Definition of Roles
in Abusive Lesbian Relationships
Suzana Rose, Ph.D.
from an article of the same
Becky Marrujo & Mary Kreger
In Claire M. Renzetti & Charles H. Miley (Eds.), Violence
in Gay and Lesbian Domestic Partnerships (pp. 23-33), New York: Harrington
Park Press, 1995.
To analyze the clinical data based on the treatment of 62 lesbian
clients who identified as either victims or perpetrators of partner abuse.
Lesbian clients were between 20 and 51 years old. About 76% were
White; the rest were women of color. Most entered treatment on a voluntary
basis and 11% were court-ordered into treatment. The court-ordered clients
were required to complete 36 weeks of state certified treatment. Employment,
education, and social class was diverse.
Findings were based on an intake interview, responses to a questionnaire
asking about violence in the relationship, and therapists' observations
during several weeks of treatment.
About 34% of clients reported a pattern of fighting back in their relationship.
"Fighting back" was distinguished from self-defense and referred to a
pattern of physical and/or emotional aggression in response to the partner's
aggressive act. The self-reported intent of fighting back was to hurt,
injure, or get even with the partner. Three roles were distinguished for
lesbians in abusive relationships: primary aggressor (similar to heterosexual
perpetrators), primary victim (similar to heterosexual victims), and participant
(one who self-reports an established pattern of fighting back). The participant
role contained elements of both the primary aggressor and primary victim
roles, including some jealously and manipulativeness (similar to aggressor)
and some care-taking and accepting of responsibility for behavior (similar
to victim). .Participants differed from primary victims in terms of being
more likely to fight back, to continue engaging with the primary aggressor,
to call the police or a crisis line, and to feel victimized rather than
Reviewed by Suzanna Rose, Ph.D.
Lesbians in abusive relationships who fight back are not engaging
in mutual combat. Lesbians who were participants in the violence did not
initiate the violence and did not consistently inflict the same level
of injuries on her partner that she sustained.