Intimate Partner Violence and Domestic Violence within Same-Sex Relationships

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Intimate  Partner  Violence  and  

Domestic  Violence  within    

Same-­‐‑Sex  Relationships  


    Lee  Martin            

Supervisor'ʹs  name:        Jami  Weinstein  Gender  Studies,  LiU    


Master’s  Programme    

Gender  Studies  –  Intersectionality  and  Change    

Master’s  thesis  15  ECTS  credits    


ISRN:  LIU-­‐‑TEMA  G/GSIC3-­‐‑A—20/003-­‐‑SE    




This thesis seeks to analyze the issue of intimate partner violence (IPV) within female sex relationships in order to uncover how/if it can be related to an invisibility of female same-sex relationships in society at large. By analyzing various articles and academic texts dealing with IPV in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, the hope is to establish some core differences and similarities within the field of IPV research. The analysis will also look at how the notion of the violent female is addressed, and how other characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age and ableness compound in the narratives of IPV in female same-sex relationships. The analysis will be carried out with the use of domestic violence theory through an ecological model which allows all environments an individual inhabits to be analyzed. Intersectionality alongside a post-colonial and queerfeminist approach will also be applied in the qualitative text analysis of the material. Numerous methods and explanations are put forward in the literature in order to explain IPV, in hetero and homo relationships. Lacking in the discussion is the image of the female abuser while also missing discussions on other intersecting identity markers.

Key words: intimate partner violence, IPV, domestic violence, domestic abuse, lesbian, intersectionality                            




First off, I would like to thank my supervisor Jami Weinstein, who has offered me guidance and support throughout my writing process. Our conversations have greatly helped me in focusing my research while also expanding and broadening my field of vision in terms of the topic. I would also like to thank my family, my partner and my friends who have patiently listened to me as I have talked at them trying to resolve how and what to write about. They have also offered me immense support and encouragement throughout.



Table of Contents

1.   INTRODUCTION  ...  1  

1.1  AIM  &  RESEARCH  QUESTIONS  ...  2  

2.   PREVIOUS RESEARCH  ...  2  


4.   BACKGROUND & CONTEXT  ...  10  

5.   MATERIAL & METHOD  ...  14  

7.   ANALYSIS  ...  16  





7.5  THE  VIOLENT  FEMALE...  32   7.6  INTERSECTIONALITY...  36   8.   CONCLUSION  ...  39   9. REFERENCES  ...  42    





1.  Introduction


“Are lesbians invisible because they’re women?” asks Sophie Wilkinson in her Stylist article, further stating that compared to gay men, lesbians are still relatively invisible in today’s society (Wilkinson, 2014). Research into intimate partner violence (IPV) is a fairly established field. However, the main focus has been on heterosexual couples, with a gender normative narrative of the male as the aggressor and the female as the survivor. This heteronormative approach has been questioned and more recent studies have looked at IPV within same-sex relationships. However, we can see that within the field of research of IPV there exists a marginalization of female same-sex relationships (Walters, 2009). Landwehr emphasizes the issue of power dynamics, where the idea that a woman can’t hold societal power over her partner like a man is still prevalent and is one reason to why the invisibility of female same-sex relationships persists (2014).

Carmen Maria Machado’s book In the Dream House centers around her experiences of being in an abusive relationship with a former partner. She writes about her conflicted feelings of talking about being abused by another woman, due to the fear of further

stigmatizing the lesbian community1. By identifying as ‘racially ambiguous’ Machado also

writes about how the issue of race or ethnic background plays a role in how victims of abuse within same-sex relationships are treated when coming forth with their stories (Machado, 2019).

More current research has highlighted the importance of including same-sex relationships when it comes to IPV, where most of the focus has been on the survivor. In order to expand upon our understanding of IPV within female same-sex relationships, I propose looking at why discussions about the female abuser has been lacking within the research, while also delving deeper into how issues of invisibility of same-sex relationships can be connected to questions of invisibility in society and how this is further problematized by intersecting identity categories and power dynamics.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. At the conception of this thesis the global Corona pandemic had yet to hit Europe in the way it has. What has become evident during this pandemic is how it affects everyone in different ways. Many countries have been placed under lockdown by their governments, allowing only essential workers to continue their day      


jobs. This means many individuals who live or experience domestic violence or IPV are forced to stay at home with their abuser. This has been acknowledged by the media and services, however the narrative is again one of a stereotypical heteronormative one, viewing the abuse as male-female. How we address and frame issues have an impact on who is allowed to seek help, and who will be helped.

1.1 Aim & Research Questions

The aim of this thesis is to look at intimate partner violence (IPV) within female same-sex relationships in relation to the larger question of invisibility of female same-sex relationships in society at large. I also intend to look at similarities and differences between IPV in

homosexual and heterosexual relationships, while also looking at the issue of intersectionality and the violent female. With this in mind, the below research questions aim to focus the thesis:

1.   How does research of IPV understand gender? How does it tackle the possibility of women as abusers?

2.   How does research of IPV differ between homosexual and heterosexual relationships? 3.   How might an intersectional perspective, including categories such as age, race,

ethnicity and ability, nuance analysis within IPV research?

4.   How might IPV research benefit from a deeper understanding of stereotypes of gender and violence?

2.  Previous Research


Research into domestic violence can be said to have started in the 1970’s when feminists managed to transform the narrative of domestic violence from something private into a public issue. This meant placing the issue on the agenda of local, national and international

governments and in the United Kingdom this also meant the establishment of numerous refuges, support services and research into the subject (Radford & Harne, 2008). In his chapter on a gender inclusive approach to domestic violence, Hamel notes that the issue of domestic violence, or IPV, is more and more being seen as a human problem rather than a gender problem. Rather than researching if women are as abusive as men, researchers are looking at to what extent and how. In arguing that both women and men can be victims and


perpetrators of IPV, Hamel states that although patriarchal arguments are not irrelevant, they are insufficient in their ability to explain IPV and offer suggestions of treatments (Hamel, 2006). Similarly, Noller and Robillard discuss the issue of women and violence stating that there is considerable evidence that females can be as violent as men. In the case of IPV, they raise the issue of sampling differences in statistics when it comes to abused women, where there may be a difference due to which population is analyzed. Abuse perpetrated mainly by men is most often found within shelter and crime data whereas situational violence is more often found to be mutual, where both partners in a couple engage in violent behavior (2006). In her chapter about partner violence typologies, Graham-Kevan writes that using biological sex as a criteria for the labels ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’ can distort research findings while also deterring women who require assistance from seeking help. This could result in women who do not fit the ‘victim’ narrative not being given legal defense to their own violence as they do not fit the ‘abused woman’ image. Graham-Kevan argues that recent research suggests that partner aggression should be viewed as a human issue rather than a male issue and that treatment plans should focus on the nature of physical aggression rather than on the gender of the perpetrator and victim (2006).

In stark contrast to the above authors, Radford and Harne discuss domestic violence as a gender specific issue, noting the Women’s Aid definition; “Crime statistics and research both show that domestic violence is gender specific (i.e. most commonly experienced by women and perpetrated by men) and that many women can experience domestic violence regardless of race, ethnic or religious group, class, disability or lifestyle.” (Radford & Harne, 2008: 4) The authors discuss the Duluth Domestic Violence Intervention Project and their representation of domestic violence with a wheel of power and control. The center of the wheel represents the gendered nature of the violence in highlighting how traditional power relations of male dominance in many societies has facilitated an easier choice for men to turn to violence than women, while also enabling men to utilize a range of controlling strategies that are not readily available to women. They further discuss diversity of women’s

experiences of IPV and how power structures around race, ethnicity, economics, class, disability, age and sexuality interact with the structures of patriarchy in the construction of discrimination and prejudice in society at large. Radford and Harne also discuss violence in lesbian relationships and note that there is a lack of knowledge when it comes to the extent of domestic violence in lesbian relationships and also a lack of understanding regarding the differences between IPV in lesbian and heterosexual relationships. This could in part be due to the much broader definition of what constitutes domestic violence when it comes to lesbian


relationships, which the authors note can lead to exaggerated claims that IPV within lesbian relationships is highly prevalent (Radford & Harne, 2008).

In their report from 2006, Donovan et. al. relay the most important findings following research commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK on same-sex domestic abuse. The study was the first in the UK to directly compare domestic abuse in homosexual and heterosexual relationships. In doing so, the aim was to increase knowledge and understanding of domestic abuse in same-sex relationships and look at similarities and differences of domestic abuse across homosexual and heterosexual relationships. The report notes that the Government acknowledges that domestic violence does occur in same-sex relationships and that definitions and policies are beginning to reflect this. The research carried out between January 2005 and November 2006 included a UK-wide survey of domestic abuse in same-sex relationships including questionnaires, focus groups and semi-structured interviews. The authors note the methodological difficulties in researching

domestic violence in same-sex relationships due to the sensitivity of the issue and the ‘hidden’ nature of the LGBT population in the UK, which means it is not possible to recruit a

representative sample. In their concluding remarks the authors state that domestic abuse within same-sex relationships is a sizeable problem and is experienced in very similar ways by individuals in lesbian and male gay relationships and that any differences in experiences reflect gender norms. Results also suggested that domestic abuse may not be recognized as such by many individuals in same-sex relationships. This could be because of the high prevalence of emotional and sexual abuse rather than physical abuse. When it comes to reporting domestic abuse, the research showed that most survivors of domestic abuse within same-sex relationships do not report the abuse to public agencies. The report concludes with a few recommendations stating a need to raise awareness about domestic abuse in same-sex relationships amongst public agencies (Donovan et. al, 2006).

Research into domestic violence has also been researched and discussed within organizations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Within UNICEF and UNIFEM the main focus has been on men’s violence towards women and children. They note the fact that domestic violence is a human right’s violation and strongly advocate for changes in attitudes, societal structures and legal measures in order to end violence towards women (UNICEF, 2000 & UNIFEM, 2003). In a brief based on a national survey on IPV and sexual violence from 2015 the CDC highlights the issue of IPV and sexual abuse by relaying statistics on the number of women and men who have been


sexually abused, stalked and/or experienced IPV. The report does not state the gender of the abuser, but the numbers given, amongst both males and females, clearly show the enormity of the issue irrespective of gender (CDC, 2018). Prior to this more extensive survey, the CDC in 2010 produced an overview of 2010 findings on victimization by sexual orientation. The report notes that little is known about the prevalence of IPV, sexual violence and stalking within the LGB community. The survey found that sexual minority respondents had reported levels of IPV to the same extent or higher than heterosexuals. It was also found that bisexual women were disproportionately impacted, where their experiences of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner was significantly higher during their lifetime than when compared to lesbian and heterosexual women (CDC, 2010).

In her dissertation on lesbian partner violence Walters focuses on studying the

interconnections between experiences of lesbian IPV, the communities’ beliefs concerning IPV and available shelter services. Walters states that the domestic violence movement has helped create a dichotomous fallacy that IPV is highly gendered in the sense that men are the abusers and women are the abused. Instead of reiterating the common notion that men, as considered masculine, are dominant and women, as feminine, are weak and vulnerable, Walters notes that power and control as exercised in IPV is committed by both males and females. The focus of the study lies in exploring three different levels of social reality that affect lesbian survivors of IPV; personal life stories of survivors, attitudes and beliefs of lesbians within the lesbian community and policies and procedures of two large domestic violence shelters. By utilizing an ecological theoretical model, Walters aims to understand the relationship between individuals, small and large groups and social structures. Walters

concludes that IPV within lesbian relationships is a complex and complicated issue and argues that any area relating to the study of IPV in lesbian relationships requires further research (2009).

Rollé et. al. relate findings from their review of various psychological literature that address IPV within same-sex relationships, focusing on treatments for both survivor and abuser. They further outline areas in which future research is needed and conclude that IPV within the LGB community is still a partially unknown issue (2018). With regards to violent women in general, there has been an increase in literature in more recent times. One such article is Dietz and Jasinki’s research into female-perpetrated violence and aggression and the relation this has with gender identity. Via a questionnaire, 252 women at a United States university answered questions relating to their self-endorsed masculine and feminine


which the participants were asked, were questions of sexual orientation, with 3.2% stating they were in a homosexual relationship (Dietz & Jasinki, 2003). In a 2001 article Miller et. al. sought to investigate predictors of domestic violence in lesbian relationships. The authors note that therapists and researchers have mainly focused on incidences and types of physical abuse in lesbian relationships. In their research respondents filled out surveys measuring physical violence, physical aggression and relational and personality variables. Their findings suggested that physical aggression was best predicted by fusion, self-esteem and

independence. Control seemed to be the most important predictor when it came to physical violence (Miller, et. al., 2001).

In their 2009 article, Murray and Mobley carried out a systematic review of empirical research of IPV in same-sex relationships, which they call SSIPV (same-sex intimate partner violence), in order to establish the strengths and weaknesses of the various empirical studies. Their findings concluded that some of the strengths of the research examined included using appropriate statistical analysis, clarification of type of abuse measured and appropriate conclusions drawn from the results. Some of the weaknesses found included failure to use representative samples, failing to specify timing of data collection and not describing the exclusion criteria for study participation. The authors do acknowledge a limitation in their study in the fact that they excluded all qualitative research studies and further research into the strength and weaknesses of such studies is needed. One suggestion the authors offer, is to use creative strategies in trying to recruit representative samples. In relation to this they encourage researchers to expand demographic questionnaires to include other characteristics such as age, ethnic background, self-reported sexual orientation, education level, employment status and so forth. By including these characteristics, the researcher can use statistical

techniques to compare their samples to the general demographic profile of the wider LGBT population (Murray & Mobley, 2009).

As the above demonstrates, research into IPV within same-sex relationships has increased in more recent times, but as Walters notes, there are still vast gaps in the research. The focus of this thesis, in looking at comparisons of IPV within same-sex and heterosexual

relationships will build on existing knowledge as well as expand upon this in looking at how other identity categories are incorporated or not in the discussion. By analyzing how the female abuser is described, or a lack thereof, the discussion of viewing females as the abusers is addressed and how this may be linked to an overall invisibility of female same-sex


3.  Theoretical Approaches


In thinking about theoretical approaches to the subject, I have tried to keep Davis’ discussion on how we use theories in mind. Davis argues that feminist theory has turned into a

“translation industry” where there is an issue in how feminist theory is being “done”, where theories need to be seen as resources to help us tell our own stories rather than utilized as “performing” the theories of others (2014).

In order to answer the proposed research questions the theory of domestic violence will be incorporated in the analysis to see how this relates to same-sex relationships and the wider invisibility of female same-sex relationships. Walters writes that within a more

traditional academic sense, domestic violence has been analyzed using single causal models. The three general classifications of causal theories are: Individual Models, Sociological Models and Socio-structural Models. The Individual Models have mainly focused on the characteristics of the abuser and the survivor in order to uncover the principle cause of violence mainly including elements of self-control and self-esteem, mental illness, criminal behavior and substance abuse. In focusing on the agency of the individual, it misses the structural issues which contribute to IPV. The Sociological Model places an emphasis on the family as an institution and looks at stressors that are specifically related to the family and how these can result in violence between partners. Some examples of these stressors are economic status, race, sexuality, income, education, religion and notions about traditional gender roles. Walters notes that this model fails in connecting these stressors in an

intersectional way while also often missing to include structural contexts in the analysis (2009). The last model is a feminist model which Walters notes has been the most recognized. The main focus of this model is related to gender and power, where patriarchy is evident in the legal system, through law makers and law enforcers, continually perpetuating the gender power imbalance of IPV. However, it has also been criticized for using a narrow definition of domestic violence, along with a reification of traditional gender roles (2009).

Walters argues that the complexity of domestic violence requires more than a single causal model, where a multi-system approach would be more useful and proposes an

ecological model. The ecological model has been used extensively in research on child abuse and to some degree by battering theorists, but it has not been widely utilized by activists, academics or sociologists. Walters further notes that an ecological model of domestic violence allows for a more holistic approach to IPV and argues that IPV is a complex phenomenon when occurring within heterosexual relationships, but that it is further


complicated when it occurs within any marginalized or minority groups such as sexual, ethnic, racial minorities or amongst the elderly (Walters, 2009).

In order to analyze IPV within lesbian relationships Walters has thus constructed a theoretical model which addresses this specifically by building on the foundational elements of ecological theory and constructing a model with four circles, each representing an

environment that individuals occupy; small informal groups, large formal groups, social structures and social institutions. The model aims to “represent the issues of each exclusive environment, the interplay between the environments and the affects they have on the individual.” (Walters, 2009: 38) The innermost circle represents the individual, where the individuals’ personal history, face to face interactions and personal experiences reside. The next circle represents the small informal groups, which can be a group of friends, the LGBT community, services or domestic violence shelters. Within female same-sex relationships Walters notes that the small informal groups include groups of friends of the female survivor, abuser or their common group of friends. The third circle is the large formal groups which is represented by domestic violence services, religious/civic organizations and law enforcement. The outer ring represents social structures, meaning the context in which all of the inner circles exist and function. Walters exemplifies these contexts as patriarchy and heterosexism (Walters, 2009). By looking at the differing groups in the varying environments in the ecological model and understanding the interplay between them, we can perhaps try and better understand the complicated space in which female same-sex IPV resides.

In order to look at how discussions of how other identity categories such as race, ethnicity, age, ability and so forth play into the narratives of IPV within same-sex

relationships an intersectional approach will be applied to the analysis. A broad umbrella-like definition will be utilized, due to its ability to “analyze how historically specific kinds of power differentials and/or constraining normativities, based on discursively, institutionally, and/or structurally constructed sociocultural categorizations such as gender, ethnicity, race, class, sexuality, age/generation, dis/ability, nationality, mother tongue and so on, interact, and in so doing produce different kinds of societal inequalities and unjust social relations.”

(Lykke, 2010: 50) In this sense the theory is seen as an open-ended framework or nodal point, rather than a theory with fixed categories (Lykke, 2011). Carastathis highlights the fact that according to Crenshaw intersectionality was a “provisional concept” where the ultimate goal is to disrupt the habit of viewing race and gender as mutually exclusive or separable

categories (2019). Lykke further argues in accordance with Barad that the term ‘inter-act’ should be replaced with ‘intra-act’ as this signifies an interplay between non-bounded


phenomena, rather than bounded entities. In this sense these non-bounded phenomena are able to interpenetrate each other and be mutually transformed in this interplay (2011).

Machado notes the importance of ethnicity and race in connection with gender and sexuality when speaking of IPV in same-sex relationships (2019). As such, an anti-racist and postcolonial feminism is fruitful in the analysis. These feminisms argue that feminist theory, analysis and politics need to recognize the importance of global hegemonies, social

subordinations and exclusion in the productions of power differentials amongst varying groups of women (Lykke, 2010). Stemming from these feminisms. discussions about constructions of whiteness as a normative categorization have arisen. This branch can be viewed as a means to critically look at how power differentials, both racialized and gendered, are produced and reproduced. Included should also be an analysis of how class, normative heterosexuality and nationalism all interact to support and sustain these processes (Lykke, 2010). In a similar vein Levine-Rasky argues for viewing intersectionality in connection with whiteness and middle-classness, which she states is rarely done. According to Levine-Rasky, domination is deeply embedded in intersectionality theory which compels studying of middle-classness and whiteness. The issue of power is thus important and should be analyzed not as who has power, but how power is practiced in order to create political and social advantage. With regards to whiteness and middle-classness they should not be analyzed as separate entities, as this would obscure questions of the other category and the ways in which they interact in relation to power. Both whiteness and middle-classness can be understood in relation to ‘social positioning’, which can be seen as the process of articulating, understanding and interacting with these positions. Levine-Rasky concludes by stating that neglecting

notions of domination as intersectional will only reproduce inequality (2011).

Lesbian and queerfeminism argue that by exclusively focusing on heterosexual women and their interests and problems, the hegemony of heterosexuality is reinforced with continuing stigmatization of homosexual and queer relations, while often making lesbian relations invisible (Lykke, 2010). This follows closely with what Machado expresses in her book, in noting that many individuals in female same-sex relationships are hesitant to come forward about IPV as they face an upward climb in even explaining their relationships not to mention a reluctance in further stigmatizing same-sex relationships (2019). Rollé et. al. echo this in their discussion about silence surrounding violence in same-sex relationships. They note that the feminist community has been averse to discussing the phenomenon of IPV in lesbian relationships as this may increase a negative reaction to feminism (2018). Lykke further notes that lesbian and queerfeminism are critical of the way in which the focus within


homosexual and queer theory is on gay men, which implicitly reaffirms a heteronormative tendency of making lesbian relationships invisible (2010).

In the context of same-sex relationships Hester and Donovan discuss the applicability of “gender and power” analyses. One argument for the inclusion of this analysis notes that it needs to be expanded to not just focus on gender in same-sex relationships, but also to look at discrimination and location linked to sexuality, race and ethnicity. On the other side is the argument that a “power and gender” model does not apply to IPV in all same-sex

relationships and the analysis should instead include a gender-neutral and individual psychological model. Within this discussion, Hester and Donovan argue for a feminist epistemological approach which can be used to question these issues of power, gender and sexuality. Such an approach would also account for intersections of potential inequalities or differences, for example gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, disability, class and age (2009).

In order to understand how the female abuser of IPV in female same-sex relationships are discussed or analyzed it is worth noting how violent females are viewed. Seal states that violent females do not fit into society’s notion of women and that they disrupt the power structure which has subordinated them. This is especially true if they appear to act rationally and purposefully (2010). What is considered feminine or masculine is rooted in the social rather than in the biological and as such is determined by members of society. Within Western culture it can be argued that men are typically seen as more aggressive and competitive

whereas women are often seen as passive and cooperative (Stets & Burke, 2000).

4.  Background & Context


In a 2003 report, UNIFEM reported that in the United Kingdom 40% of all homicide victims are killed by their intimate partners. The Council of Europe in 2002 declared violence against women a major cause of death and disability for women between the ages of 16 to 44, calling it a public health emergency. The health-related costs of rape, physical assault, stalking and

homicide by intimate partners in the US amounts to more than $ 5.8 billion a year (UNIFEM,


As mentioned above, research into domestic violence saw an upsurge in the 1970’s when feminists managed to transform the narrative of domestic violence from a private matter into a public issue (Radford & Harne, 2008). Grassroots activism facilitated organized


understanding of violence against women has since advanced dramatically in the past decades (UNIFEM, 2003). However, the movement on domestic violence has also been limited. One area in which it has been lacking pertains to instances of domestic violence in lesbian relationships, which has been mostly ignored in both academic analysis and within the

establishment of social services for survivors of domestic violence. Miller et. al. note that this is ironic, as many founders of the battered women’s movement were lesbians, but the issue of abuse between women remains deeply buried, ignored or denied by lesbians and heterosexual women alike (2001). In order to try to overcome this denial, proponents for abused lesbians have focused on demonstrating similarities between homosexual and heterosexual domestic violence. In doing so, the aim has been to legitimize domestic violence as “real” abuse and thus validate the experiences of the survivors. It has been argued that as a next step, researchers need to investigate the specificity of lesbian abuse in order to highlight it as a fefemale problem so that the established understandings of domestic violence as a male-female problem can be challenged (Miller, et. al., 2001).

4.1 Definitions

The term domestic violence has been defined in many different ways since it moved from a private matter to a public one and became a political issue. In order to understand the complexity of the issue, a few examples of definitions will follow. In 2000 UNICEF noted that there was no one universally accepted definition of violence against women. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993) defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical or psychological harm or suffering to women” (UNICEF, 2000). In the same article, UNICEF defines domestic violence as violence perpetrated by any intimate partner and/or family member that is manifested through physical, sexual, psychological and/or economic abuse (UNICEF, 2000). UNIFEM note that during the last decade gender-based violence has become a visible issue and is increasingly seen as a violation of human rights, as a public health problem and as a crime against women and society. By positioning gender-based violence as a human right’s issue, advocates have been able to pressure governments to follow through on their obligations under international law to prevent and punish. In 2003 UNIFEM reported that 45 nations had laws that explicitly prohibited domestic violence and 21 countries were in the process of drafting new laws to the same end (UNIFEM, 2003).

Women’s Aid, a national organization in the UK, defines domestic abuse as “an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent


behavior, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.” (Women’s Aid) They further note that the vast majority of cases are experienced by women and perpetrated by men. The abuse can include, but is not limited to; coercive control, psychological and/or emotional abuse, physical or sexual abuse, financial or economic abuse, harassment and stalking, online or digital abuse (Women’s Aid). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey in the US included four types of intimate partner violence in their report, which can be seen as an indication of a definition of IPV. These four types included sexual violence, physical violence, stalking and psychological violence. The report also defines what they mean by intimate partner which is described as a “romantic or sexual partner and includes spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, people with whom they dated, were seeing or “hooked up”.” (CDC, 2018).

In their discussion on lesbian battering, Miller et. al. note that like the term domestic abuse, lesbian battering covers a wide range of abuse that may include verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, economic and other types of violence carried out by an intimate partner or individual (2001). Radford and Harne write that the definition of domestic violence in the context of lesbian relationships is much broader than what is usually used when speaking of domestic violence in heterosexual relationships. These extended definitions often include instances of ‘disrespectful treatment’ or ‘manipulative behavior’, without linking them to other strategies of control and power. This expansion of definitions renders them virtually meaningless according to the authors, who argue that disrespect and

manipulative behavior can occur in most intimate relationships (2008). It is also important to highlight that the usage of the word ‘domestic’ does not signify a location where the violence must take place but should rather be seen as a relational element. Domestic violence does often occur in the home, but it can also take place in the streets, bus stops, bars or even in the form of road traffic accidents. The relationship between the intimate partners can also vary, to include parties living together, being married or cohabitating or living in three-generational extended families (Radford & Harne, 2008). The problem of defining domestic abuse or IPV clearly demonstrates the complexity of the issue and how this is related to discussions about IPV in same-sex relationships. As this section has highlighted, there is a definitional issue when it comes to domestic violence, domestic abuse and IPV. The texts analyzed in this thesis all use variations of these terms and for this reason, they will be used interchangeably. I aim to take lead from the terminology the article discussed utilizes in order to stay true to the authors usage of their preferred term, but variations may be used to avoid repetition.


4.2 Legal realm

In their analysis of legal responses to domestic violence, Radford and Harne track legal reforms in the UK back to changes in divorce, legal earnings and separation laws. Feminists

in the 19th century understood how difficult it was for women to escape a violent marriage

without monetary means. This saw the first petition on the reform of property laws in 1856 mention ‘wife-beating’ as one reason that married women should be allowed to keep their

own earnings. Jumping forward to the 20th century, further amendments to divorce laws have

been made, such as the Matrimonial Causes Act 1923, which equalized the grounds of which both women and men were allowed to apply for divorce. During the 1970’s, when domestic violence was being highlighted as a societal issue, two interconnected strands emerged. One strand, the academic one, meant an engagement in feminist research looking into the nature and extent of domestic and sexual violence and how the law was complicit in these issues by a failure to act. The second strand, an activist one, was led by organizations campaigning for the acknowledgement that violence against women was a crime and should be treated as such (Radford & Harne, 2008).

As the aim to end violence against women has increased, a lot of focus has been placed on legal reforms. The Rome Statute within the International Criminal Court (ICC) defines rape and other gender-based violence as constituent acts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Although legal reforms such as these are a positive step in the right direction,

UNIFEM highlights the fact that gender bias within the entire criminal justice system must be addressed in order for any real change to happen. These efforts include creating specific women’s police stations, sexual crime units and educating health-care providers on how to collect forensic evidence in a competent yet sensitive manner. Many countries do have some form of legislation concerning violence against women, mainly against domestic violence. In 2003 only 16 nations had specific legislation referring to sexual assault. Despite progress, many women are still victims under patriarchal societies and rule which afford them few, if any, rights (UNIFEM, 2003). The still present male dominance within the criminal justice system is evidenced by who, considering gender, are the law makers. According to a gender breakdown of the judiciary in England and Wales male dominance still persists in law making, with only 20% female district judges (magistrates) and only 7% female high court judges (Radford & Harne, 2008). The continuing male dominance within the criminal justice system, alongside the issues of defining domestic abuse and IPV, highlight the importance of shining a light on these issues in relation to marginalized groups who have already been side-lined by patriarchal societies.



5.  Material & Method


The material analyzed in this thesis will in part comprise of online media articles discussing the issue of IPV, both within heterosexual and homosexual relationships. By looking at both, it is interesting to note how they are written and if they also consider other identity markers than sexuality as bearing any significance with regards to IPV. Machado notes that narratives about abuse in queer relationships are very difficult to find. This is especially true for

accounts that do not result in extreme violence (2019). Therefore, the main focus will be on academic texts such as articles and books wherein IPV and domestic violence are discussed and analyzed. By analyzing these types of literature, the aim is to gain an understanding of

how IPV within female same-sex relationships are discussed and treated and compared to

male same-sex relationships and heterosexual relationships. Due to constraints of time and space, I acknowledge that not all literature on the subject can be analyzed and thus certain articles or texts may be missed which would be valuable to the analysis. However, by looking at numerous and varied sources I aim to demonstrate a trend or phenomenon within the narrative of the discourse surrounding female same-sex relationships and through this draw some tentative lines to why there is a general invisibility of lesbian relationships in society and even more so when considering other intersecting identity markers and also try to uncover

how the issue of IPV in female same-sex relationships are analyzed and how this may be

related to issues of research into the area. Due to language knowledge, the material used will be from English speaking countries.

In order to uncover how the issue of IPV in female same-sex relationships is discussed and analyzed the method of qualitative text analysis will be utilized. In line with Lykke’s discussion on postmodern feminist methodology an analysis in the postmodern feminist sense is critical of the fixed categories like woman/man, heterosexual/homosexual and so on. This approach is well aligned with an intersectional theoretical approach, as the postmodern feminist research is often “methodologically guided by a tendency to multiply gender in its intersections with other sociocultural categorizations, or to abandon predetermined categories altogether in favor of open ones” (Lykke, 2010: 148). Lykke further states the importance of discourse, narratives and language, where the subjects are not considered to carry ‘authentic’ experiences, but instead these are constructed discursively and narratively, where

autobiographical accounts often are central. The focus often lies in contextually specified stories where ‘reality’ is constructed by language and discourses. In relation to the question of


power and resistance, the postmodern feminist approach looks at ways in which power is “performed as a decentralized, localized, discursively and institutionally normalizing process, and which also productively generates various and multiple locals forms of resistance.” (Lykke, 2010: 149) By utilizing this approach, the aim is to do exactly that; to look at how power has been created and how this has created a ‘normal’ in which discussions about IPV in female same-sex relationships are not a part of, or only linger on the outskirts of. In the same way the qualitative text analysis aims to look at both the manifest and latent message of the text and by carrying out a thorough reading, the parts, the whole and the context is analyzed (Esaiasson et. al., 2012). By utilizing the method of qualitative text-analysis the aim of the postmodern feminist methodology is reached, where the research is often carried out by linguistic experiments and an exploration of narratives in order to critique the master narrative of hegemony and uncover differing approaches to analyzing resistance and subjective agency that are non-essentializing (Lykke, 2010).


6.  Ethics

Hester and Donovan note the importance of ethics within feminist research, stating that the utilization of a covert or overt approach needs to be considered (2009). Lykke notes that within the postmodern framework there is no final truth about good/bad/morally correct and so forth. A lack of ambiguity and universalism, as argued within the postmodern feminist ethics, will lead to the exclusion of diversity and the confirming of the logic of the Same (2010).

Card argues for a more inclusive feminist ethics, where researchers should discard the myth that females are all innocent and instead include the fact that females are not always “able to exercise free choice as to how we would act for the good” (Shildrick, 2001: 237). Furthermore, within feminist ethics, discussions about moral decisions and judgements of responsibility have not been given enough space to allow for the intricacies and complications of their true nature. Shildrick writes that within Holocaust and trauma studies, an area highly researched by feminists, the issue of evil has not gained much traction within feminist ethics (2001). In line with this, Zoloth notes that without a theory and understanding of evil, feminist philosophy is unable to understand or interpret the world. Zoloth further states that the

discourse surrounding issues of evil is the least developed within feminist philosophy and feminist theory (2004). Parkins further claims that postfeminist texts fail in adequately coming to terms with contradictions within feminism and argues that a feminist ethics, by


situating the negotiation of female agency and autonomy, could offer a way out of unhelpful discussions about personal choice, morality and politics (1999). In line with these authors, this thesis aims to discuss the issue of violent women, the perception of them and why this is rarely acknowledged or discussed in relation to IPV in female same-sex relationships.

By carrying out a qualitative text analysis on articles, books and other already published literature there are no ethical implications in relation to these texts. Any stories used or analyzed would not be for the purpose of calling out any one individual, but rather to highlight the phenomenon being analyzed. As the method utilized is a qualitative one, based on the subjective analysis of the author, it is important to note an awareness of my own standpoint in relation to the analyzed material (Stoetzler & Yuval-Davis, 2002).    

7.  Analysis


7.1 Domestic Violence/Domestic Abuse/Intimate Partner Violence

As discussed above, definitions of domestic abuse or IPV are varied and these variations can be one reason why this subject is such a contested and delicate one. In talking about sexual violence as a form of domestic violence Radford and Harne relate findings from The British

Crime Survey 2001 (BCS) which asked women who had experienced rape in an intimate

relationship how they would describe the experience. Only 28% of the respondents named their experiences as ‘rape’, with 20% selecting ‘sexual assault’, 23% ‘forced sex’, 18% ‘sexual abuse’ and 12% not choosing any of these options, selecting ‘something else’. Psychological or emotional violence are also often included in definitions of domestic

violence and have been reported as the hardest forms of violence to bear. Physical and sexual violence should also be seen in relation to psychological violence, as they can often be reflected in depression, anxiety, eating and sleeping disorders. Various controlling tactics are often used in order to keep a victim in the violent relationship, these can include threats, objectification, degradation, deprivation, distortion of subject reality and an overburden of responsibility. Psychological and emotional violence are notoriously difficult to pinpoint or name as they can be very pervasive and continual in a relationship. This adds to difficulties in reporting such behavior to the police or seeking help. Research from 1990 showed that on average women experience 35 incidents before reporting to the authorities or services (Radford & Harne, 2008).


As there is no one universal definition of domestic abuse or IPV, studies need to be very clear in their definitions. Radford and Harne offer criticism of the 2001 BCS where women and men were separately counted according to their reports of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. However, all of these crimes can take place within the context of domestic violence and the results from the survey were not able to be distinguished as to if all of the assaults were carried out by the same perpetrator that was also domestically violent (2008). Donovan and Hester also discuss the difference in definitions of domestic violence and note how this may impact on the public understanding of the issue. They state that the public understanding of domestic violence places it within heterosexual relationships and within a gendered dynamic. When comparing the definitions of the UK Home Office and Women’s Aid, they note that the Home Office definition focuses on an incident-based understanding which makes sense from a criminal justice perspective. The authors state that this definition makes it difficult for other behaviors than sexual and physical to be included. The incident-based approach also constructs a narrative of what is characterized as family violence by researchers who utilize the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) survey instrument. Research utilizing this scale on random populations often report a high prevalence of violence in heterosexual couples where the violence is used equally by both women and men. Criticism of this approach notes that it ignores the differing impact of violence on heterosexual women and men, where women experience more severe and long-lasting impacts at the hands of men. Further there is an underreporting of violence by men and women over-reporting their own violence. In contrast proponents of the Women’s Aid definition argue that a focus on physical violence is misleading as the determining characteristic of domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors by the perpetrator with an aim to exert power and control over the other party (Donovan & Hester, 2010).

Radford and Harne discuss domestic violence in relation to the wheel of power and control as represented by the Duluth Domestic Violence Intervention Project. The middle of the wheel illustrates the gendered nature of domestic violence by highlighting how traditional power relations of male dominated societies make violence much more accessible to males, while also facilitating the use of various controlling strategies for them. The same options are rarely available to women. The wheel should not be seen as complete or exhaustive, but rather as illustrative of examples of power and control utilized in domestic violence (2008). As mentioned the center of the wheel represents power. The eight slices represent using intimidation, using emotional control, using isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming, using children, using male privilege, using economic abuse and using coercion and threats.


The outermost ring reads ‘Physical Violence Sexual’ (Domestic Violence Intervention Project). By identifying power and control as the defining features of domestic violence, terms like intimate terrorism and coercive control are useful in facilitating discussions on domestic violence. These terms help in moving away from a focus on separate incidents of violence and rather shines a light on the cumulative patterns of behaviors by perpetrators and how the impact transcends boundaries drawn by sexuality and gender. Donovan and Hester argue that there are two core rules in domestic violence. The first being that the relationship is on the perpetrator’s terms and for them and the second rule is that the abused party is

responsible for the emotional care of the relationship and the perpetrator (2010). Radford and Harne also state that domestic violence can be considered a hate crime by the police. This is because the utilization of power and violence has parallels in ways in which other groups with power are able to commit hate crimes against other less powerful groups, for example due to homophobia or racism (2008). In the concluding remarks from Donovan and Hester’s study, they argue that further work needs to be done with regards to framing policy and practice in order to re-define what domestic violence means. In doing so, violence in same-sex

relationships could be recognized and articulated as domestic violence. Power and control need to be emphasized in order to allow for a range of behaviors to be identified as

establishing rules within the relationship (2010).

7.2 IPV in Heterosexual Relationships

UNICEF writes that domestic violence in most cases is perpetrated by men against women and although women can also be violent, their actions only amount to a small percentage of domestic violence. The organization further notes that data on the prevalence of violence against women is not only considered to be conservative, but also unreliable. Estimates of physical violence report that 20-50% of women from country to country have experienced domestic violence. For example, the UK reports that 25% of a random sample of women from one district reported that they had been punched or slapped by an intimate partner or ex-partner in their lifetime. Similarly, in a nationally representative sample of women in the US, 28% reported at least one episode of physical violence by their partner (UNICEF, 2000). In 2003 UNIFEM reported that 40% of all female homicide victims in the UK was at the hand of their intimate partners. They further argue that it is difficult to know if women experience more violence in some countries than in others due to a lack of proper research (2003).


One issue with studies of domestic violence and IPV is that the context is often overlooked. In a qualitative study where 100 heterosexual couples in the UK were asked about domestic violence, results showed that rates of incidents were similar between men and women. However, when the partners were asked about the context and the impact of the violence separately, it was shown that apart from 3 cases, women’s use of violence were one off acts, for example a slap or throwing of an object and was often an act of self-defense. In contrast, all of the interviewed men had used ‘threatening violence’, described as a

combination of repeated physical attacks, intimidation and humiliation of their partners (Radford & Harne, 2008). Donovan and Hester make the same argument when discussing the utilization of the CTS in domestic violence research. They note that the scale misses the importance of context and intent of the violence, where retaliation, self-defense and protection of the self, children and property are not included (2010).

Donovan and Hester discuss how the common ‘victim’ trope as depicted in stories of domestic violence is problematic for heterosexual women. The idea of the victim as weak and in accordance with femininity impacts heterosexual women who have experienced domestic violence to the point where it influences their sense of self. The usage of the term ‘victim’, and the connotations that come with, can be a difficult label to reconcile with ones’ self-perception (2010). This in turn may be a reason as to why individuals are reluctant to report domestic violence, as they do not see themselves as ‘victims’ in the sense of being weak or passive.

7.3 IPV in Homosexual & Heterosexual Relationships

Writing in 1989 Morrow and Hawxhurst offer advice to fellow counselors on how best to treat and approach victims of battering in lesbian relationships. They start off by stating that although therapists are starting to understand that battering does occur in lesbian

relationships, the topic is still shrouded in silence. Due to this fact, much of the knowledge pertaining to domestic abuse or battering comes from research carried out with heterosexual couples. According to Morrow and Hawxhurst the existence of violence in lesbian

relationships only became common knowledge at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) conference in 1986 (1989). Domestic violence on the NCADV website is defined as the “willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.” (NCADV) Although not singling out same-sex


relationships, the organization writes that domestic violence is an epidemic that can affect any community regardless of economic status, age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or nationality (NCADV). Morrow and Hawxhurst write that resistance to looking into domestic abuse in lesbian relationships came from lesbian and heterosexual women alike within the battered women’s movement. There was a notion amongst the lesbian community that public discussion on IPV in same-sex relationships would reinforce homophobia and lesbian and heterosexual women both feared that by acknowledging the existence of abuse in lesbian relationships, it would endanger the feminist gender-specific analysis of domestic abuse and the explanatory models of male privilege and power in society (1989).

Rollé et. al. in carrying out a review of same-sex IPV note that in 2015 research on IPV within LGB communities only constituted 3% of the total research on the subject. They further write that some studies which have been carried out have shown that IPV in same-sex relationships occur at the same rate or even higher than in heterosexual relationships.

However, the authors argue that it is difficult to identify IPV in same-sex relationships due to differing methodologies. They also cite a 2013 US study which revealed that 50% of gay men and almost 75% of lesbian women had reported instances of psychological IPV (2018). Walters also quotes research showing that lesbian IPV occurs at the same rate as in heterosexual relationships, noting that studies have revealed that between 41-68% of all lesbians have experienced some form of domestic abuse in their relationships (2009). Morrow and Hawxhurst note that battering in lesbian relationships include basically the same types of psychological, physical and sexual abuse as seen in heterosexual relationships. Adding to this list, lesbians may also utilize homophobic control in their abusive behavior. This entails threatening to expose the survivors’ sexual orientation to others or telling her that she is not a ‘real’ lesbian (1989). Hester and Donovan’s research, including both interviews and a survey questionnaire, showed that lesbians were most likely to be affected by sexually and

emotionally abusive behavior. They also reported at a higher rate that the abuse made them work harder to try and please their partner or to correct their behavior to not make so many ‘mistakes’. They further noted higher rates of impact on their children, the relationship with their children or made it difficult for them to trust people. The most abusive experiences (emotional, physical or sexual) were reported by respondents under 35 years of age (2009).

Radford and Harne’s discussion on domestic violence in female same-sex

relationships starts off with the sentence “Although domestic violence can occur in some relationships between women” (2008: 16). The usage of the words ‘although’, ‘can’ and ‘some’ in this way seems to signify that this is a rare occurrence and through this narrative


sets the tone that sexuality as a category within the domestic violence literature naturally is separate from the overall discussion of domestic violence and IPV. Although domestic violence has been researched within the context of lesbian relationships, Walters states that the sexual abuse component of IPV has not been researched extensively. Research has tended to show that there is a lower rate of physical abuse in lesbian relationships compared to heterosexual ones, but higher rates of emotional abuse (2009).

In analyzing the results from their study of love and violence in heterosexual and homosexual relationships, Donovan and Hester found that most of the LGBQ respondents did not categorize their relationship experiences as domestically violent while in the relationship. The authors relate this to the impact of public stories surrounding domestic violence, where the violence or abuse does not fit the common narrative (2010). In talking about violence in male same-sex relationships Radford and Harne note that gay men’s relationships are less marginalized and more visible in mainstream society than lesbian relationships. However, studies unpacking the issue of IPV in male same-sex relationships are often limited to self-selected studies and thus can result in exaggerated claims of violence. The authors argue that the same is true for IPV in lesbian relationships where they claim there is a profound lack of understanding about differences between IPV in lesbian and heterosexual relationships. They attribute this in part to the problem of definitions, where a much broader definition is often used with regards to domestic violence in lesbian relationships, possibly leading to

exaggerated claims regarding the prevalence of IPV in lesbian relationships. The extended definitions as described by Radford and Harne include ‘disrespectful treatment’ or

‘manipulative behavior’ without other strategies of power and control present, for example physical violence, intimidation or threats of violence, which can be found in heterosexual definitions (2008).

Radford and Harne state that the continuing marginalization of lesbians can sometimes lead to violence. As compared to heterosexual men, lesbians have a lack of social power and thus the context of their violence is different. Studies have also found that lesbians who experience IPV are reluctant to seek help from mainstream agencies or services due to a fear of prejudicial encounters and prefer to deal with things within their own networks and

communities (2008). In the same vein Donovan and Hester report that lesbians interviewed in their study had primarily experienced emotionally violent relationships. Due to this they were initially unable to recognize the abuse as domestic violence (2010). Rollé et. al. also argue that recognizing IPV in same-sex relationships could be used to further stigmatize the community itself which could lead to further oppression and social marginalization. In line


with this the authors note that the feminist community has been averse to discussing the phenomenon of IPV in same-sex relationships, especially within lesbian couples as this could lead to negative reactions towards feminism (2018). This notion is echoed by one survivor who writes that she felt it would have been anti-feminist to blame a woman for her behavior, as her partner had come from an abusive background. She writes that her feminist politics kept her from ‘blaming’ another woman, as they were both oppressed by patriarchy and thus ‘blaming’ another lesbian would be seen as especially ‘wrong’ (ACON, 2011).

Morrow and Hawxhurst similarly write that lesbian communities can make it difficult for survivors to seek help and support. The ongoing myth that a lesbian relationship is

egalitarian, loving, passionate and never violent is held up by feminist lesbians, and lesbian victims challenge this idea of the utopian relationship (1989). Similarly, Rollé et. al. state that public opinion on IPV in same-sex relationships still consider it a rare phenomenon and this is especially true with regards to lesbian and bisexual women. This may be attributed to notions that lesbian and bisexual women are thought to be part of peaceful and utopian relationships, far removed from violence and aggression, attributes commonly associated with masculinity. These cultural notions of masculinity and femininity can lead to ideas that homosexual men are not as masculine as heterosexual men or that IPV in lesbian relationships is less of an issue as they are both women and thus equally physically strong or weak (2018).

Walters argues along the same lines in noting that lesbian survivors run the risk of being seen as traitors by dispersing the myth of the utopian egalitarian lesbian relationship. Survivors of IPV in lesbian relationships are often ousted from their community and

stigmatized if they report the abuse (2009). An article from 2013 in The Atlantic notes that the epidemic that is domestic violence in same-sex relationships is silenced. Telling the story of three individuals who identify as homosexual the author, Shwayder, notes that domestic violence is most often discussed in the context of heterosexual relationships and thus there may exist major hurdles when trying to secure funding or research into IPV in homosexual relationships. One person interviewed in the article, who works at a domestic violence support group, notes that the idea that a woman can be the abuser does not line up with traditional views of violent behavior. The fact that only men are perceived as the abuser also makes it that much more difficult for male survivors to seek help. Shwayder further highlights the issue of making the community look bad, where there is a real fear of further stigmatization by reporting abusive behavior in same-sex relationships. Transgender people face an even harder time where they may not be admitted to either a men’s or a woman’s shelter, having to turn to homeless shelters where regardless of which gender they are placed with, they run the


risk of being abused or faced with intrusive questions or questioning of their gender identity. The article highlights that domestic violence should not be seen as a gender issue, but rather in the context of power and control (Shwayder, 2013).

Walters lists three reasons to why there is a pervasive idea that IPV does not exist within lesbian relationships. The first being that women do not hit each other. This is

attributed to the socialization of traditional gender roles, which state that women are incapable of violence while also arguing that women are passive, weak and more emotional than

physical. Secondly, there is the myth of the lesbian utopia. This came from the idea that a community and relationships that existed without men is safe from the power and control that men exercise over women within the larger patriarchal society. Thirdly, if violence were to exist within a female same-sex relationship it would be seen as nothing more than a ‘cat fight’ (Walters, 2009). Due to the idea of the physically weak woman, the thought of two women fighting begs the question of ‘how seriously could they actually hurt each other?’. This leads to a dismissal of the seriousness of the acts of violence and what they mean in the context of the relationship. Walters recounts findings of her interviews with four women who spoke about their experiences of IPV. Related to the idea that women fighting is not that serious, she notes that her respondents related stories of emotional abuse, verbal abuse, stalking, the throwing of objects to frighten, financial abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. They also experienced combinations of multiple forms of violence and revealed that the abuse often started off slowly and was almost always unrecognized by the survivor as abuse. Over time the violence increased in frequency and severity. Walters states that it is clear from her research that the type of violence these women had experienced goes beyond a ‘cat fight’ and do not differ greatly from the types of violence experienced by heterosexual women by their male abusers (2009).

Little and Terrance, in their article on perceptions of domestic violence in lesbian relationships, discuss the prevalence of gendered stereotypes and how these may inform understandings of IPV in same-sex relationships. Gendered stereotypes are organized in oppositional terms, in that what men are, women are not and vice versa. While women are socialized to be warm, nurturing and emotionally expressive, men are socialized to be autonomous, self-confident and not able to express intimate feelings. These stereotypes play into expectations regarding roles played in domestic abuse, where women are seen as the ‘legitimate’ victim and men as the perpetrators. The authors note that these stereotypes are inversely associated in relation to one’s sexual orientation, where heterosexual women are described as feminine and lesbian women are often seen as masculine. Seen in the context of


the lesbian relationship, common perceptions would assume that there is one masculine and one feminine partner that would adopt the dominant and submissive gender-based stereotypes in the relationship (2010). Rollé et. al. discuss studies showing that emergency, primary care and other services adopt a heterosexist language, something acknowledged by lesbian women. The authors further note that services are rarely available for the LGB community and when they are, they are difficult to access (2018). Donovan et. al. write that the respondents in their research stated that domestic abuse is largely seen as a problem within heterosexual

relationships, with women being abused by their male partners. Due to this, many respondents did not name their experiences as domestic abuse and thus they had not thought about

reporting it to any services. The difficulties of naming their experiences as domestic abuse was more prevalent amongst those respondents who had experienced emotional abuse rather than physical. The same was true with heterosexual women (2006).

Donovan et. al. further argue that due to homophobia and heterosexism there is an understanding within LGBT communities that services and agencies are not equipped to respond to their needs and that they will be discriminated against or that same-sex

relationships will be further stigmatized. The respondents further expressed that they didn’t think that they would be believed if reporting experiences of domestic abuse. The authors see this in relation to common gendered understandings of the survivor as physically smaller (female) and the perpetrator as more powerful (male). It was made clear within the study that many police, domestic abuse agencies, GP’s and LGBT services are not experienced with dealing with IPV in same-sex relationships and do not fully know how to respond. This can largely be attributed to a domestic abuse model that is based on heterosexual relationships (2006). Murray and Mobley similarly argue that victims of IPV in same-sex relationships may feel that it is less frightening to be victimized by their partner than by systems in society. This is further compounded by feelings of a lack of training amongst the police, medical

professionals and mental health workers with regards to making assessments of IPV in same-sex relationships (2009).

Walters argues that one of the reasons it is difficult to obtain data on IPV in lesbian relationships is related to the status of lesbians in our societies, where they face continual institutional discrimination. The stigmatization of being homosexual is still prevalent and this is especially true in more conservative, rural areas (2009). While Walters discussion is related to the situation in the US, I believe what she says can be applied to most Western countries. A 2016 article from The Washington Post addresses this while writing about why it is so




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