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Domestic abuse in same sex relationships. Professor Marianne Hester ( with Catherine Donovan & Jonathan Holmes – Sunderland, Melanie McCarry & Eldin Fahmy – Bristol) Economic & Social Research Council, Award No. RES-000-23-0650. The study.

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domestic abuse in same sex relationships

Domestic abuse insame sex relationships

Professor Marianne Hester

( with Catherine Donovan & Jonathan Holmes – Sunderland,

Melanie McCarry & Eldin Fahmy – Bristol)

Economic & Social Research Council,

Award No. RES-000-23-0650

the study
The study
  • most detailed UK research on same sex domestic abuse to date
  • first study in the UK comparing domestic abuse in same sex and heterosexual relationships
  • Fieldwork carried out between January 2005 and March 2006
  • Can Gender and Power model explain same sex domestic violence?

What about:

  • Power and control
  • Heterosexual male paradigm – physical violence
  • Lack of ‘gender’ in same sex relationships

Questions about victims/survivors and perpetrators of domestic violence:

  • Domestic violence: uni-directional or bi-directional?
  • ‘Patriarchal/ intimate terrorism’ or ‘situational/ common couple violence’ (Johnson 1995, 2006)
the research
The research

1. A UK-wide survey of domestic abuse in same sex relationships (800 responses, 746 usable questionnaires).

2. Five focus groups with lesbians, gay men and heterosexual women and men of different ages and ethnicities (21 individuals).

3. Semi-structured interviewswith 67 individuals (41 lesbian/gay/queer, 3 bisexual, and 23 heterosexual)

the questionnaire
The questionnaire
  • British Crime Survey – heteronormative (until now)
  • US same sex surveys – beyond heteronormativity
  • Experiences of emotional, physical and sexual abuse; impact/context; violence to partner
the questionnaire sample
The questionnaire sample
  • Nearly two thirds women (451) and a third men (280).
  • Women were most likely to identify as ‘lesbian’ . Men mainly identified as ‘gay man’.
  • Bisexuals and queers mostly women, and younger.
the questionnaire sample9
The questionnaire sample
  • Ethnicity as UK population
  • More than 1 in 10 had a disability
  • Income slightly higher than UK population – and large gender inequality
  • 1 in 5 women parented children,

and 1 in 15 men

current relationship
Current relationship
  • Two-thirds were in a relationship
  • Men had shorter relationships, but also 2-5 years and more than 20 years.
  • Women had longer relationships
the interviews
The Interviews

Total of 67 individuals of which (44 lgbq, 23 heterosexual):

  • 19 lesbians
  • 19 gay men
  • 3 bisexuals
  • 3 queer
  • 14 heterosexual women
  • 9 heterosexual men

Similar demographics to survey

when is it abuse
When is it abuse?
  • Difficulty naming experiences as abuse
  • Easier to call physical violence domestic abuse

….I do think it was quite a controlling relationship, yeah. And,I did think, ‘well actually, is this really going to count’… because it’s probably not on the greatest scale of long term, abusive, violent behaviour…. Uhm but it does fall into it, I think. (Kay)

  • Some answered ‘no’ in questionnaire, and ‘yes’ in later interview
experiences of domestic abuse warning not random sample therefore not prevalence
Experiences of domestic abuseWARNING: NOT RANDOM SAMPLE therefore NOT PREVALENCE
  • In the survey 40.1% women & 35.2% men said they had experienced same sex domestic abuse
  • Even more had experienced at least one form of abusive behaviour
  • CONCLUSION – domestic an issue for considerable number of people in LGBT community.
british crime survey data
British Crime Survey data

In last 12 months (one or more incidents): heterosexual men 4%,heterosexual women 6%, gay/ bisexual men 9%, lesbian/ bisexual women17%

experiences of domestic abuse16
Experiences of domestic abuse
  • of those respondents experiencing a range of abuse most (86%) are in uni-directional and not bi-directionalabusive relationships.
  • of those respondents experiencing one form of abuse most (64%) are again in uni-directional and not in bi-directional abusive relationships
  • For those identifying as experiencing domestic abuse, most are experiencing uni-directional abuse
emotional abuse top ten survey
Emotional abuse – ‘top ten’ (survey)
  • Isolated from friends (under 35)
  • regularly insulted/put down (low income)
  • frightened by things your partner says/does (low education, low income)
  • told what to do/who to see (low education)
  • isolated from relatives (low education)
  • made to do most housework
  • your spending controlled (gay men, under 35, low education)
  • your age used against you (under 35)
  • malicious/pestering phone calls (low education)
  • your education used against you
physical abuse top ten survey
Physical abuse – ‘top ten’ (survey)
  • slapped/pushed/shoved (under 35, low education)
  • physically threatened (gay men, low education)
  • kicked/punched (gay men, under 35, low education)
  • restrained/held down/tied up
  • stalked/followed by partner (under 35, low education, low income)
  • beaten up
  • choked/strangled/suffocated (under 35)
  • locked out of house/room by partner (low education)
  • hit with an object/weapon (under 35)
  • Bitten (under 35, low income)
sexual abuse top seven survey
Sexual abuse – ‘top seven’ (survey)
  • had sex for sake of peace
  • touched in way that caused fear/alarm/distress (low income)
  • forced into sexual activity (gay men)
  • hurt during sex (gay men, under 35, low income)
  • 'safe' words/boundaries disrespected (gay men, under 35, low income)
  • sexually assaulted/abused (under 35, low income)
  • refused your request for safer sex (gay men)
impact of abuse similar for women men except emotional abuse impact
Impact of abuseSimilar for women & men… except:Emotional abuse impact
  • for women: abuse made them work harder so as ‘to make their partner happy’ or in order ‘to stop making mistakes’, and/ or had impact on their children or their relationship with their children
  • For men: made them ‘feel loved/wanted’
physical abuse impact
Physical abuse impact
  • Women: as with emotional abuse

But yeah I did love her. … I don’t know. I think part of me wanted to help her, um, and I thought loving her would fix everything. (Sarah)

sexual abuse impact
Sexual abuse impact
  • Women: some feared for their lives
similarities between women and men
Similarities between women and men
  • First same sex relationships risk for domestic abuse
  • Sexuality as tool of control: denigrating the scene; abusive partner not wanting to be out
  • Post separation abuse
  • Abusive partner controlling activities/relationships of victim/survivors
  • Abusive partner undermining victim/survivor sense of self

Use of other aspects:

victim may be taller, larger, more educated, higher social class

e g of inverse oppression
e.g. of ‘inverse oppression’

Because, actually, if two strangers saw me and Marnie together, not knowing either of us or anything about either of us, I think they would probably assume that I was the one with the power in the relationship. Because I am physically bigger than her. I probably come across verbally more confident than her, probably come across more educated than her. (pause) … But I think anybody who spent a weekend with us would quickly realise where the power lay in that relationship


  • Men reported experiencing more physical abuse and especially more sexual abuse;
  • Women reported more emotional abuse and emotionally more coercive sexual abuse
lesbians more likely to live with abusive partner and more likely to experience longer abusive relationship
  • Men less likely to live with abusive partner and more likely to experience shorter abusive relationship
Abusive men: typically aggressively possessive
  • Abusive women: typically desperately needy
norms of femininity linked to experiences of abusive female same sex relationships
Norms of femininity linked to experiences of abusive female same sex relationships

Femininity linked with expectations/experiences of:

  • emotional articulateness
  • emotional manipulation
  • commitment expressed through living together (lesbian joke what do lesbians do on the second date? Move in)
  • commitment expressed through wanting to make things better, help partner, stay through ‘bad times’
norms of masculinity linked to experiences of males in abusive same sex relationships
Norms of masculinity linked to experiences of males in abusive same sex relationships

Masculinity linked with expectations/experiences of:

  • Lack of commitment expressed through not living together
  • Lack of commitment expressed through willingness to leave earlier when things go wrong
  • Physical aggression
  • Physical sexual agression
help seeking32
  • one in five did not seek help from anyone (22.2%).
  • most used ‘informal’ or ‘private’ means rather than voluntary of statutory sector services
  • More than half contacted friends – especially women
  • about a third used counsellors or therapists
  • GPs or colleagues also used – especially by men
  • About one in ten contacted the police – more men.
summary of findings
Summary of Findings
  • Domestic abuse is a sizeable problem in same sex relationship
  • Domestic abuse is experienced in very similar ways in lesbian and gay relationships.
  • Men were more likely to experience sexual abuse
  • Differences in experiences reflected gender norms
  • As with surveys of heterosexual communities, those aged 25 years and under at greater risk of abuse (… first relationships)
  • Low income and low educational attainment also risk factors

Gender and Power?

  • Power and control – operates in both lesbian and gay relationships, with some gendered norms. Also use of other ‘inversely oppressive’ aspects.
  • Heterosexual male paradigm (physical violence) - men report experiencing more physical violence than lesbians
  • Lack of ‘gender’ in same sex relationships – but evidence of gendered norms.