This paper presents preliminary results from a multisite, qualitative study on violence in lesbian relationships. A framework for conducting community-based, empowerment research that draws on theories of community psychology, feminism, and postmodernism is presented. The study was designed to understand the dynamics of abusive lesbian relationships and social service providers' responses to the abuse. Results from 80 in-depth interviews with lesbians who have experienced relationship violence are examined with a particular focus on a pattern of first relationships being abusive and a theme of shifting power dynamics. Analysis of focus group discussions with 45 feminist service providers (e.g., counselors, shelter workers, social workers, healthcare providers) reveals the difficulties in assessing the power dynamics of abusive same-sex relationships and in developing appropriate responses when relying on heterosexually gendered models developed to address men's violence against women. The preliminary results present implications both for how we theorize and research this form of violence, and for improving the practices and policies of social services that work with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered communities.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Banyard, V. L., & Miller, K. E. (1998). The powerful potential of qualitative research for community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26(4), 485–505.
Boston, N. (1999, November 2). Rise in violence. Retrieved from http://gfn.com
Brand, P. A., & Kidd, A. H. (1986). Frequency of physical aggression in heterosexual and female homosexual dyads. Psychological Reports, 59, 1307–1313.
Brown, L. M. (1998). Raising their voices: The politics of girls' anger. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Burman, E. (Ed.). (1998). Deconstructing feminist psychology. London: Sage.
Coleman, V. E. (1994). Lesbian battering: The relationship between personality and perpetuation of violence. Violence and Victims, 9(2), 139–152.
Crenshaw, K. W. (1994). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. In M. A. Fineman & R. Mykitiuk (Eds.), The public nature of private violence (pp. 93–118). New York: Routledge.
Currie, D. H. (1998). Violent men or violent women? Whose definition counts. In R. K. Bergen (Ed.), Issues in intimate violence (pp. 97–111). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
DeKeseredy, W. S. (1999). Tactics of the antifeminist backlash against Canadian national woman abuse surveys. Violence Against Women, 5(11), 1258–1276.
Elliot, P. (1996). Shattering illusions: Same–sex domestic violence. In C. Renzetti & C. H. Miley (Eds.), Violence in gay and lesbian domestic partnerships (pp. 1–8). New York: Harrington Park Press.
Fine, M. (1992). Disruptive voices: The possibilities of feminist research. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Garnets, L. D., & D' Augelli, A. R. (1994). Empowering lesbian and gay communities: A call for collaboration with community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 22(4), 447–470.
Gavey, N. (1989). Feminist poststructuralism and discourse analysis: Contributions to feminist psychology. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 13, 459–475.
Hamberger, L. K. (1994). Domestic partner abuse: Expanding paradigms for understanding and intervention. Violence and Victims, 9(2), 91–94.
Hammond, N. (1989). Lesbian victims of relationship violence. Women and Therapy, 8, 89–105.
Hart, B. (1986). Lesbian battering: An examination. In K. Lobel (Ed.), Naming the violence (pp. 173–189). Seattle, WA: Seal Press.
Hollway, W. (1996). Gender and power in organizations. In B. Fawcett, B. Featherstone, J. Hearn, & C. Toft (Eds.), Violence and gender relations: Theories and interventions (pp. 72–81). London: Sage.
Istar, A. (1996). Couple assessment: Identifying and intervening in domestic violence in lesbian relationships. In C. Renzetti & C. H. Miley (Eds.), Violence in gay and lesbian domestic partnerships (pp. 93–106). New York: Harrington Park Press.
Kelly, L. (1988). Surviving sexual violence. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Koss, M. P., Goodman L. A., Browne, A., Fitzgerald, L, Puryear Ketia, G., & Russo, N. F. (1994). No safe haven: Male violence against women at home, at work, and in the community. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Lamb, S. (1999). Constructing the victim: Popular images and lasting labels. In S. Lamb (Ed.), New versions of victims: Feminists struggle with the concept (pp. 108–138). New York: New York University Press.
Lather, P. (1991). Getting smart: Feminist research and pedagogy with/in the postmodern. New York: Routledge
Lie, G., & Gentlewarrier, S. (1991). Intimate violence in lesbian relationships: Discussion of survey findings and practice implications. Journal of Social Service Research, 15(1/2), 41–59.
Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Lobel, K. (Ed.). (1986). Naming the violence: Speaking out about lesbian battering. Seattle, WA: Seal Press.
Lockhart, L. L., White, B. W., Causby, V., & Isaac, A. (1994). Letting out the secret: Violence in lesbian relationships. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 9, 469–492.
Loulan, J. (1987). Lesbian passion. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute.
Marecek, J. (1999). Trauma talk in feminist clinical practice. In S. Lamb (Ed.), New versions of victims: Feminists struggle with the concept (pp. 158–182). New York: New York University Press.
Marecek, J., Fine, M., & Kidder, L. (1997). Working between worlds: Qualitative methods and social psychology. Journal of Social Issues, 53(4), 631–644.
Marrujo, B., & Kreger, M. (1996). Definition of roles in abusive lesbian relationships. In C. Renzetti & C. H. Miley (Eds.), Violence in gay and lesbian domestic partnerships (pp. 23–33). New York: Harrington Park Press.
Merrill, G. (1996). Ruling the exceptions: Same–sex battering and domestic violence theory. In C. Renzetti & C. H. Miley (Eds.), Violence in gay and lesbian domestic partnerships (pp. 9–22). New York: Harrington Park Press.
Montell, F. (1999). Focus group interviews: A new feminist method. National Women's Studies Association Journal, 11(1), 44–69.
Prilleltensky, I. (1997). Values, assumptions and practices: Assessing the moral implications of psychological discourse and action. American Psychologist, 52(5), 517–535.
Parker, I. (1992). Discourse dynamics: Critical analysis for social and individual psychology. London: Routledge.
Rabinow, P. (Ed.). (1984). The Foucault reader. New York: Pantheon Books.
Rappaport, J. (1990). Research methods and the empowerment social agenda. In P. Tolan, C. Keys, F. Chertok, & L. Jason (Eds.), Researching community psychology: Issues and methods (pp. 51–63). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Renzetti, C. M. (1992). Violent betrayal: Partner abuse in lesbian relationships. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Renzetti, C. M. (1995). Studying partner abuse in lesbian relationships: A case for the feminist participatory research model. In C. Tully (Ed.), Lesbian social services: Research issues (pp. 29–42). New York: The Haworth Press.
Renzetti, C. M. (1998). Violence and abuse in lesbian relationships: Theoretical and empirical issues. In R. K. Bergen (Ed.), Issues in intimate violence (pp. 117–128). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Renzetti, C. M., & Miley, C. H. (Eds.). (1996). Violence in gay and lesbian domestic partnerships. New York: Harrington Park Press.
Ristock, J. L. (1991). Beyond ideologies: Understanding violence in lesbian relationships. Canadian Woman Studies, 12(1), 74–79.
Ristock, J. L. (1994). 'And Justice for All?' The social context of legal responses to abuse in lesbian relationships. Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, 7, 415–430.
Ristock, J. L. (1997). The cultural politics of abuse in lesbian relationships: Challenges for community action. In N. V. Benokraitis (Ed.), Subtle sexism: Current practice and prospects for change (pp. 279–296). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Ristock, J. L. (1998). Community–based research: Lesbian abuse and other telling tales. In J. L. Ristock & C. G. Taylor (Eds.), Inside the academy and out: Lesbian/gay/queer studies and social action (pp. 137–154). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Ristock, J. L., & Pennell, J. (1996). Community research as empowerment: Feminist links, postmodern interruptions. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Scherzer, T. (1998). Domestic violence in lesbian relationships: Findings of the lesbian relationships research project. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 2(1), 29–47.
Stahly, G. B., & Lie, G. Y. (1995). Women and violence: A comparison of lesbian and heterosexual battering relationships. In J. C. Chrisler & A. H. Hemstreet (Eds.), Variations on a theme: Diversity and the psychology of women (pp. 51–78). Albany: State University of New York Press.
Strauss, M. A. (1990). The conflict tactics scale and its critics: An evaluation and new data on validity and reliability. In M. A. Strauss & R. J. Gelles (Eds.), Physical violence in American families: Risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.
Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Strauss, M. A., Gelles, R., & Steinmetz, S. (1980). Behind closed doors: Violence in the American family. New York: Doubleday.
Ussher, J. M. (Ed.). (1997). Body talk: The material and discursive regulation of sexuality, madness and reproduction. London: Routledge.
Waldner–Haugrud, L. K., Vaden Gratch, L., & Magruder, B. (1997). Victimization and perpetration rates of violence in gay and lesbian relationships: Gender issues explored. Violence and Victims, 12(2), 173–184.
Walker, L. E. (1979). The Battered Woman. New York: Harper and Row.
Waterman, C. K., Dawson, L. J., & Bologna, M. J. (1989). Sexual coercion in gay male and lesbian relationships: Predictors and implications for support services. The Journal of Sex Research, 26(1), 118–124.
Weiss, R. S. (1994). Learning from strangers: The art and method of qualitative interview studies. New York: Free Press.
Wilkinson, S. (1999). Focus groups: A feminist method. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23, 221–244.
Wilkinson, S., & Kitzinger, C. (Eds.). (1995). Feminism and discourse: Psychological perspectives. London: Sage.
Yllo, K. (1993). Through a feminist lens: Gender, power and violence. In R. Gelles & D. Loseke (Eds.), Current controversies in family violence. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Zemsky, B. (1990). Lesbian battering: Considerations for intervention. In P. Elliot (Ed.), Confronting lesbian battering: A manual for the battered women's movement (pp. 64–67). St. Paul: Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.
Zimmerman, M. A., & Perkins, D. D. (Eds.). (1995). Empowerment theory, research, and application [Special issue]. American Journal of Community Psychology, 23(5).
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Ristock, J.L. Exploring Dynamics of Abusive Lesbian Relationships: Preliminary Analysis of a Multisite, Qualitative Study. Am J Community Psychol 31, 329–341 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1023971006882
- relationship violence
- social service providers
- qualitative methods
- community research as empowerment