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«GOODMARK.7.11.2008 7/16/2008 12:44:53 PM When Is a Battered Woman Not a Battered Woman? When She Fights Back Leigh Goodmark† INTRODUCTION I. THE ...»

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175. Girshick, supra note 83, at 1503. Girshick notes that admitting lesbian violence also opens women up to the accusation that they are as violent as men, a particularly virulent argument in recent years. Id. at 1512.

176. Sandra E. Lundy, Abuse That Dare Not Speak Its Name: Assisting Victims of Lesbians and Gay Domestic Violence in Massachusetts, 28 NEW ENG. L. REV. 273, 286 (1993); see also JANICE L.

RISTOCK, NO MORE SECRETS: VIOLENCE IN LESBIAN RELATIONSHIPS 3 (2002) (attributing resistance to talking about domestic violence within the lesbian community to an effort to keep focus on male violence, as well as hesitancy to invite negative stereotyping of lesbians).

177. Mary Lou Dietrich, Nothing Is the Same Anymore, in NAMING THE VIOLENCE, supra note 172, at 155, 162.

178. GIRSHICK, supra note 80, at 49.

179. See Lola Butler, African-American Lesbians Experiencing Partner Abuse, in PROFESSIONAL’S GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING GAY AND LESBIAN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, supra note 81, at 181, 194 (“Historically, women and Blacks have kept members of their groups in line as a means of self-defense and maintaining self-respect by defending the course they themselves have chosen.”).

180. As one battered lesbian explained, “‘I think it changed my feelings about trusting the community, trusting other women. If I ever had ideas about a utopian vision, those certainly were and have been shattered.’” RENZETTI, supra note 77, at 86.

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106 Yale Journal of Law and Feminism [Vol. 20:75

Battered lesbians may also have felt constrained from reporting their abuse by pressure from within the lesbian community to appear strong and unafraid.181 According to Barbara Hart, one of the mothers of the battered women’s movement, “As a lesbian community, we identify with the power, control and anger of lesbians who batter.... We view lesbians who are battered as weak sisters.”182 Some battered lesbians reported that their friends viewed violence as a normal part of problem solving; one battered lesbian recounted her friend’s advice that “a good fist fight would clear the air.”183 Battered lesbians who did seek assistance were dismissed or ridiculed by the community. “Victim” is used as a pejorative: “Don’t be such a victim. You’re acting like a victim.”184 When those strong women did fight back, however, the guilt they felt as a result of doing so may have kept them from seeking help.185 Homophobia may prevent battered lesbians from seeking outside assistance. In 1986, in the first published book on lesbian violence, Kerry Lobel noted that by acknowledging that domestic violence occurred within lesbian relationships, “we risk further repression,”186 the fear that acknowledging domestic violence within the lesbian community would prompt further societal condemnation continues two decades later.187 The silence of battered lesbians about abuse in their relationships maybe a function of the justifiable fear that such violence will be used to excuse further discrimination against and hatred of lesbians.188 Abusers may use homophobia to prevent their victims from reporting. The abuser may threaten to reveal a closeted victim’s sexual orientation to her family, friends, and coworkers if she discloses the abuse or seeks assistance.189 The abuser may also attempt to convince the victim not to “out” her by asking

181. Nancy Hammond suggests that the lesbian community may hold victims responsible for their abuse because they have failed to assume power, a tenet of lesbian feminist culture. “We take pride in our strength and fortitude as individuals, and in our ability to survive and grow even stronger. It is hard for our friends to see us, strong and tough-minded women that we are, as victims of abuse....” Nancy Hammond, Lesbian Victims and the Reluctance To Identify Abuse, in NAMING THE VIOLENCE, supra note 172, at 190, 194-95.

182. Barbara Hart, Preface to NAMING THE VIOLENCE, supra note 172, at 9, 14.

183. RENZETTI, supra note 77, at 103.

184. Dietrich, supra note 177, at 158.

185. RENZETTI, supra note 77, at 109.

186. Kerry Lobel, Introduction to NAMING THE VIOLENCE, supra note 172, at 1, 7.

187. RISTOCK, supra note 176, at 3; Pamela M. Jablow, Victims of Abuse and Discrimination:

Protecting Battered Homosexuals Under Domestic Violence Legislation, 28 HOFSTRA L. REV. 1095, 1108-09 (2000).

188. Janice L. Ricks et al., Domestic Violence Among Lesbian Couples, in HANDBOOK OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE INTERVENTION STRATEGIES, supra note 59, at 451, 455-56; see also Tod W.

Burke et al., A Cross-National Comparison of Gay and Lesbian Domestic Violence, 18 J. CONTEMP.

CRIM. JUST. 231, 236 (2002) (explaining that perceptions of negative societal attitudes towards homosexuality may depress the same-sex domestic violence reporting rate).

189. RISTOCK, supra note 176, at 8; Kristen Kuehnle & Anne Sullivan, Gay and Lesbian Victimization: Reporting Factors in Domestic Violence and Bias Incidents, 30 CRIM. JUST. & BEHAV.

85, 87-88 (2003).

GOODMARK.7.11.2008 7/16/2008 12:44:53 PM 2008] When Is a Battered Woman Not a Battered Woman? 107 for help.190 Additionally, if the victim has “internalized society’s negative perceptions of homosexuality,” the “shame and doubt” that she feels—and the abuser’s reinforcement of those feelings through the message that because she is queer, she deserves to be battered—may keep her from reporting abuse as well.191 Homophobia may contribute to the isolation of battered lesbians. Battered lesbians may be less likely to seek the assistance of friends or family, in part because those potential sources of support may be homophobic.192 Battered lesbians may not be able to turn to their own communities for support either;





they may worry about confidentiality or be unable to access resources unavailable in their immediate surroundings.193 According to psychologist Nancy Hammond, “The lesbian victim who is isolated from other lesbians— because of geographical location, fear of coming out, or lack of knowledge about how to find other lesbians—is faced with far greater loneliness in her victimization.”194 Isolation may be an even greater problem for African American lesbians, who may be “[r]ejected by a heterosexist society and by their own ethnic community for engaging in ‘aberrant’ behavior.”195 Ironically, isolation may make some battered lesbians bond even more closely to their abusive partners.196 Being isolated can make victims believe that their partners are the only people they can rely on and trust; batterers may use that belief, and the fear that no other resources exist, to keep victims in the relationship.197

2. Battered Lesbians Are Unlikely To Be Believed

When battered lesbians report the violence done to them, they often face disbelief from those in whom they confide, resulting in assistance that is ineffectual at best, nonexistent at worse. Confronted with responses ranging from skepticism to flat denial, battered lesbians may fight back to attempt to abate the violence within the relationship instead.

Violence against women has been framed in terms of patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, and male dominance, leaving little theoretical room for female perpetrators of intimate partner violence.198 Feminist theories on the causes of

190. Lundy, supra note 176, at 286.

191. Jablow, supra note 187, at 1108.

192. Id. at 1107; RENZETTI, supra note 77, at 100. Other reasons battered lesbians gave for not turning to family were because these potential sources of support did not know that they were lesbians or did know but disapproved of their partners. Id.

193. Girshick, supra note 83, at 1510.

194. Hammond, supra note 181, at 194.

195. Butler, supra note 179, at 191 (citing J. Hiratsuka, Ousiders: Gay Teens, Straight World, NASW NEWS, Apr. 1993, at 3).

196. Hammond, supra note 181, at 194.

197. Waldron, supra note 54, at 45.

198. See RISTOCK, supra note 176, at 4; Girshick, supra note 83, at 1515.

GOODMARK.7.11.2008 7/16/2008 12:44:53 PM

108 Yale Journal of Law and Feminism [Vol. 20:75

domestic violence cast violence as a male trait;199 women are viewed as “more controlled, more gentle, better communicators, less violent, and more trustworthy than men.”200 As a result, battered lesbians often face hostility and disbelief when they report being abused by their partners. Despite research to the contrary, battering in lesbian relationships is frequently described as mutual violence, with both partners being equally powerful and equally culpable.201 One reason for this characterization is the lack of a male abuser to whom primary aggressor status can be attributed. Psychologist Amorie Robinson writes, “In same sex relationships, gender cannot be used to distinguish between the aggressor and victim. Consequently, mental health professionals, researchers, and police have often perceived lesbian battering as an ‘equal fight’ or mutual battering.”202 Batterers may encourage this characterization, arguing that any use of violence, defensive or otherwise, constitutes abuse, and use the label “mutual batterer” to minimize their own actions.203 Battered lesbians who feel guilty about taking defensive action may accept this mischaracterization of violence.204 According to Barbara Hart It is as if they have concluded that absent any violence they can with clarity identify themselves as victims of the abuser, but once they have been violent, especially if it has worked in the immediate situation to stop the batterer, they are compelled to see themselves as equally culpable—as batterers—and as obligated to fight back every time or otherwise to accept the ultimate responsibility for the battering.205 Framing the violence as mutual and describing it as a “cat fight” allows system actors to dismiss the stories told by battered lesbians as overblown and unrealistic, and therefore unworthy of belief, or involving violence too trivial for the court’s time.206 A victim’s inability to see herself as a victim because

199. Eaton, supra note 78, at 199.

200. Walker, supra note 172, at 75; see also Morrison, supra note 77, at 139 (arguing that the notions of victim and perpetrator are gendered female and male, regardless of the sex of the actual victim or perpetrator).

201. Joan C. McClennen, Domestic Violence Between Same-Gender Partners: Recent Findings and Future Research, 20 J. INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE 149, 151 (2005).

202. Amorie Robinson, “There’s a Stranger in this House”: African American Lesbians and Domestic Violence, in VIOLENCE IN THE LIVES OF BLACK WOMEN, supra note 16, at 125, 128. Lydia Walker asks, “[W]hy is it easier to believe that somehow a battered lesbian is part of the ‘violence problem’ than to believe that a heterosexual woman is part of the ‘violence problem?’” Walker, supra note 172, at 76; see also Barbara Hart, Lesbian Battering: An Examination, in NAMING THE VIOLENCE, supra note 172, at 173, 187 (“We know that some non-lesbian women who are battered by men are violent. The fact of their violence does not compel us to reach a conclusion that they are not battered.”).

203. Hart, supra note 202, at 184-85; Ricks et al., supra note 188, at 453.

204. Giorgio, supra note 74, at 1242; Robinson, supra note 202, at 130.

205. Hart, supra note 202, at 184.

206. See Giorgio, supra note 74, at 1242 (describing a protective order case in which a judge refused to distinguish the abuser from the victim, despite a police report and photographs establishing the abuse, and awarded the women mutual orders of protection, admonishing them to “try to get along”);

see also RISTOCK, supra note 176, at 3 (“[O]utside the woman’s movement... there is a tendency to trivialize violence between two women as a ‘cat-fight.’”); Jane A. Younglove et al., Law Enforcement Officers’ Perceptions of Same Sex Domestic Violence: Reason for Cautious Optimism, 17 J.

GOODMARK.7.11.2008 7/16/2008 12:44:53 PM 2008] When Is a Battered Woman Not a Battered Woman? 109 she has used violence may prevent her from conveying the kind of coherent narrative that the court wants to hear.207 Some have suggested that battered lesbians may fight back more often because of their parity in size and strength to their partners.208 But misperceptions about women’s “roles” within their relationships based on differences in size and appearance can cast doubt on victims’ stories of abuse.

Bluntly put, batterers are not always butch. (Nor are butch women always large and strong.) But size and physical appearance may serve as proxies for masculinity, and therefore an assumed decreased likelihood of victimization, much like race does for African American women. “Many battered lesbians are women of substantial physical prowess and power; women who are objectively very much more powerful than their assailants. They are women who choose not to use this power to control the perpetrator or would do so only to protect themselves or stop the batterer.”209 Nonetheless, the perception that batterers are butch (and therefore bigger and stronger) and victims femme (and therefore smaller and weaker) makes it more difficult for larger, more physically powerful women to persuade others that they have been abused.210 One important criterion people use to assess battered lesbians’ “‘worthiness’ as victims” is their physical size and gender presentation relative to that of their partners.211 Larger butch women abused by their smaller femme partners have described the difficulties they faced in securing assistance, as well as the shame they felt “because of the assumption made on the basis of their butch identity or appearance that they must be the one who is abusive.”212 Judges, too, are susceptible to these prejudgments, equating gender presentation and size with status as batterer or victim. Judges assessing the credibility of parties appearing before them may find it difficult to believe that butch women could ever be the victims of violence—let alone of violence done by their femme partners— especially in instances where the victims are larger and tougher looking than the batterers.



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