Some studies suggest that the position of bisexual women as a group that experiences the highest prevalence of intimate partner violence when compared to lesbian and heterosexual counterparts has not been stressed enough despite the fact that if it can be argued that the sources of violence and ways of dealing with it are specific for bisexual women. Consequently, for this blog entry, we researched study findings about experience of intimate violence by bisexual women and relate main points of a recent article published in Croatian daily newspaper To Live as a Bisexual in Croatia.
Findings from one of the most cited studies when it comes to intimate partner violence against bisexual women – The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation (Georgia, USA, 2013) by Mikel L. Walters, Jieru Chen, and Matthew J. Breiding provide insight into prevalence of intimate violence against bisexual persons. This study is a national random digit-dial telephone survey administered in 2010 in 50 USA states and the District of Columbia, on a sample of 18,049 persons (9,970 identified as women and 8,079 as men). Research showed that bisexual women had a significantly higher lifetime prevalence of rape and sexual violence by any perpetrator than lesbian and heterosexual women with the following occurrence of rape: lesbian – 13.1%, bisexual – 46.1% and heterosexual – 17.4%; and sexual violence (being made to penetrate, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences): lesbian – 46.4%, bisexual – 74.9% and heterosexual – 43.3%. In addition, research found that bisexual women had significantly higher lifetime prevalence of violence by an intimate partner when compared to both lesbian and heterosexual women. Results indicate incidents of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner: lesbian – 43.8%, bisexual – 61.1% and heterosexual – 35.0%; and severe physical violence by an intimate partner (e.g. being hit with fist or something hard, slammed against something or beaten): lesbian – 29.4%, bisexual – 49.3% and heterosexual – 23.6%. As for the gender of the perpetrator, bisexual women reported having mostly male abusers, both in intimate partner violence (89.5%) and in general. The researchers conclude that there is a need for more broad-based prevention efforts, combined with a deeper understanding of the experiences of bisexual persons.
The article published this August in Croatian daily newspaper To Live as a Bisexual in Croatia includes interviews with two bisexual persons – one identified as a woman and one as a man. Here we will focus on the experiences of the person identified as a woman. Even though she does not talk about experiences of violence, some aspects of the relationship she describes could be seen as forms of controlling behaviour. For instance, she describes adjusting her appearance and behaviour to become more accepted by her female partners. Besides being reluctant to come out as bisexual, during her first relationship with a lesbian girl she cut her hair and stopped varnishing her nails.
“I adapted a lot in that relationship, and suppressed myself. I would tell her very little about my experiences with men. Knowingly and unknowingly, I disguised myself in a more lesbian identity, rather than bisexual, because I was afraid she would leave me.”
“I myself did not feel ‘lesbian’ enough. I wanted that next time we enter a lesbian bar, the bartender does not call me a ‘breeder’, but keeps quiet. I was afraid of being rejected if I told them I was bi and that I had a boyfriend in the past.”
She talked a lot about being marginalised and excluded both from the heterosexual and the LGBTIQ community:
“It would have been easier if I never decided to come out and identify … when I realised the amount of prejudices against bisexuals and how invisible we are in the society. If you are a lesbian, it is much easier for you. If you are bi, misunderstanding awaits you at every corner.”
“You go through the whole process of growing up and all the questioning. Then finally you break free, you come out with your identity and enter a community that is supposed to be LGBTIQ friendly and open minded, but then – you are being harassed even there. It is as if you do not belong in neither of these two worlds, hetero and homo, because both have prejudices against bisexuals.”
“As a bisexual person I do not exist in the law, I am invisible.”
In the case of bisexual women, this feeling of marginalisation could be the most aggravating factor for the prevention and dealing with the problem of intimate partner violence for several reasons. They might feel that they are alone in their problems, and not having a social network of mutual support decreases likelihood that the victims are going to report the violence. Furthermore, if they are afraid to lose their partner and friends, bisexual women will probably tolerate much more problematic behaviour from their partner in order to be accepted. Also, bisexual women could feel that the programs addressing LGBTIQ victims of intimate partner violence are not meant for them, especially while in a relationship with a man. Since the NISVS shows that the perpetrators of most intimate partner violence against bisexual and heterosexual women are men, and bisexual women have significantly higher prevalence of violence, this could mean that the abuses could be motivated by biphobia. From the experience of the person in the quoted article, we see that biphobia is different from misogyny and lesbophobia, and for that reason must be addressed with particular care.