Domestic violence occurs in the gay and lesbian community with the same or even greater frequency than in heterosexual couples (Balsam, 2001; Seelau et al., 2003). Despite this, few empirical studies have focused on the phenomenon of same-sex partner abuse (Brown, 2008).
The lack of knowledge is surely influenced by gender role messages that have created myths about intimate partner abuse and about who can be a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence. Some of the more common myths are the follows (Brown, 2008; Chan, 2005):
- only females can be victims and only males can be perpetrators;
- same-sex partner abuse is not as severe as when a woman is battered by a man;
- because the partners are of the same gender it is mutual abuse with each perpetrating and receiving equally;
- is not violence when a same-sex couple fights, it is just a lover’s quarrel;
- the perpetrator must be the ‘man’ or the ‘butch’ and the victim must be the ‘woman’ or the ‘femme’ in emulation of heterosexual relationships.
Such myths ignore and deny the reality of same-sex battering. Actually, there is no reason to assume that gay and lesbian people are less violent than heterosexual men and women. Domestic violence is fundamentally a power issue, it is a pattern of behaviors designed to control another. Consequently, women as well as men, homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, are capable of abuse.
These myths, as well as affect our ability to understand the phenomenon of same-sex battering, they also create barriers for gay and lesbian victims regarding help-seeking behaviors.
First of all, even the victims could have internalized these myths about domestic violence and this could affect their ability to recognize that they are involved in a violent relationship. In particular, the belief that women are innately nonviolent and that girls do not hit other girls, could interfere with the victim’s ability to recognize the lesbian partner’s behavior in terms of a real abuse. Obviously, if they do not recognize their couple relationship as violent they will not be motivated to seeking help.
Moreover, these myths are especially problematic when they are considered true by the police. The risk is to trivialize the situation, believing that, when the perpetrator is a woman, the abuse is less serious. Therefore, the support provided when the perpetrator is a men could be greater than that provided to a lesbian victim. The possible implication is that women in same-sex violent relationships might feel that, if they report their abuse, it will not be taken seriously and this could discourage them from denouncing it.
Finally, the homosexual community has often helped to spread these myths for which same sex couples are not violent and that lesbian partners do not oppress or beat each other, in an attempt to counter the homophobic stereotype for which same-sex couples are dysfunctional. So, lesbian victims could have difficulties to report their abuse because they could fear to be accused by other homosexuals to reinforce the negative social vision of homosexuality.
The traditional gender roles have created many myths that influence the way in which domestic violence is seen and studied. In particular, domestic violence within lesbian couples remains an invisible phenomenon given that for many it is difficult to believe that lesbian battering exists. Investigating how gender roles complicate same-sex partner abuse is therefore crucial. In fact, until the problem will continue to be silent, the services for the lesbian victims of intimate partner abuse will be scarce. Same sex domestic violence requires new approaches that go beyond the traditional theories that consider gender as the key element of abuse. Instead, we must start to think that domestic violence is a consequence of power imbalance within relationships that exist regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
Balsam, K. F. (2001). Nowhere to hide: Lesbian battering, homophobia, and minority stress. In E. Kaschak (Ed.) Intimate betrayal: Intimate partner abuse in lesbian relationships (pp. 25–37). New York: Haworth Press.
Brown, C. (2008). Gender-role implications on same-sex intimate partner abuse. Journal of Family Violence, 23, 457-462.
Chan, C. (2005). Domestic Violence in Gay and Lesbian Relationships. Australian Domestic & Family Violence.
Seelau, E. P., Seelau, S. M., & Poorman, P. B. (2003). Gender and role-based perceptions of domestic abuse: Does sexual orientation matter? Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 21, 199–214.