Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors in the context of an intimate relationship. These behaviors include forms of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Physical violence consists of acts such as hitting, kicking, grabbing, assaulting the partner with a weapon. Sexual violence includes words and actions used to force the partner to engage in sexual acts against his consent. Emotional abuse consists in verbal and non verbal behaviors aimed to isolate, humiliate, criticize, insult, intimidate and control an intimate partner.
Historically, domestic violence has been explained as a gender issue, a way through which men try to control women. So, for a long time, intimate partner violence (IPV) is been considered as a problem for heterosexual women who are involved in romantic relationships with heterosexual men.
However, new studies evidence that same-sex couples are violent as much as heterosexual ones (Brown, 2008) and that lesbians are affected by intimate violence at rates similar to heterosexual women (Owen and Burke, 2004). The frequency of IPV in lesbian relationships ranges from about 25% to 50% (Alexander, 2002), comparable to rates reported in heterosexual couples. Despite findings suggesting a high prevalence of violence in lesbian relationships, little is known about the characteristics of this violence. The lack of knowledge may be due to the fact that violence continues to be regarded as a matter of strength. The consequence is that only a man is considered the author of the attack and only a woman, because traditionally non-violent, is seen as the victim.
Unfortunately, we forget to consider that control, and not strength, is the key element of the abuse. In fact, the aim of the violent partners is to exercise a general control over their victims. To do this, they try to subordinate them to their power, using manipulative strategies of physical, sexual and emotive abuse. The systematic use of these strategies gradually reduces the victims to an object without identity, an object which belongs to the violent partner. The victims will be confused, insecure about the correctness of their thoughts, emotions and behaviors and, therefore, increasingly dependent on their attackers. When this happens, the control has been achieved.
How we can imagine, the need of control is not exclusive of heterosexual men. Starting from this assumption, we must to consider domestic violence as an abuse of power that can happen in any type of intimate relationship, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. In fact, there are numerous empirical evidence that show that IPV, like other forms of abuse, does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
However, the traditional gender roles have profoundly influenced the way in which domestic violence was seen and studied, that we continue to exclude the possibility that a lesbian relationship can be violent or, even when it is recognized as such, we underestimated its severity, believing that the violence perpetrated by a woman against her partner is not dangerous as the violence that a woman suffers from a man. The risk is that we continue to deny the problem, preventing the creation of specialized services. The result is that the lesbian victim is left alone to manage the violent relationship.
Alexander, C. J. (2002). Violence in gay and lesbian relationships. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 14(1), 95–98.
Brown, C. (2008). Gender-role implications on same-sex intimate partner abuse. Journal of Family Violence, 23, 457-462.
Owen, S. S., & Burke, T. W. (2004). An exploration of prevalence of domestic violence in same-sex relationships. Psychological Reports, 95, 129–132