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7-Faces of DV

Added barriers in different populations

In addition to the factors listed above, there are some important additional factors that prevent women in different populations from leaving an abusive relationship. 


In a Lesbian or gay male relationships the abused partner might not leave because of the additional burden of dealing with society’s homophobia.  S/he might not be “out” to family or at work, and s/he might fear that the abuser will “out” her/him, which might cause loss of job, kids, etc. 

For an Immigrant woman the fear of being alone in a foreign country where she might not have any other emotional, financial, cultural support other than the abuser might prevent her from leaving.  This is further compounded for undocumented immigrant women, who might fear being reported to INS and thus being deported, losing her children, etc.


For a Disabled woman, her disability and the resultant dependence on her abusive partner for economic or physical support might prevent her from leaving. 


In addition, women from minority populations also have to deal with the added burden of having little credibility in a world (society and its institutions) that is already hostile towards them and discriminates against them.  Even when they try to leave, the larger system might actually penalize and victimize them further



A phobia is an irrational fear.  It can affect otherwise healthy people in a variety of ways.

A person can dread stepping into an elevator, or break into a cold sweat at the thought of boarding an airplane.  Any phobia can be debilitating.


Homophobia is an intense, irrational fear of gay people.  It is a two-sided tragedy. Those of us who fear or hate gay men and lesbians usually don’t think we “know” any, even though there may be a number of people with whom we work, socialize, or even live who are lesbian or gay.  Concurrently, many gay men and Lesbians spend their lives “in the closet”, fearing that homophobia will destroy their self-respect, their family relationships, even their lives.  Unfortunately, homophobic people go on blindly perpetuating fictional stereotypes, while real people are hurt by the hatred.


Some people may need professional help to deal with their phobia of gay men and lesbians, just as some need help to deal with fear of heights or elevators.  But for most of us, a willingness to examine our fears is enough to alleviate them.  Fear is borne out of myths and ignorance.  We can stop being afraid of gay and lesbian people if we start understanding the myths surrounding homosexuality.                                                              



·       Expecting a lesbian to change her public identity to work on “feminist” issues.

·       Looking at a lesbian and automatically thinking of her sexuality rather than seeing her as a whole, complex person.

·        Failing to be supportive when your lesbian friend is sad about a quarrel or breakup

·       Using the term “lesbian” as accusatory.

·       Stereotyping lesbians as “man-haters”, separatists or radicals.  Using these terms accusingly.

·       Feeling that gay people are too outspoken about gay rights.

·       Feeling  that lesbianism and discussions about homophobia are not necessary within the battered women’s movement.

·       Feeling that a lesbian is just a woman who couldn’t find a man.

·       Avoiding mentioning to friends that you are involved with a women’s organization because you are afraid that they will think that you are a lesbian.

·       Not confronting a heterosexist remark for fear of being identified with lesbians.

Adapted from LESBIANS:  A  CONSCIOUSNESS  RAISING  KIT, by The Boston  NOW  Lesbian  Task  Force




1.   No one deserves to be abused.

2.   Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal behavior to coerce or humiliate.

3.      Abuse often occurs in a cyclic pattern.

4.      Abuse can be lethal.

5.      The abused partner feels alone, isolated, afraid, & usually convinced that the abuse was somehow her fault, or could have been avoided if only she had known what to do.



1.      Lesbians who have been abused have much more difficulty finding appropriate support. Support services and friends often minimize lesbian violence.

2.      Lesbians have to face not only the sexist culture, but a homophobic one as well.  A woman of color must face sexism, homophobia and racism.

3.      Utilizing existing services is tantamount to “coming out,” and is a major life decision.

4.      To complain about lesbian abuse is to reinforce the stereotype that lesbians are “sick.”  No one would claim straight relationships in general are mentally unstable because some are abusive.

5.      Lesbian survivors may know few other lesbians; they are often estranged from their families; leaving the abuser could mean total isolation.  

6.      The lesbian community is small, and it’s likely everyone the survivor knows will soon know of her abuse.

7.      There may be less financial inequality, and the abuser may be more likely to seek counseling, but these do not preclude violent behavior, and may serve to obscure the battering.

8.      For lesbians who have children, additional legal barriers surface that can hamper services.  If the survivor is the mother, the abuser may threaten to “out” her to the authorities or to tell the father who may file for custody when he finds out she is in an abusive relationship.  If the batterer is the mother to the children, the survivor has no legal parenting or custody rights.  Although she may have co-parented the children for years, her division to leave the batterer may mean that she will have no access to them.


The difficulty of measuring the incidence of lesbian battering is compounded by homophobia, the fear or hatred of lesbians and gays.  A woman may be reluctant to discuss her relationship for fear of how people will react to the fact that she is involved with a woman.  Additionally, her abuser may be using threats to disclose their same-sex relationship in an attempt to control her.  Homophobia may also influence the victim’s feeling of self worth.  She may have internalized the homophobic message that lesbianism is undesirable and conclude that she deserves to be treated poorly.


Myth: The nature of same-sex relationships is non-violent and the partnerships are equal.

Fact: Women in same-sex relationships do batter.  Violence in these relationships is not rare. Abuse is a learned behavior and some lesbians choose to use violence and coercion to have power and control over their partners.

Myth: Domestic violence only affects certain groups of lesbians/bisexual women.

Fact:  Violence and abuse are found in all parts of our community.  No group regardless of race, class, ethnicity, age, ability, education,politics or religion is free from dv.             

Myth: Both partners hit, so it’s not battering, it is mutual.

Fact:  Women with women partners may be more likely to attempt defending themselves than women with male partners.  Even when violent,self-defense is not battering.

Myth:  Battering must be physical in order to be damaging.

Fact:  Emotional and psychological abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse and homophobic control are real, painful and can be extremely damaging.  Also these types of abuse may lead to physical abuse.

Myth: Lesbians can leave abusive or violent relationships easily.

Fact:  Battering relationships rarely are only violent or abusive.  Love, caring, and remorse are often part of the cyclical pattern of abuse.  This can leave a survivor feeling confused about what she is experiencing.  Emotional or economic dependency, shame or isolation can make leaving seem impossible.

Myth: The abuser is the butch or bigger woman.

Fact:  Batterers are not always more butch or bigger.  A batterer uses violence and coercion to maintain power over her girlfriend.

Myth: Factors such as substance abuse, stress, childhood violence or provocation really cause battering and abuse.

Fact:  A batterer chooses to be violent and is responsible for her behavior.  There is no provocation or justification for domestic violence.

Myth: DV is more common in straight relationships than it is in same- sex relationships.

Fact:  There is no reason whatsoever to assume that gay or lesbian people are less violent than heterosexual men and women.  Research on same sex dv can be difficult, given the fact that many of us are not comfortable being open about our relationships, let alone abusive ones.  Research that has been done indicates that battering in same-sex relationships is about as common as in heterosexual relationships.                       

Advocates for Abused and Battered Lesbians  (206)547-8191




Women with disabilities often experience physical, sexual and emotional abuse.  Until recently, abuse issues particular to women with disabilities received little attention from both the disability rights movement and the battered women’s movement. Women with disabilities can face a variety of barriers accessing services, depending on the particular disability.   Any agency serving battered women needs to become more aware of and competent on issues facing women with disabilities.

A national study completed in 1997 estimated that 13% of women with physical disabilities experience physical or sexual abuse in the past year. The most common perpetrators were husbands and partners; however, women with disabilities are also likely to experience emotional and sexual abuse by caregivers and health care providers.  Even though the prevalence of abuse mirrors that of women in the general population, the duration of abuse is more likely to be longer for women with physical disabilities.

Other studies have estimated that 40% to 62% of women with physical disabilities have experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse at some point in their lives.  Studies estimate that up to 90% of women with cognitive disabilities will experience sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Most of these perpetrators are male, and most are known to the victim.



Always ask if the person with a disability would like assistance; don’t assume s/he would.  Special instructions may be involved.  Be prepared to hear no, but don’t take this response as a personal insult.  If the subject of the person’s disability comes up, discuss it with the person rather than a third party.  Speak directly to the person.  See a person with a disability as a person.  Be neither patronizing nor reverential.  Understand that the life of a person with a disability can be interesting.  Appreciate what a person can do.  Remember that difficulties may stem from society’s attitude and environmental barriers rather than the disability.


Give your whole undivided, unhurried attention to the person.  It is very important to allow someone to speak for herself.  Finishing someone’s sentences or speaking in a patronizing voice is very condescending.  In a crisis, speech may be slower or more difficult to understand.  When necessary, ask questions that require short answers.  Be considerate of the extra time it might take for the caller to get things said.


Talk in a normal tone of voice. Shouting is very insulting. Speak directly to the person, not to a third party.  When leaving the room, say so.  Anyone would feel foolish talking into thin air.  Resist the temptation to pet a guide dog.  If the dog is distracted from its work, its owner can be in danger. Always ask permission of the owner before interacting with the dog.  Let the blind person take your arm, if appropriate. Personal space needs to be respected.


Keep concepts clear, concrete, and concise.  Talk at someone’s level without talking down to the person.  In some situations, the person may seem to react differently than you expect. The person is not being rude, she may just respond in a way that you are not accustomed to.  Remember why you are there.  Gently bring someone back to the interview as you would anyone else.  You don’t need to listen to someone rambling on, but you may need to be polite and firm. When checking out whether someone understood something don’t ask yes and no questions.


Someone’s wheelchair is a part of her body space and needs to be treated as such.  Ask the person what is needed for her accessibility.  Don’t make assumptions or decisions for her.  She needs to be with her wheelchair at all times since the wheelchair is her mobility. 


Domestic violence in immigrant communities is not often readily apparent because the victims, the abuser, family members, even the community and service providers may hid the problem because of fear, shame and denial or because they do not know what to do.  Nevertheless, cases of DV are surfacing with increasing frequency in these communities.  In addition, certain characteristics about this population, such as lack of access to information, services and legal protection, make them particularly vulnerable to DV. 
Battered Immigrant Women and Cultural Issues

Frequently, many assumptions are made about a battered immigrant woman’s culture.  For example, claims may be made that, “in her culture domestic violence is accepted as normal behavior” or “in her culture women are passive.”  While domestic violence happens all over the world, it is not more a part of culture in any other country than it is a part of culture in the United States.  Domestic violence is not based on ethnicity, and is not to be tolerated in any community or society.

Be aware of what a battered immigrant woman may have gone through to come to the United States, and what it may mean for her to escape the violence.  If she leaves the relationship she may need to leave the only community she knows in the United States.  She could have been very isolated by the batterer, who may have prevented her from meeting other persons in this country.  Or she may not know anyone in this country who will support her.  Like any battered woman, a battered immigrant woman may be feeling pressured from her community not to seek help.  Her community and family may blame her for the violence, and may reject her if she leaves the relationship.  If she lived in an extended family, she may also be subject to abuse by other family members.  Of course, members of her family may also be an important source of support for her.

She may feel she has no other option than to stay in the relationship and may be very scared to live on her own.  If she is lesbian or bisexual, she may be facing even more difficult pressures, since she may be experiencing the homophobia from within and outside her community.

Be aware that when a battered immigrant woman contacts you for help, she may convey her situation indirectly.  She may say she is calling not on her own behalf, but for a friend.  The focus of her request for help may be the batterer -- she may say she wants to know where the batterer can learn to change his or her behavior.  She may call saying she is looking for a place to live, or that she needs to get a job.  She may initiate the conversation by describing crisis situations that do not seem connected to her being a battered woman.  She should help her identify what her needs are, and explore with her how those needs can be met.

Immigration  Status

One of the most significant fears many battered immigrant women face is related to their immigration status.  Some battered immigrant women may be reluctant to discuss immigration status because they fear deportation for themselves, their children, or their batterer.  If a battered immigrant woman is deported, she may lose custody of her children, may not be allowed to enter the country to see her children for five years, may return to poverty, famine, or political persecution, and may no longer be able to financially assist her family in her home country.  She may be deported to a country whose laws do not protect her from domestic violence.  She may be ostracized by friends and family members because she got a divorce, or sought a protection order against her abuser.

Many battered immigrant women who have legal immigration status do not know that their batterer cannot take that status away.  You should know that if an immigrant woman is a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent client, or has a valid visa, she cannot be deported unless she entered the United States on fraudulent documents, violated conditions of her visa or has been convicted of certain crimes.


From Working With Battered Immigrant Women: A Handbook to Make Services Accessible, Family Violence Prevention Fund.

 What you can do to Help Battered Immigrant Women

Battered immigrant women face innumerable barriers that often prevent them from receiving equal access to justice. There are things you can do to help. Remember that the United States has historically been a country of immigrants, and familiarize yourself with immigrant communities in your area and the services available to them. Educate yourself about the special challenges faced by immigrant women, particularly in today's anti-immigrant climate. Learn about legal services in your area, and which attorneys specialize in immigration law and provide pro bono assistance to battered women. Help make sure that the services offered to battered immigrant women in your community are linguistically accessible and culturally appropriate.


If you suspect someone you know is being abused, make sure that she is able to talk about the problem with someone in her own language, that she understands the laws here do protect her from abuse, and that she knows where she can go for professional advice. This contact may provide her with the confidence she needs to come forward and seek help.


-from The Family Violence Prevention Fund

Domestic violence manifests itself in immigrant communities in very much similar fashion to that in any other community.  However, domestic violence also manifests itself in unique ways in immigrant women’s lives, as batterers take advantage of the specific conditions in an immigrant woman’s life to victimize and terrorize her.