Violence in Lesbian and Gay Relationships:
Theory, Prevalence, and Correlational Factors

Reviewed by
Suzana Rose, Ph.D.

from an article of the same title by:
Leslie K. Burke & Diane R. Follingstad

Clinical Psychology Review,1999, 19(5),487-512

To review what is known about psychological, physical, and sexual violence in same-sex relationships and to compare findings with partner abuse in heterosexual relationships. What:Nineteen studies describing either prevalence or correlates of same-sex domestic violence were reviewed and critiqued. Summaries include: who participated in each study; how the data was collected; what measures were used to assess abuse; and a description of findings

Comparisons by type of couple showed that 28% of heterosexual couples, 48% of lesbians and 38% of gay male couples reported physical abuse in one study, but the amount of physical force used was low for all groups. .In one study, 104 cases of relationship violence were examined. Of these cases of violence, 72% were committed by men and 28% by women. In a study asking about whether a same-sex relationships had suffered from physical abuse, 7% of 706 lesbian couples and 11% of 560 gay men couples indicated physical abuse had occurred. In studies using only lesbian couples, psychological abuse


was reported as occurring at least one time by 73% to 90% of lesbians. Sexual abuse by a woman partner was reported by 1% of lesbians, but 20% of lesbians indicated having been sexual abused by a male partner. More than 30% of lesbians had been in a same-sex relationship where at least one physical incident occurred. Lesbians, gay men, and heterosexual couples used similar conflict resolution strategies, including (in order of decreasing frequency): arguing, positive tactics (effective communication), withdrawal, and conflict engagement strategies (physical abuse). One study of treatment of lesbian batterers has been done. Average length of treatment was one year, with abusive behaviors decreasing within 4 to 6 weeks of treatment.

Limitations: Using personal networks to recruit participants may lead to inflated estimates of abuse, e.g., lesbians who have been abused might also be likely to have friends who were abused. Design flaws in many studies also may exaggerate prevalence rates, e.g., when asking lesbians about abuse in previous relationships, some fail to distinguish between same- sex violence and previous violence by a male partner.

Reviewed by Suzanna Rose, Ph.D.
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