Lesbian Battering: The Sisterhood Turns on
By Carey Roberts
September 06, 2010
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
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(pdf). The UCLA study
found 28% of persons in lesbian/gay relationships had experienced
intimate partner violence, compared to 17% of persons in heterosexual
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.
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 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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