Home' LOTL : June 2004 Contents In an argument, your girlfriend shoves you against a wall.
She is smaller than you are, but her rage is overpowering.
In shock, you cry and she stops. The next day she is the one
in tears, swearing it will never happen again. But it does, and
it gets worse. Fear colours your life, but somehow you can't
leave. It is as if she is in your head, dominating your every
move. Domestic violence? Surely not -- domestic violence
perpetrators are male yobbos not sensitive, petite women.
US research reports that around 25% of lesbians will
experience violence in their relationships. The studies are
methodologically weak, but Associate Professor Jude Ir win, from
Sydney University's school of social work, says that although we
cannot estimate prevalence rates, we can conclude that lesbian
domestic violence is common enough to be a concern.
"Lesbians are getting hit, kicked and punched. There are
serial abusers in lesbian communities who do it intentionally,
systematically planning the abuse. We shouldn't assume rape
does not happen in lesbian relationships. There are really vicious
attacks that some people are lucky they sur vive," she says.
Of 19 lesbians who called the NSW Domestic Violence
Crisis Line in the three months between January 1st and April
30th last year, eight had been sexually abused by their partners.
In the seventies, Australian lesbians created the refuges and
campaigns that changed attitudes to heterosexual domestic
violence. But violence in lesbian relationships has remained an
unexplored taboo, perhaps because lesbians romanticise
relationships between women, while simultaneously seeing
their own issues as irrelevant in comparison to the needs of
Lesbian relationship violence is finally getting some
attention. ACON's recent same-sex domestic violence
campaign, funded by the Attorney General's department, is a
first for Australia and probably for the world, according to
ACON education manager, Brad Gray. Meanwhile, Ir win is
finalizing her PhD on lesbian domestic violence, also an
Australian first, while long-time domestic violence worker,
DAWN COHEN EXPLORES THE TOPIC THAT
DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME -- LESBIAN
THE LAST TABOO
Kassa Bird (pictured), has edited a groundbreaking book,
Making Waves: Attending to Lesbian Relationship Violence.
They all agree that a central aim of domestic violence is control.
Sometimes the abuse is physical, sometimes it's emotional, and
often it is both.
"Emotional abuse includes name calling, put-downs,
constant criticism or repeated lies. Some lesbians threaten to
out their partners to neighbours, friends, family or work
colleagues," says Kassa Bird. "Often abusers will systematically
isolate their partner from social and family networks. They may
control her access to money, stop her using her car, or monitor
her phone bills."
Ir win says that our image of domestic violence as a
heterosexual phenomenon is so strong we have no language to
identify lesbian relationship violence when it occurs. "One
woman's partner would assault her and then take her to the
hospital emergency department. Despite four or five visits, none
of the staff wondered about relationship violence. Screening
processes for domestic violence were not put in place. Her partner
was never moved from her side. If they were a heterosexual
couple, the hospital would have been asking questions."
Lesbian victims fear exposing the violence to ser vices and
friends, out of loyalty to lesbians and lesbianism, and in fear of
discrimination, says Bird. "In the past, women have not
reported their partners to the police because they didn't want
to dob in a sister. Attitudes have changed, but historically police
have seen it as 'a scrag fight'." One participant in Ir win's study
spent years getting her family to accept her partner. When the
partner became abusive, the woman left the relationship but
never explained to her family why, not wanting to reawaken
"Lesbian and gay relationships generally get a bad rap in
society," says Brad Gray. The campaign slogan, 'Most gay and
lesbian relationships are built on love and respect. Some are
built on abuse and control,' was deliberately picked to make
sure the campaign did not reinforce negative attitudes to same-
The message in most heterosexual domestic violence
campaigns has been directed at individual victims, says Gray,
helping them identify domestic violence and encouraging them
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