Exploring Dynamics of Abusive Lesbian Relationships: Preliminary Analysis of a Multisite, Qualitative Study

Research paper by Janice L. Ristock

Indexed on: 01 Jun '03Published on: 01 Jun '03Published in: American Journal of Community Psychology


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.