Domestic Violence in Lesbian Relationships


It is a mistake to assume that all lesbian relationships are based on "femme and butch" pairings, or that an abusive lesbian must be "the masculine one" 

A lesbian relationship can be just as physically violent as a male/female partnership can be 

Homophobia among police often keeps battered lesbians from reaching out to them for assistance 

Support groups specifically for battered lesbians allow lesbians to speak more  freely  and comfortably about their relationship 

Staff of hotlines and shelters for battered women often unwittingly ostracize lesbians by automatically using "he" when referring to the batterer, and not providing literature that includes information for battered lesbians 

Some judges, uneducated about lesbian relationships, refuse to grant protection orders to battered lesbians 



Updated February, 2000

Are There Differences Between
Lesbian and Heterosexual Domestic Violence?

Lesbian relationships involving domestic violence are not about two women "mutually fighting". Domestic violence is about power and control; the abuser's goal is to dominate and disempower the victim. 

There are many factors involved in a victim's inability to leave a battering relationship. As in relationships between straight couples, there is a cycle of behavior that includes periods of abuse as well as periods of love and calm which can lead to confusion about whether the abusive partner is really, in fact, abusive. There are also issues of economic dependency, lack of resources, fear and shame that the survivor must deal with in order to break free from the relationship.

But in a lesbian relationship, there are additional issues that must be faced: manipulation on the part of the abuser who may threaten to "out" her partner if she tries to get help or to flee. Outing is a serious issue in a society that continues to deny gay citizens full rights. A lesbian who is outed to her employers may lose her job. Being outed to friends or family may cause the loss of relationships to people who have been important in her life. The fear of losing her children by court order can also keep an abused lesbian in an unsafe relationship. 

The misconceptions we may hold of male/female battering relationships should not be carried over when we attempt to evaluate a lesbian relationship for domestic violence. Just as male batterers do not have to be physically bigger than their female partners in order to abuse, lesbian batterers are not necessarily bigger, nor are they necessarily more economically independent or part of a more privileged socio-economic class than the partner they abuse. 


Getting Help

Local battered women's hotlines can be a great resource for battered lesbians. You can also call local lesbian/gay hotlines for referrals to hotlines, counselors, therapists and support groups. There is a short bibliography below for additional information. Resources for the Cleveland, Ohio area are available. 

Giving Help

Acknowledging that domestic violence and abuse exist within the lesbian community is the first step towards helping victims and perpetrators of abuse. Oppression of lesbians and gay men within our society often leads lesbians to look to the lesbian community as a safe and protective haven from a hateful and ignorant world- perhaps providing the only sense of family some lesbians and gay men have. This often means that lesbians who batter go unchallenged, and their victims unprotected; indeed, some lesbian batterers may be well known within the feminist community but are able to continue their behavior because others fear being perceived as destroyers of their own community by revealing this "secret". 
Agencies that work with female victims of abuse should educate staff on homophobia as well as lesbian battering. Supreme effort should be placed on making lesbians feel welcome to call the abuse hotline for help or to use local domestic violence shelters safely if necessary. Because the lesbian batterer also has access to women's shelters, staff will need to learn screening practices in order to ensure the victim's safety. Support groups specifically for battered lesbians can provide a more comfortable environment for lesbians because issues of outing and homophobia can be discussed openly among counselors and other group members who have personal experience living as lesbians. Also, facilitators of these support groups will be more attuned to screening out a batterer who may attempt to attend the group in order to make it inaccessible to her partner. 
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