Lesbian Domestic Violence

Alex Karydi's picture

I remember waking many a nights to my nanny’s (in South Africa it was custom to have a live in maid) screams, her room opposite mine wasmseparated by a small yard.  I witness in the darkness her husband beating her with sticks as thick as a baseball bat. She would be crying, bleeding and bruised, while police officers escort him out. My mother and father gently holding her, cleaning her face and would take her back to her bed where a week later he would be sleeping next to her again. The cycle continuously going, yes I was taught young what a good beating looked like, it was stained in my minds eye like her blood on our cement ground.

Abuse is a pattern of behavior that uses coercion, dominance or isolates the other partner.  It is a form of power that is enforced by one person over the other to gain control within the relationship. There are many kinds of abuse, unfortunately the most often common ones used go unnoticed as they do not leave physical evidence behind.

These are:

  • Physical Abuse – hitting; choking; slapping; burning; shoving; using a weapon; physically restraining; intentional interference with basic needs (e.g. food, medicine, sleep)
  • Isolation: Restricting Freedom – controlling contacts with friends and family, access to information and participation in groups or organizations; locking up in a room / restricting mobility; monitoring telephone calls
  • Psychological & Emotional Abuse – constantly criticizing, ridiculing (self, family, friends, past); trying to humiliate or degrade; lying; undermining self-esteem; misleading someone about the norms and values of the gay/lesbian communities in order to control or exploit them
  • Stalking / Harassing Behavior – following; turning up at workplace or house; parking outside; repeated phone calls or mail to victim and/or family, friends, colleagues
  • Threats & Intimidation – threatening to harm partner, self or others (children, family, friends, pets); threatening to make reports to authorities that jeopardize child custody, immigration or legal status; threatening to disclose HIV status, threatening to reveal sexual orientation to family, friends, neighbors, and/or employers
  • Economic Abuse – controlling or stealing money; fostering dependency; making financial decisions without asking or telling partner
  • Sexual Abuse/Harassment – forcing sex or specific acts, pressuring into unwanted sexual behavior, criticizing performance
  • Property Destruction – destroying mementos, breaking furniture or windows, throwing or smashing objects, trashing clothes or other possessions.

(Source: http://www.musc.edu/vawprevention/lesbianrx/factsheet.shtml)

There are also unfortunately many myths about Lesbian Relationships, such as “Women are not abusive – only men are,” “Lesbians are always equal in relationships.  It is not abuse, it is a relationship struggle,” “Abusive lesbians are more “butch,” larger, apolitical or have social lives that revolve around the bar culture,” “Lesbian violence is caused by drugs, alcohol, stress, childhood abuse,” “Lesbian abusers have been abused/oppressed by men and are therefore not as responsible for what they do,” and “It is easier for a lesbian to leave her abusive partner that it is for a heterosexual woman to leave her abusive partner.”

Myths are a terrible thing as they isolate individuals and keep us from reality, in abuse specifically that no one is immune from the cycle of abuse, just because we are women that does not mean there is equality. Abuse does not have boundaries and can occur despite of race, class, religion, age, political affiliation, lifestyle, or physical attributes. We attempt to always justify the actions of those we love, but in the end there is no excuse for abuse, no matter what the triggers were. Once a partner takes responsibility for the abuse the cycle will change, however that is not always a possibility and the most isolating fact is that leaving an abusive relationship is never easy.

In addition, it is unfortunate, but there are also many differences that separate us from abuse in the straight world that isolates us further and increases our danger. For example, there is very limited amount of services that exist specifically for abused and abusive lesbians.  Lesbians often have little knowledge of the abuse cycle or even how to report incidences of violence to a therapist, police officer or medical personnel or we are met with insensitive staff at shelter or help lines.

Our culture and society still very much homophobic denies that lesbians exist or are even capable of having relationships, let alone acknowledging abusive ones.  Society’s attitude toward homosexuality is such that often it ranges from “that’s not my problem” to “those people are not stable or unhealthy.” We may also be fearful of breaking up with our partner as it confirms our sexual orientation; and that others may not believe the abuse or we could lose friends and support within the lesbian community.

 If you are being abuse, there are things that you can do:

  1. Acknowledge that you are not responsible for others action, therefore you can not be responsible for the abuse.
  2. Violence will not stop by itself. I am sorry to say this but, the violent phases will become more frequent and more sever. You do not have the power to change people, it doesn’t matter how perfect you are it has nothing to do with you.
  3. Speak! Tell someone please. Someone you trust and that will believe you.
  4. Get help. Go Seek professional help from a qualified counselor who is knowledgeable about partner abuse and is lesbian/gay positive. 
  5. You are the only one that has power over you. You can choose and decide what you want from a relationship. You can decide if it is a relationship you want to stay in or leave but, please develop a safety plan first. This should include: a safe place to stay; emergency phone numbers; some money; your own bank account; post office box; and bag of essentials.


We often hear stories of people in bad situation, and we assume that it will never happen to us or someone we love but life has a way of pushing us out of our pink clouds and see the reality of life and the lessons that need to be learnt. I have counseled may victim of domestic violence as well as those who have been the abusers, and from my heart there is only one emotion that I have seen that keeps individuals in dangerous and unfufilling cycles- Shame.

Shame, fear, pride, and anger are the main emotions and feelings we see in abuse. recognize them in yourself so you can move forward and see the clearing of where you need to go.

If you feel your life is in the cycle of domestic violence only you can make the call and get help. This may not be what you expected or the life you planned to live. Call the National Domestic Violence Hot line 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for help and information. You might also consider visiting this website The Safety Zone where you can have help and learn how to insure your abuser is not aware of your internet activities and search for help.

~The Lesbian Guru

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns please feel free to email me at TheLesbianGuru@Gmail.com with ExaminerQ as the title or you can follow me on my Blog http://TheLesbianGuru.com! Are just Join The Lesbian Revolution of Health & Love on http://Twitter.com/TheLesbianGuru or http://Facebook.com/TheFemmeGuru

 Further Reading:

Chesley, Laurie C et al.  (1994). Abuse in Lesbian Relationships: A Handbook of Information and Resources.  Republished as a chapter in “Lesbian Health Guide,” edited by Regan McClure and Annie Vespry.  Toronto: Queer Press.

Island, D and Letellier, P.  (1991). Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them: Battered Gay Men and Domestic Violence.  New York: Haworth Press Inc.

Pharr, S. (1988).  Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism.  Little Rock: Chardon Press.

Lobel, K. (1986).  Naming the Violence.  Seattle: Seal Press.

Sonkin, D.J. and Durphy, M. (1989). Learning to Live Without Violence: A Handbook for Men.  California:  Volcano Press.

Web Resources:

Gay and Lesbian Domestic Violence Bibliography

The Northwest Network

GALE – Gay and Lesbian Educators of BC

List of other links

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I want to do something to

I want to do something to help women who suffer from domestic violence.  I am a little worried that it will be overwhelming and it may scare me a little, but I also know that I have to be strong.  I think everyone should be encouraged to take a part in helping this cause.


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