Lesbian Battering: The Sisterhood Turns on Itself

Posted by on Aug 29th, 2010 and filed under Defense. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry from your site

A series of high-profile cases of lesbian-perpetrated domestic violence has sent shock-waves through Massachusetts communities in recent months:

1. On February 16, a Suffolk Superior Court jury convicted Nicole Chuminski on two counts of second-degree murder, following a fire that killed the two daughters of her lover Anna Reisopoulos. During a heated argument between the two, Chuminski reportedly fell into a fit of rage. A few hours later Chuminski returned to her partner’s apartment and hurled an acetone-laden firebomb into the front door.

Sophia and Acia, ages 2 and 14, were burned beyond recognition, so dental records were needed for positive identification.

2. On March 29 Annamarie Rintala of Granby, Mass. was found dead by strangulation in the basement of the house she shared with her domestic partner Cara. Cara had been previously charged with domestic violence after she struck Annamarie in the back of the head with a closed fist.

3. Eunice Field of Brockton, Mass. found herself on the losing end of a bitter ménage à trois. So on August 9 she marched to the apartment of Lorraine Wachsman. There she grabbed a serrated knife and stabbed Wachsman in the back and neck. Dispelling any doubt about her intentions, she then penned a note admitting she had killed Waschsman “for taking away the love of my life.”

Ms. Field is now being held without bail pending a September 3 court appearance.

Experts on lesbian domestic violence were shocked, but honestly not surprised by these incidents. Last November a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported a 125% increase in domestic violence fatalities in lesbian and gay couples around the country during the prior year. According to Beth Leventhal of The Network/La Red of Boston, “partner abuse in LGBT communities can be just as lethal as that in heterosexual communities.”

Ms. Leventhal’s commentary actually understates the extent of the problem. Earlier this year the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research published the results of a survey of over 51,000 California adults: http://www.healthpolicy.ucla.edu/pubs/files/IPV_PB_031810.pdf . The UCLA study found 28% of persons in lesbian/gay relationships had experienced intimate partner violence, compared to 17% of persons in heterosexual relationships.

It’s also believed that lesbians are more likely to engage in partner violence than gay men. According to the Boston Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project, one in three homosexual women experience partner aggression, compared to only one in four homosexual men. Kaitlin Nichols of The Network/La Red notes, “The myth of women’s communities as safe communities has prevented many women from reaching out for support. If they have shared what is happening, they are met with disbelief from their community.”

And why are lesbians more likely to abuse?

According to Nomi Porat, an abuse-prevention expert, the reason is poor limit-setting: “An issue common to women, particularly battered women, is the fear of demanding physical and emotional boundaries. In part, battered lesbians are afraid their lovers will leave or become more violent if any limitations are set in the relationship.”

A nearly impenetrable double wall serves to keep lesbian battering tucked away in the proverbial closet. The first wall is the stigmatization invoked by lesbians themselves who believe in a sort of same-sex utopia, the feminist belief that maintains female-female relationships are inherently more peaceful, gentle, and “pure,” compared to male-female relationships.

In Naming the Violence: Speaking out About Lesbian Battering, Barbara Hart maintains that female batterers should be subjected to a form of shunning by the lesbian community: “one of the consequences of [female batterers’] violence is that they may have to limit any contact with the person they assaulted/abused. This may mean that the batterer cannot attend public gatherings or movement meetings.”

The second wall is the broader domestic violence industry that maintains a cult-like belief in the notion of patriarchal sexism, the theory that men abuse their wives due to an innate and irrepressible urge to oppress women. So every time a woman pummels, rapes, or otherwise abuses her female partner, the patriarchal dominance theory takes a body-blow.

These ideological blinders serve to justify shelters policies that turn away of needy women. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the problem of abuse shelters that discriminate on the basis of gender identity is widespread.

Intimate partner aggression is not a problem limited to any particular sex, or gender identity, or economic group. Indeed, research shows women are at least as likely as men to engage in partner abuse.

When the Sisterhood gets over its denial of the obvious truth, we’ll stop seeing so many women and men victimized by domestic violence.

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