Domestic Violence between Same-Sex Partners: Implications for Counseling. (Practice & Theory)

By Peterman, Linda M.; Dixon, Charlotte G. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview
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Domestic Violence between Same-Sex Partners: Implications for Counseling. (Practice & Theory)


Peterman, Linda M., Dixon, Charlotte G., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


Domestic violence is a major social and health problem in the United States that affects the family, society, and the future. Between 2 and 4 million women in the U.S. are physically battered annually by their partners, and 25% to 30% of all U.S. women are at risk of domestic violence during their lifetime (American Medical Association [AMA], 1996; Kerker, Horwitz, Leventhal, Plichta, & Leaf, 2000). In 1992, the U.S. Surgeon General declared domestic violence this nation's number one health problem (AMA, 1992). Domestic violence is also prevalent in the gay and lesbian communities, occurring with the same or even greater frequency than in heterosexual communities (Barnes, 1998; Friess, 1997; Island & Letellier, 1991; Renzetti, 1992). The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 25% to 33% of all same-sex relationships include domestic violence.

Domestic violence is the third largest health problem facing gay men today, second to substance abuse and AIDS (Island & Letellier, 1991; Oatley, 1994). In heterosexual couples, it is estimated that the man is the abuser in 95% of the cases (Dutton, 1995; Island & Letellier, 1991; Walker, 2000). Island and Letellier reported that gay men's domestic violence might occur at a rate greater than heterosexual violence because both partners in a homosexual relationship are men and each has the same probability of being an abuser. In addition, gay men are not less violent than straight men (Island & Letellier, 1991). According to W.O.M.E.N. Inc., a San Francisco organization serving battered women, domestic violence also occurs in one of four lesbian relationships (Barnes, 1998; Friess, 1997; Oatley, 1994). For example, 50% of lesbians polled at the 1985 Michigan women's music festival said that they had been a victim of domestic violence by a female partner (Oatley, 1994). Fifty percent of those surveyed also said they had been the abuser in a same-sex relationship. Lesbians have worked in domestic violence shelters as counselors and volunteers and have played an active role in the battered women's movement since it began (Akpodiete, 1993). They have fought against men's violent behavior against women. However, some researchers (Chung, 1995; Island & Letellier, 1991) suggested that the lesbian community chooses to believe that women are not abusive or violent. The idea of a lesbian being an abuser is considered impossible, and therefore domestic violence is largely ignored or kept quiet in the lesbian community (Friess, 1997; Island & Letellier, 1991; King, 1993; Nolan, 2000).

Besides being ignored in the gay and lesbian communities themselves, domestic violence between same-sex partners is a subject that has been largely avoided by governments, law enforcement, and society. Gay men and lesbians are less likely to report the abuse and more likely to stay with their partner because of homophobia, heterosexism, and ignorance in the community regarding domestic violence as well as homosexuality (Island & Letellier, 1991). Furthermore, some gay men and lesbians have internalized society's prejudices against them and believe they deserve to be violated (Island & Letellier, 1991; Nolan, 2000).

Although books and magazine articles regarding same-sex domestic violence issues started appearing in the late 1980s, adequate support groups, shelters, and treatment programs for this population are still not in place (Oatley, 1994). For example, as of 1997, no shelters existed for gay men, although in some cities battered men can obtain hotel vouchers from domestic violence centers (Friess, 1997; King, 1993; Oatley, 1994). Friess indicated that many support groups would not allow gay men to attend because some people believe it creates a volatile situation among men already prone to violence. Akpodiete (1993) and Lobel (1986) further suggested that even when lesbians go to domestic violence shelters, they are discriminated against just because the word lesbian produces fear in others.

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