Victimization and Perpetration Rates of Violence in Gay and Lesbian Relationships: Gender Issues Explored

By Waldner-Haugrud, Lisa K. PhD; Gratch, Linda Vaden PhD et al. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

Victimization and Perpetration Rates of Violence in Gay and Lesbian Relationships: Gender Issues Explored


Waldner-Haugrud, Lisa K. PhD, Gratch, Linda Vaden PhD, Magruder, Brian PhD, Violence and Victims


This study explores gender differences in victimization and perpetration experiences of gays and lesbians in intimate relationships. A sample of 283 gays and lesbians reported on their experiences both as victims and perpetrators of gay/lesbian relationship violence by completing a modified version of the Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). General results indicate that 47.5% of lesbians and 29.7% of gays have been victimized by a same-sex partner. Further, lesbians reported an overall perpetration rate of 38% compared to 21.8% for gay men. Other findings were as follows: (1) lesbians were more likely to be classified as victims and perpetrators of violence than gay men; (2) lesbians were more likely to report pushing or being pushed than gay men; (3) lesbians reported experiencing a greater number of different victimization and perpetration tactics than gay men; and finally, (4) when items were weighted to create an indicator of severity, no significant differences between lesbians and gay men were found.

In spite of commonly held assumptions that gay and lesbian relationships are violence-free (Evans & Bannister, 1990; Hammond, 1989; Island & Letellier, 1991), available research suggests that physical violence within these relationships occurs all too frequently. Reported rates of victimization within lesbian relationships are high, and in fact, are higher than reported rates of gay relationship violence. However, having confidence in this comparative finding is difficult due to problems in this area of research. Few studies on gay relationship violence exist that include both gays and lesbians in the sample. This paucity of research can serve to inflate the importance and/or validity represented in those rates. Second, the reported rates of violence within lesbian relationships vary widely. Brand and Kidd (1986) reported a victimization rate of 30% (when rates for committed and dating relationships are combined), while Lie, Schilit, Bush, Montagne, and Reyes (1991) found the much higher rate of 75%. Differences in rates are due to methodological issues such as differing definitions of violence, time frames (current vs lifetime), and sampling techniques. Since none of the studies used random sampling techniques, reported rates of victimization and perpetration do not represent true prevalence rates. Third, the data on gay male relationship violence-which is reported to range from 11 % to 20% (Island & Letellier, 1991)-was not scientifically derived. Therefore, its comparability to other groups' rates of relationship violence is negligible. Finally, past research on lesbian violence rates did not always exclude violence perpetrated by former heterosexuals partners. This is essential to gain a clearer picture of differences in violence rates between gay men and lesbians. While comparisons among gay/lesbian relationship violence studies are less meaningful than they might be at this time, it is important explore the details of the current published research and to begin to generate a body of description against which new research can be matched.

One of the earliest published reports on lesbian relationship violence found that 30% of a sample of 55 self-identified lesbians reported being physical abused by their partners in a committed or dating relationship (Brand & Kidd, 1986). Bologna and colleagues (1987) surveyed 70 gays and lesbians, and found that about 56% of the lesbians were physically abused by their intimate partners. Using a sample of 1,099 lesbians, Lie and Gentlewarrior (1991) reported a rate of about 52%. Lie and associates (1991) used a sample of 174 lesbians contacted through a lesbian organization mailing list and found an overall rate of 75% and a current relationship rate of 25%. For estimates ranging in between, both Schilit, Lie, and Montagne (1990), and Lockhart, White, Causby, and Isaac (1994), reported victimization rates of 38% and 31% respectively.

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