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An Exploration of International Lesbian Rights: Intervening on U.S. Lesbian Domestic Violence » Women's Courage

An Exploration of International Lesbian Rights: Intervening on U.S. Lesbian Domestic Violence

January 31st, 2013 by tle29 Leave a reply »

An Exploration of International Lesbian Rights: Intervening on U.S. Lesbian Domestic Violence

My last blog focused on the progress that the United States has made towards decreasing the discrimination towards lesbian/queer women and some of the specific issues that the US can still improve upon. One such topic, though only slightly mentioned last week, is the issue of lesbian domestic violence. And continuing along the line of thought that lesbian issues in the U.S. are more directly relevant to this blog’s audience, I decided that this week’s blog would highlight some domestic violence intervention programs in the U.S.

When I first came across the term “lesbian domestic violence” I was a bit perplexed. One part of me was a bit surprised that such a thing even existed, and another part of me was a bit surprised that it was a phrase that so few people seem to have heard of. In fact, 17-45% of lesbians have reported specifically physical violence from their partner (Rose). These numbers are similar, or even slightly higher than the reported domestic violence in all American adults. This number specifically surprised me. Since women are generally viewed as more warm, tender, and empathetic than men, the idea that a woman in a same sex relationship would purposefully hurt her partner seemed strange to me. Yet, the reasons for lesbian domestic violence still boils down to one person wanting to gain and maintain control over their partner, usually to compensate for their fears of abandonment or loneliness, just like heterosexual domestic violence (National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs 1998). Still, lesbian partner violence has unique issues that need to be addressed. One such example is the unique threat to “out” the partner to her friends, family, or employer. Furthermore, in a homophobic environment, lesbian victims may be less willing to seek help or may find it more difficult to seek help from the police or victim service agencies. For this reason, lesbians even more rarely seek help in domestic violence situations than women in heterosexual domestic violence situations (Ristock 1997).

While lesbian domestic violence awareness is not as high as it should be, there are some intervention programs that specifically strive to help in these cases. One necessary intervention strategy is to provide support, legal aid, and protection for the victims themselves. One such organization is The Network/La Red. This organization was formed in 1989 by a group of battered lesbians in Boston with the mission of addressing violence in the lesbian and bisexual community. The organization specifically addresses the issue that lesbian domestic violence is not well-known or even accepted to be a real phenomenon. Community members offer their homes as safe spaces for victims and their children and support and information groups are often held. The Network/La Red also offers pro-bono/low cost attorney services and court accompaniment. Overall, as a survivor-led program, The Network/La Red provides the opportunity for battered lesbian women to seek shelter and advice.

Yet another important piece of reducing lesbian domestic violence includes supporting the abusers themselves. As it the case for any domestic violence situation, it is fairly easy to simply focus on the needs of the victims and neglect the reasons violence began in the first place. I would argue that it is equally important to offer support, education, and other services to the abusers as well. Wellspring Family Services, based out of Seattle, is one example of an organization that aims to provide support specifically for the individuals in a relationship that have exhibited controlling or manipulative behavior. While the organization holds support groups for men, fathers, and children, another specific group targeted are lesbian women. The program aims to help these women learn how to have healthier relationships by changing their beliefs about control and respect and emphasizing empathy.

Overall, while lesbian domestic violence is as prevalent in the United States as heterosexual domestic violence, it is an invisible yet critical issue because of current homophobic attitudes in society. Still, there is hope of progress in the form of various intervention programs focused on providing support and services to both the victims and the abusers.

To learn more about The Network/La Red, visit http://tnlr.org/about/mission-anti-oppression-principles/

To learn more about Wellspring Family Services, visit

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (http://www.avp.org). (1999). Lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual domestic violence in 1998. New York: NCAVP.

Ristock, Janice L. (1997). The cultural politics of abuse in lesbian relationships: Challenges for community action. In N. V. Benodraitis (Ed.), Subtle sexism: Current practice and prospects for change (pp. 279-296). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Rose, Suzana. “Fact Sheet: Lesbian Partner Violence.” Fact Sheet: Lesbian Partner Violence. National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.


1 comment

  1. Kira says:

    Thanks for your post, Linh. This is something I have never thought about before, and I appreciate you bringing this to our attention. Generally, domestic abuse is thought to rest in the hands of a man, but understanding the dynamics of other types of relationships is also important. For ideas for future blog posts, I encourage you to look at a New York Times article from June 18, 2002 by Claudia Dreifus, entitled “Promising Judgments That Are Purely Medical.” It shows the viewpoint of Kate O’Hanlan, an oncological gynecologist and lesbian at Stanford University Medical Center. She talks about how she structures her patient visits and her questions so as not to marginalize her homosexual patients. (For example, she asks “Are you sexual with men, women, are both?”) Furthermore, she states that gay women have greater risk of gynecological cancers, as well as other cancers and heart disease. You might want to check it out for some interesting ideas for your blog or for supplementary reading.

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