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Speaking Silence: Definitional Dialogues in Abusive Lesbian Relationships

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 8 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2002 Pages: 1233-1259
Grace Giorgio
Date Published
October 2002
27 pages
This article investigates abusive lesbian relationships in light of dominant theories and representation of domestic violence.
Silence, a historically marked condition of lesbian subjectivity, is one aspect of the definitional dialogues that lesbians produce around the violence they experience. Definitional dialogues are ongoing negotiations and assessments that each partner internalizes and expresses about the relationship and its violence. This analysis involves ongoing, in-depth interviews with 11 lesbian-identified women who had been or still were in relationships with abusive female partners, and 10 domestic violence workers. The interviews explored the abusers’ tactics and effects as well as how victims internalized and negotiated the violence in the context of domestic violence theory and advocacy. Those lesbians that conclude that their partner is abusing them may decide to seek outside assistance only to find that service providers deny or minimize their claims of abuse. The service providers are working from their own assumptions about intimate violence and lesbian relationships. Some advocates may believe that women are incapable of violence. Even when support services attend to abuse in lesbian relationships, their efforts can further silence victims. Because lesbian romantic love and the identities it produces differ from heterosexual love, the understanding of abusive lesbian relationships demand distinguishing these differences. Abused lesbians often experience woman-on-woman rape as part of the abuse and filter their experiences of it through the assumptions about rape. Without an understanding of woman-on-woman rape and violent lesbian relationships, lesbian victims remain confused and silent about the abuse. Lesbians, battered or not, use silence as a way of speaking. Lesbians’ definitional dialogues about the violence in their relationships can be used to develop communicative competence in assessing the abuse and not dismissing it as mutually combative. Altering the language that describes abusive relationships would increase communication between researchers and battered lesbians. 18 notes, 32 references