Definition of Roles in Abusive Lesbian Relationships

Reviewed by
Suzana Rose, Ph.D.
from an article of the same title by:
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 confused.

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.

Reviewed by Suzanna Rose, Ph.D.
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