5. Risk Assessment of lesbian perpetrators

There is almost no research about identifying shared and unique risk and protective factors for domestic violence in lesbian partnerships. Above described measures of assessing risk are (1) originated in risk assessment for male perpetrators and (2) modulated for application of heterosexual women. It is unknown if they can be transferred to lesbian women.

Lesbian women do neither fulfil traditional gender role stereotyping as being non-violent, caretaking and nurturing nor do they fulfil the norm of heterosexuality. Their incongruent behaviour has significant implications on those women exerting violence and sharing same-sex lifestyle. Ignorance and stigmatisation puts those women at risk who experience violence in their partnerships. Usually they cannot count on traditional sources of help, such as friends, family of origin and domestic violence services. Further, lesbian women abusing their partners are as well in a kind of ‘social vacuum’, since they are not taken responsible for their acts and have no support in changing their violent behaviour.

Focussing on lesbian women exerting violence, risk factors on different levels need to be taken into account when assessing risk of reassault and escalation:  

  • individual
  • sub-cultural
  • and societal level.

According to Hassouneh 2008 risk factors include

  • prior physical violence by an intimate partner (male or female)
  • controlling behaviour,
  • dependency,
  • alcohol and drug abuse,
  • depression
  • and ending the relationship.

Nevertheless, European research indicates that especially women in their first lesbian partnership are at high risk of being victimized by their partners (Ohms 2007, Kers 2005).

Those factors address only the individual level, whereas sub-cultural and societal risk factors may play an important part as well. Those may be sub-cultural tabooization as well as heteronormativity which implies repulsion of same-sex lifestyles.

But most outlined risk factors are shared by both, perpetrators and victims. This means, it is unknown why a woman abuses her partner, another woman is abused by her partner and another one does not get into violent dynamics even if she shares those risk factors. For example, a history of sexual abuse may be an indicator for the experience of violence in adulthood as well. Analysis of domestic violence in lesbian partnerships shows that lesbian perpetrators experience sexual abuse in their childhood as well. Thus, it is a risk factor for either being a perpetrator or being a victim.  

Finally, the relation between possible risk factors and the exertion of violence is not clear at all: For example, studies about alcohol and drug abuse as relevant risk factors are not consistent here. First, not in all cases drug and/or alcohol abuse plays a role in the violent dynamic. Present, proportions are unknown. Second, the abuse may be related to oppression and not to violence. Depression may be related to oppression and not to abuse. It needs to be assumed that there is an interrelation between oppression, coping strategies and the exertion of violence.

Risk assessment will be subject of future research of this project.


Hassouneh, Dena/Glass, Nancy: The influence of gender Role Stereotyping on Women’s Experience of Female Same-Sex Intimate Partner Violence. In: Violence Against Women 2008, 14. pp 310-325.

Kers, Susanne (2005): Similar but different – domestic violence in same-sex couples. Unpublished paper.

Ohms, Constance (2008): Das Fremde in mir – Gewaltdynamiken in Liebesbeziehungen zwischen Frauen. Soziologische Perspektiven auf ein Tabuthema. Bielefeld.

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