A lesbian woman who is affected by violence in her partnership seldom seeks support from a specialist counselling service. In the first instance, she turns to her circle of friends, which however is generally unable to cope with the situation.
It is usually a huge step for a lesbian woman to approach a counselling centre to talk about violence in her relationship. If she goes to a ‘normal’ family counselling centre she has to trust that she will be accepted as a lesbian and be taken seriously with her problem. After all, she has either been abused by, or she herself has abused, another woman.
Many lesbians who are victims of their partner’s violence remain silent about the violence they have experienced, among other reasons, as a response to social stigmatisation but also because they receive insufficient psychosocial support. For example, none of the German organisations that support victims specifically addresses lesbian women as victims of violence.
The lesbian victims of domestic violence continue to meet in comprehension and even repudiation. This carries the danger of revictimisation (Cf. Ohms, Müller; 2001).
Sometimes emergency telephone services (women’s hotlines) see the lesbian victims as “special cases” and they are therefore denied access to the usual crisis intervention options (Ohms, 2001).
If a lesbian woman seeks assistance from a specialist counselling service, she appears, at least in the first instance, to be the person threatened by violence. However, experience shows that women who exercise violence often see themselves as victims. As a consequence, they may seek “counselling as victims”. Here it must be noted that support that focuses solely on being a victim can strengthen the woman’s perception of herself as a “victim” and can contribute to the justification of her own violence.
A distinction must be made here, to a lesbian woman who is the victim of violence in her relationship.
In abusive lesbian relationships there is a three -part cycle of: growing strain within the relationship, violent eruption and reconciliation. Aggression escalates more and more. One can also observe an increase in the frequency and intensity of violence. In abusive relationships one can clearly distinguish between the victim and the offender. Whilst the offender is the only one using violence, the victim tries to avoid her partner’s aggression through appropriate behaviour.
Different issues take priority depending on the point in time in which the lesbian domestic violence victim seeks support from an anti-violence or specialist counselling organisation.
If the woman is still in the relationship or in the separation phase, the degree of danger must be established, a risk assessment must be conducted and the first priority is to develop a safety plan. In most cases, the level of violence escalates when the victim decides to leave the relationship. For this reason, she needs special protection and support at this time. However, the violence often continues after the relationship has ended. In this case, the degree of danger must also be assessed, a risk analysis conducted and options for protection initiated.
The woman’s social network plays a special role here. However, especially lesbian women in abusive relationships live in isolation and lack an intact environment that is capable of providing them with the protection and support they require.
Often the personal or telephone request for assistance and support is the first time that the woman has spoken to anyone about her experience of violence. The counselling session has a strongly unburdening function for this reason. In addition, it is also helpful for the affected woman to know that she is not the only lesbian woman to experience violence in her relationship and to become the victim of violence.
An explanation of the typical dynamics found in violent relationships can also relieve the burden on the victim, as can the provision of information about the process followed in providing assistance.
It is also important that the victim be made aware of organisations that provide protection for victims and that she can access these. Further, she should be directed to local lesbian counselling services. Should none be known or available, there is always the possibility using the telephone counselling services offered in large cities.
The basic resources of a service should therefore include a referral file that lists the addresses of other institutions, counselling organisations or individual therapeutic practices. In addition to the general organisational information such as address, telephone number and telephone times, this file can also include other information, e.g. methods used, and special experience in working with lesbian women affected by violence.
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Cayouette, Susan (1999): Running Batterers Groups for Lesbians. In: Beth Leventhal, Sandra E. Lundy (Hg.) Same-Sex Domestic Violence - Strategies for Change. Tousand Oaks, CA, London.
Frenznick, Martina/Müller, Karin (2002): Psychosoziale Beratung bei Gewalt in lesbischen Beziehungen. In: Ohms, Constance (Hgin): Gegen Gewalt Ein Leitfaden für Beratungsstellen und Polizei zum Umgang mit Gewalt in lesbischen Beziehungen. Frankfurt/M.,
Hart, Barbara (1986): Lesbian Battering: An Examination. In: Lobel, Kerry (Hg.): Naming the Violence Speaking Out about Lesbian Battering. Seattle, Washington.
Ohms, Constance/Müller, Karin (Hgin.) (2001): Gut aufgehoben? Zur psychosozialen Versorgung lesbischer Frauen mit Gewalt- und/oder Diskriminierungserfahrungen im europäischen Vergleich. Frankfurt/M., Berlin.
Ohms, Constance (2008): Das Fremde in mir Gewaltdynamiken in Liebesbeziehungen zwischen Frauen. Soziologische Perspektiven auf ein Tabuthema.