Dr. Darcy Smith on domestic violence in the lesbian community
Dr. Darcy Smith on domestic violence in the lesbian community Ask a Mental Health Professional the Difficult Questions
I grew up watching my father hit my mother and as a result I swore off men for life. Ironically, I'm now in a situation where my girlfriend, who is a dyke, has begun knocking me around. If it were a man I'd know what to do, but I'm very confused about how to handle this. Any advice?
First thing first: we need to address your safety. I'm not sure what “knocking around” means, but any level of physical aggression can escalate, and don't fool yourself—women can cause physical harm to one another.
Presuming you cohabitate, the first line of defense is finding another place to stay, at least temporarily. If you can't turn to friends or family, there are women's shelters and safe houses in most major cities. Contact National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE for exact locations.
Next, let me dispel any myths you may have that domestic violence does not exist within the lesbian community. We have been socialized to believe that women don't engage in physical violence and perhaps that’s one reason for the confusion. Additionally, people tend to associate the term “domestic violence” with heterosexual couples. Violence is violence and it is not acceptable behavior among any genders—ours included.
Growing up in a house where domestic violence is normalized can predispose children to erroneously associating such behaviors with expressions of love. Without intending to, such children often find themselves in abusive relationships. If you’ve never been in therapy, this might be a good time to start so that you can begin working through the trauma of your childhood. Additionally, if you intend to continue your relationship with your current girlfriend, couples counseling is a must. She can promise that she’ll never do it again, but if she doesn’t understand why she’s doing it in the first place (and no, it’s not because you’re making her do it), the pattern is more likely to repeat than not.
If you only take one thing away from this exchange, I truly hope it’s the clarification that domestic violence exists in every community. You have the right to expect to be in a mutually-respectful relationship—not one in which the woman you love “knocks you around.”
I wish you peace.
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