3.1.3 Mindset of training classes

Social training classes for lesbian perpetrators have to be gender and sexual orientation specific. Traditional gender role stereotyping has portrayed women as being innately non-violent, nurturing and caretaking. Further, the social relation of the sexes is perceived and categorised in terms of heterosexuality, i.e. heterosexuality is regarded as the norm. Those perceptions have significant impact on women who behave incongruently with traditional gender roles, such as women who act violent and women who live in same-sex relationships.  Furthermore, lesbian women are confronted with homophobia, either externally or internally.  The gender specific structure of support services which views women as victims and men as perpetrators and homophobia causes a lack of traditional sources of help, such as friends, family or community domestic violence services. This lack puts battered lesbian women at high risk.

European research confirms that most domestic violence is exerted by men, whereas most victims are women. Nevertheless there are a small number of violent women who need to change their behaviour and violent attitude, too.

Working with female/lesbian perpetrators of domestic violence challenges the assumption that violence is male and masculine: Women are not per se peaceful but act out violently as well. Even though their access to violence differs from this of men, women as well have learned that the exertion of violence is an effective tool to push through and maintain power/domination and control. Still, aggression is socially more accepted with men than with women – it symbolizes virility. The social acceptance of (violent) behaviour prolongs the assumption of men that the use of violence is appropriate. Women do not have this social ‘backbone’. Nevertheless, the tabooing of violence and abuse in lesbian partnerships in the LGBT subculture functions the same way as social norms and confirm lesbian perpetrators in their attitude. Fighting violence and abuse in lesbian partnerships thus means to change not only individual behaviour but subcultural as well as cultural values. 

 Research shows, that violent women exert less severe bodily harm than men (Hamberger 2002, Micus 2002). Further, more women than men experience their violent behaviour as loss of control which is accompanied by shame and feelings of guilt (Campbell, quoted in Micus 2002). Nevertheless women and men use similar strategies in dealing with their violent behaviour: They blame the victim, they see themselves as the ‘real victims’, they do not take over responsibility, they minimize what they did and they describe their acts in a benign way. Those similarities with male perpetrators lead to the assumption that some modules of the curriculum for male perpetrators can be used for women, too. The best known concept is the ‘Duluth Model’ (DIAP) which focuses on the social construction of maleness/masculinity as well as on various aspects of equal partnership (Pence/Paymar 1993).  

Further, research shows that lesbian perpetrators share social expectations toward women as nurturing, caring people; they yearn for becoming a unity with their partners and give up own borders. They are ‘melting’ and ‘I’ becomes an ‘Us’. At the same time lesbian perpetrators can be described as very needy and they hope that their partners will satisfy their neediness. The risk of violence increases if those expectations/wishes/needs are not fulfilled. The women are disappointed and angry. They see no other chance as to exert violence to realise their visions. The women use violence because they experienced other strategies as less successful or do not know how to use those (Ohms 2008). An additional reason is ‘internalised homophobia’: Lesbian women experience hostility and rejection of their psycho-sexual identity. They hate themselves for being not ‘normal’ and sometimes turn their self-hate toward their partners. At the same time partnership becomes a shelter, protecting the partners from homophobic attacks of the ‘outer world’. Both aspects, myths about women and the female partner as well as internalised homophobia, are rooted in social values describing women as caring, self-sacrificing and devoted as well as postulating heterosexual lifestyles as ‘normal’ whereas others are deviant.

To summarize, the exertion of violence is influenced and caused by various reasons and cannot be reduced to a single one. Societal norms which promote aggression and individual life experiences (e.g. sexual abuse, neglect), are interconnected and increase the risk of acting violently.

Notwithstanding the possible causes of violent behaviour, this training program focuses on the process of change. It is designed to support and attend those women who want or need to change their violent behaviour.
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Funded by:and
European Commission and the German Federal Ministry of Family, Seniors, Women and Youth.

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