MYTHS ABOUT ABUSE
MYTH: Only heterosexual women get battered. Women cannot be abusers.
TRUTH: Domestic violence in lesbian couples is a serious problem. Lesbian relationships can
be just as physically violent as male/female partnerships. Until recently this problem has been
completely discounted by scholars and media.
MYTH: Domestic violence is more common in heterosexual relationships than it is in lesbian
TRUTH: Many issues involved indicate that incidence of domestic violence in gay and lesbian
couples is probably at least as high as in heterosexual couples, if not higher. Issues such as
poorer resources, homophobia, and invisibility make identification and treatment of lesbian
domestic violence difficult.
MYTH: It isn't really violence when a same-sex couple fights because women in relationships
have equal power. It is just a lovers’ quarrel.
TRUTH: Lesbian relationships involving domestic violence are NOT about two women
"mutually fighting" or having a lovers’ quarrel. Domestic violence is about power and control;
the abuser's goal is to dominate and render the victim powerless.
MYTH: The batterer will always be butch, bigger and stronger. The victim will always be
femme, smaller and weaker.
TRUTH: The misconceptions we hold of male/female battering relationships are typically
carried over when we attempt to evaluate a lesbian relationship for domestic violence. It is a
mistake to assume that all lesbian relationships are based on "femme and butch" pairings, or that
an abusive lesbian must be "the masculine one". Just as male batterers do not have to be
physically bigger than their female partners in order to abuse, and just like women can
sometimes abuse their male partners, lesbian batterers are not necessarily bigger. Nor are they
necessarily more economically independent or part of a more privileged socio-economic class
than the partner they abuse.
MYTHS: (1) People who are abusive under the influence of drugs or alcohol are not responsible
for their actions. (2) Lesbian domestic violence has increased as a result of alcoholism and drug
TRUTH: Women with a history of abuse or witnessing abuse, low self-esteem, assertiveness
deficits, poor communication skills, over-attachment in the relationship, a poorly defined sense
of masculinity or hyper-masculinity, isolation from friends and family and/or stress are more
prone to engage in domestic violence. Additionally, large power or status differences between
partners may lead to violence (i.e., a partner with greater power may be uncomfortable making
all of the decisions; a female not accustomed to being in the less powerful position, having less
power in decision making, or making less money than her spouse may not know how to handle,
cope with, or change this). It’s dangerous to simply blame the behavior on alcohol and drugs although violence is more
likely to occur if one partner (or both partners) is dependent on a substance.
MYTH: Lesbian domestic violence is sexual behavior, a version of sadomasochism. The victim
actually likes it.
TRUTH: Again, domestic violence is about power and control. It does not fit into the category
of consensual sexual activity.
MYTH: The law does not and will not protect victims of lesbian domestic violence.
TRUTH: The women’s domestic violence movement has been active in advocating for a more
interventionist and educated police approach to domestic violence. The police are now
encouraged to treat domestic violence as a crime rather than a ‘relationship issue’. It is not
impossible to find police support in many cities, especially cities with a large homosexual
MYTH: Lesbian victims exaggerate the violence that happens to them. If it were really that bad,
they could and would just leave. Additionally, it is easier for abused lesbians to leave the abuser
than it is for heterosexual battered women.
TRUTH: There are many factors involved in a victim’s ability to define their relationship as
abusive and/or leave a battering relationship. In these relationships, there is typically a cycle of
behavior that includes periods of abuse as well as periods of love and calm that can lead to
confusion about whether the abusive partner is really, in fact, abusive. There are also issues of
financial dependency, a lack of resources (e.g., somewhere else to live), shame, and fear of
retaliation for leaving. The victim must first deal with some or all of these issues in order to
break free from the relationship.
In a lesbian relationship there are additional issues that must be faced like manipulation on the
part of the abuser who may threaten to "out" her partner if she tries to get help or to flee. Outing
is a serious issue in a society that continues to deny lesbians full rights. A lesbian who is outed
to her employers may lose her job. Being outed to friends or family may cause the loss of
relationships to people who have been important in her life. The fear of losing her children by
court order can also keep an abused lesbian in an unsafe relationship.
MYTH: Victims often provoke the violence done to them. They are getting what they deserve.
TRUTH: Domestic violence is pervasive in this society and it’s easier for some to blame the
abused woman than to address, and remedy, the social problem. Victims do not typically
provoke the violence. Other social factors (see above) contribute to and/or maintain the
MYTH: Domestic violence primarily occurs among lesbians who hang out at bars, are poor or
are people of color.
TRUTH: As is true among heterosexual couples, domestic violence is not confined to a
particular segment of the population. It crosses all age, race and class barriers.