or may not feel misused or controlled by her victim; she may or may not have problems communicating.


Hart says that for a lesbian to batter she must have reached certain conclusions.


The batterer feels that she is allowed to batter her partner and that her partner must accept this. She decides that acting violently is acceptable and that she is not an unethical or immoral person.


Hart says a batterer convinces herself that her violent behavior is effective in controlling her partner. She also believes that she will not endure any physical injury, economic harm, legal action or personal consequences, or if she does, they will not outweigh the benefits she gains by battering.


Like women who are battered by men, many battered lesbians are ashamed and embarrassed. They feel guilty and often go to great lengths to deny or diminish the battering. They frequently protect their batterer and defend her to those friends who become suspicious and attempt to help.


There can also be confusion about whether a battering has occurred. When a lesbian being battered fights back to defend herself, is it just a mutual fight? Is a lesbian just participating in a fight that `got a bit out of hand' if her battering partner is close in size to her?


According to Hart, lesbians must not conspire with each other to disguise or "trivialize the great danger and destruction in lesbian battering."


Tari Akpodiete, a publisher and film producer, is working on "Cathryn' s Decision," a docu-drama about spousal abuse in lesbian relationships.




Copyright 1993 Herizons, Inc.


Akpodiete, Tari, Opening the Door on Lesbian Violence., Vol. 7, Herizons, 03-01-1993, pp 13.