Cover image for Woman-to-woman sexual violence : does she call it rape?
Woman-to-woman sexual violence : does she call it rape?
Girshick, Lori B.
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Publication Information:
Boston : Northeastern University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 201 pages ; 24 cm.


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HQ75.5 .G56 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A woman raping another woman is unthinkable. This is not how women behave, society tells us. Our legal system is not equipped to handle woman-to-woman sexual assault, our women's services do not have the resources or even the words to reach out to its victims, and our lesbian and gay communities face hurdles in acknowledging its existence. Already dealing with complex issues related to their sexual identities, and frequently overwhelmed by shame, lesbian and bisexual survivors of such violence are among the most isolated of crime victims. In a work that is sure to stir controversy, Lori B. Girshick exposes the shocking, hidden reality of woman-to-woman sexual violence and gives voice to the abused. Drawing on a nationwide survey and in-depth interviews, Girshick explores the experiences and reflections of seventy women, documenting what happened to them, how they responded, and whether they received any help to cope with the emotional impact of their assault. The author discusses how the lesbian community has silenced survivors of sexual violence due to myths of lesbian utopia, and considers what role societal homophobia, biphobia, and heterosexism has played in this silencing. Ranging from date and acquaintance rape, to domestic sexual abuse by partners, to sexual harassment in the workplace, these explicit and harrowing stories provide a fuller understanding of woman-to-woman sexual violence than exists anywhere else. This provocative book offers much-needed insights on a subject rarely discussed in the literature on domestic violence, and it does so with compassion. Above all, it recommends how agencies can best provide services, outreach, and treatment to survivors of woman-to-woman rape and lesbian battering, using suggestions by the survivors themselves.

Author Notes

LORI B. GIRSHICK has dedicated her life to working for social justice and ending inequalities. A nationally known trainer in LGBT domestic and sexual violence and LGBT sensitivity, she is author of three books, Soledad Women: Wives of Prisoners Speak Out (1996), No Safe Haven: Stories of Women in Prison (Northeastern, 1999) and Woman-to-Woman Sexual Violence: Does She Callit Rape? (NUP, 2002). Currently she is a professor in Sociology at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Chandler, Arizona. JAMISON GREEN is an educator, policy consultant, and corporate diversity trainer specializing in transgender and transsexual issues. He serves on the boards of directors of the Transgender Law & Policy Institute and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. He is also a member of the advisory boards for the Institute for Intersex Children and the Law and the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University. He is the author of Becoming a Visible Man (2004).

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Perhaps the most isolated crime victims are lesbian and bisexual survivors of woman-to-woman sexual violence. Multifaceted sexual-identity issues combine with shame and institutionalized heterosexism to make society unable to acknowledge such assaults. The legal system, women's support services, and the lesbian community are just beginning to name such behaviors, let alone confronting and dealing with them. Women's studies professor Girshick breaks new ground as she plumbs the experiences and thoughts of 70 women, gleaned from a nationwide U.S. survey and in-depth interviews. She documents the women's responses to the violence, whether they received or were denied aid, and whether silence was imposed on them. Her insightful and provocative work well may stir controversy even as it sheds light on a previously shadowed subject. Dedicated to "those who are still silenced," the book also powerfully explores the need for community and such preconceived notions and myths as lesbian utopia. A worthy addition to the sociology of violence in women's lives. --Whitney Scott

Choice Review

Girshick (Warren Wilson College) investigates one of the few remaining silent and unrecognized victim groups: lesbian and bisexual women who suffer abuse from their female partners. The author reviews the limited information available and draws heavily from her study of 70 women who agreed to provide information about their victimization though questionnaires and interviews to examine the dimensions and dynamics of sexual victimization of women by women. Her work addresses a broad range of issues, including the impact of societal sexual phobias; the limitations inherent in reporting a homosexual victimization to a heterosexual, predominately male, justice system; the dynamics of the victimization; victim response; societal perspectives; and the absence of social services. The book is well written and within the grasp of the average reader. Given the limited literature in this area, it is well referenced. The questionnaire used to gather data from the 70 subjects is included in an appendix. Adequate index. Recommended for libraries serving departments of counseling, psychology, social work, sociology, and women's studies. All levels. R. T. Sigler University of Alabama



Chapter One Speaking the Unspeakable I wish I would have been more aware what woman-to-woman sexual violence was--what it looked like so that I might have acknowledged for myself what had happened to me, that I had been violated. I felt violated but didn't have words to put to the experience or the knowledge to put words to it. (Judy) I always suspected that men could hurt you, but never, ever fathomed that a woman would take that away from another woman. It left me absolutely unable to trust another woman's sexual advances and to be able to trust my body for betraying me with pleasure response. (Lauren) I buried it initially so I wasn't looking for anything in particular. I had packed it up and moved on. When I unpacked it though, I searched for anything in the literature that included me--but there's nothing really out there. The only very little there is about woman/woman sexual assault is either mother/daughter or within the context of a battering relationship. There's literature about heterosexual date rape/assault but nothing for lesbians. I wish there could have been just one book about a lesbian who experiences the date/acquaintance assault I had so I could have known I wasn't alone. (Marcia) It has scarred me emotionally. I have had to overcome feelings of helplessness and unworthiness. I continue to battle with self-esteem and being a victim--which makes me feel less than I am. (Ariel) Judy, Lauren, Marcia, and Ariel (all names are pseudonyms unless otherwise noted) are four women who responded to my appeal to participate in a study of woman-to-woman sexual violence. They are four lesbians who represent thousands of others suffering--in silence and isolation--from sexual abuse by another woman. They are this book's raison d'être , my work's driving force. To these women I say: Suffer in silence no more.     To speak of woman-to-woman sexual violence breaks a barrier of silence, to admit what society denies, and to debunk a myth of lesbian utopia. What, sadly, many women say they might expect from a man (everyone knows that rapists are men ) is unexpected from another woman. As women we are not prepared, we feel totally without safety, and the depth of our betrayal is greater. While rape and battering are different experiences, they share the societal belief that women are not violent--women do not rape and women do not batter. This denial of female perpetrators means they are free to move on to the next victim. Definition of a Social Problem     Many kinds of relationships are open to all of us, from casual coworkers and acquaintances to close friends and intimate partners, and generally we are involved in many kinds of relationships at any given time. Several factors influence the point at which relationship dynamics begin to take on a public quality, or become a social problem. Behaviors are not inherently good or bad; rather social norms establish what is acceptable or unacceptable. If, in a relationship, you are beaten because your partner "loves" you, we know there is a problem. When boundaries are crossed, others--perhaps law enforcement officials, hospital workers, work supervisors, or therapists--are forced into what was before a private relationship.     Same-sex interpersonal violence has not always been defined as a social problem; in fact, activists and organizers are struggling to construct this now. Same-sex relationships are not given the same legitimacy as heterosexual relationships, so it has been nearly impossible to recognize same-sex abuse within relationships. Our culture defines the appropriate acting out of love or commitment, and these feelings and their accompanying behaviors and ceremonies are not easily ascribed to same-sex relationships. The mass of studies on relationship issues--love, attraction, intimacy, courtship, dissolution, stability, and so forth--generally exclude the experiences of lesbians and bisexual women. Researchers, journalists, therapists, and other professionals look to fit lesbian and bisexual women into the heterosexual woman's mold. Identifying a social problem and its solution may, therefore, be off the mark. Issues of socialization, societal pressure, sexism, and more, need to be understood within the even broader context of homophobia and biphobia. This is lacking if lesbian and bisexual experiences are invisible.     Joseph Gusfield refers to the "ownership" of the definition of a problem as the ability to create and influence the society's definition. As such, the battered women's movement owned society's understanding of what battering was and who the victims of battering were because movement activists were the ones speaking out and writing about the issues. To gain societal acceptance that women were, in fact, battered in their homes meant the early organizers of the battered women's movement had to portray "acceptable" female victims. An acceptable victim was the woman with whom everyone could sympathize, who in the eyes of mainstream culture could not be blamed for the violence against her. In the 1970s that woman was heterosexual, white, and middle-class. This has meant downplaying or avoiding the battered lesbian or bisexual woman. Since it would discredit this image to point out that she might be nonwhite, or poor, or not heterosexual, these and other statuses remained invisible, marginalized. There was no analysis of who these women were, and this early imprint of the "battered woman," the one who could stand for all, has left us with no race analysis, no lesbian or bisexual analysis, no class analysis. To be a woman and to be battered was enough to establish the credibility of the definition of the new social problem, but the legacy has been the exclusion of many key dimensions of who these women really are. Though "any" woman can be a battered woman, the image that comes to mind is rarely the lesbian or bisexual woman. The lesbian and bisexual communities have had a hand in this outcome, as they have colluded to avoid making the problem known. Community members told survivors to not talk about their abuse to protect the community from even greater stigma--at the price, of course, of abused lesbians and bisexual women.     Because lesbians and bisexual women are battered, the established definition needs to be altered. The push to view lesbians and bi women as battered women means forging a new analysis requiring new literature, programs such as battered lesbian support groups, staff and volunteer trainings that include discussion of battered lesbians and bisexual women, and so forth. It means accepting women's same-sex relationships as legitimate. This has proven to be a tall order, and the resistance continues.     The same holds true when considering woman-to-woman sexual violence. Antirape work has been similarly inseparable from the feminist analysis. Consciousness-raising groups and speak-outs at antirape workshops and conferences worked to spread the feminist challenge of traditional assumptions about rape. The conceptualization was premised on "woman as man's property" and that women submit to men. Women-oriented women have no place in this formulation, similar to the cultural contradictions found in the concept of "marital rape." While reports of same-sex rape are found occasionally in the gay press, no movement (antirape or domestic violence) has claimed it. Feminists, for the most part, have ignored it up to now. The Prevalence of Same-Sex Abuse     Whereas estimating the prevalence of domestic violence and rape for heterosexual women is difficult, it is even harder to do so among lesbians and bisexual women. Hindrances all abused women share include underreporting to authorities based on distrust of the legal system, personal feelings of shame and embarrassment, not wanting to name someone they know (as is most likely) as a batterer or rapist, and not labeling their experience as battering or rape. Another problem is found in the difficulty in comparing studies and their findings because they use differing definitions of what constitutes battering or sexual violence (or both). A main factor here is whether the abuse is defined broadly or narrowly. For lesbians and bisexual women, add to this the lack of random samples (making it difficult to generalize findings to the broader population) and denial that woman-to-woman battering and sexual violence even exists. The need to hide gay identities impacts, the identification of the population by researchers. All prevalence studies of antigay violence share this problem, and most studies are done in gay/lesbian/bi-identified settings. Researchers do not always ask the right questions to tell us if perpetrators of sexual violence against lesbians and bisexual women are females, if responses include stranger assault as opposed to relationship abuse, and if incest is included along with adult victimization. Sexual violence itself is defined differently in the studies, so sexual assault is sometimes mixed with, for example, unwanted kissing. These differences make it impossible to truly compare study findings.     But researchers do attempt to learn about these phenomena. Studies on sexual violence of lesbians conducted during the 1980s and 1990s range from a low of 5 percent to a high of 57 percent. In a study by Pamela Brand and Aline Kidd of 130 lesbian college students and lesbians in a discussion group, 5 percent had experienced attempted rape by a date, and 7 percent had been date raped by male or female perpetrators. Seventeen percent of lesbians in a nonrandom survey by JoAnn Loulan said they'd been sexually abused in a lesbian relationship. Lacey Sloan and Tonya Edmond found that 23 percent of lesbians had experienced sexual assault and another 35 percent had experienced attempted sexual assault by male or female perpetrators.     Waterman, Dawson, and Bologna, in a study of sexual coercion among lesbian and gay male college students, found that 31 percent of the lesbians had been sexually abused by other lesbians. In examining lifetime sexual victimization of college students, David Duncan reported that 31 percent of lesbians in his sample had been forced to have sex against their will by male or female perpetrators.     In Claire Renzetti's study of 100 battered lesbians, 48 percent were forced to have sex by their partners. Lisa Waldner-Haugrud and Linda Gratch found 133 instances of unwanted sexual behavior by their female partners among the 118 lesbians in their study. Fifty percent of them encountered unwanted penetration? And Lie, Schilit, Bush, Montagne, and Reyes discovered that 57 percent of their lesbian respondents had experienced some type of sexual victimization by a female partner (of that, 19 percent forced or hurtful sex).     Prevalence of lesbian domestic violence is estimated to approximate that in heterosexual relationships, between one-fourth and one-half of all relationships. The American Bar Association estimates the prevalence of domestic violence among gay and lesbian couples as between 25 and 33 percent. It claims that each year, between 50,000 and 100,000 lesbians are battered. Brand and Kidd found one-fourth of their sample of lesbian couples had been physically abused. Vallerie Coleman reported that 46 percent of the 90 lesbian couples she studied experienced interpersonal violence. And Gwat-Yong Lie and Sabrina Gentlewarrier found that a female partner or lover abused 52 percent of the 1,099 lesbians who participated in their study at the Michigan Womyn's Festival, and that 30 percent admitted abusing a female partner or lover.     The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) is a coalition of Lesbian/Gay/Transgender/Bisexual (LGTB) victim advocacy and documentation programs that formed in 1995. In 1999, eleven reporting organizations documented 3,120 cases of domestic violence. Of that number, 1,458 (47 percent) were females. While this does not represent a scientific study, the work these agencies are doing is the first of its kind--documenting both domestic violence cases and hate crimes and providing services for primarily gay, lesbian, and bisexual victims of domestic violence. Theoretical Questions     Do survivors of woman-to-woman sexual violence and battering need different interventions than heterosexual women? If they do, and if the point of theory is to form the basis upon which service providers can base intervention, does the theory need to be different? Given that lesbian partner violence is approximating the same frequency, with the same abuse types, and for the same purpose of control as heterosexual abuse, do the theoretical models used to explain heterosexual male abuse of females hold for lesbian abuse? Can different theoretical gender explanations--biological, gender role, and systemic male dominance--simply apply to lesbians and bisexual women?     Present feminist perspectives do a poor job of explaining woman-to-woman battering and sexual violence. Essentialism--treating all women the same--has obvious weaknesses. "The same" has meant white, middle-class heterosexual women as the standard, since that is who authored the early theories. This theoretical exclusion of lesbians and bisexual women, women of color, immigrant women, and Native American women does not work. What remains is an understanding without any analysis of the different situational locations of race, class, and sexual identity and how those locations affect both survivors and perpetrators. Particularly in the case of female abusers, they are put in an awkward position. As Ellen Bell writes, "In becoming an abuser, of her child or lover, a woman is not rendered sexless or an honorary man."     Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer assert that rape is behavior by men that is biologically determined and tied to the need for successful reproduction. Consequently, men attempt to copulate with as many women of reproductive age as possible, which if the women resist, become acts of rape. Their argument rests on the premise that every aspect of life is biologically motivated. In their view, the evolution of male and female sexuality explains the causes of rape. The evolutionary factors of natural selection have resulted in males viewing any female (though especially those of childbearing age) as a suitable mate, while females act as if only certain males are good mates. This is because males have a minimal parental effort in offspring--primarily mating--while females have a high investment in parental offspring: carrying the fetus to term and taking care of it.     The biological determinist view posits that rape is based on male sexuality and that rape is a sexual act involving sexual arousal. It is not an act of power and control. Males are biologically selected to control the sexual behavior of females because of paternity identification, not for some "metaphysical" notion of cultural gender roles or male privilege. In fact, Thornhill and Palmer have clear disdain for feminist theory that examines power and control dynamics in society. Society, to them, is a "non-corporeal reified entity," and hence an abstraction without merit.     My problems with the ideas of evolutionary psychologists are several. First, the theory is heterosexist and ignores same-sex rape. When I asked Professor Thornhill how he would explain women raping other women, he suggested that "these women may be highly androgenized." I am not sure how even highly androgenized women act on the role to impregnate. An argument based on natural selection does not account for why woman-to-woman sexual abuse appears to be so similar to heterosexual sexual abuse, as the stories in this book demonstrate. Then, they discount the possibility of motivations for rape other than impregnation. Thornhill and Palmer state that if rape were about control, then men would control in other, nonsexual ways. Clearly men do. I can only assume these authors are unfamiliar with domestic violence, sexual harassment, the distribution of political and economic power, and control over the media. Ironically, in the Darwinian argument, there is a complete inability to see "science" itself as a construct--which is how they view social science--and a discounting of choices of how to respond to sexual drive. Rather than rape unwilling females, why not masturbate or pay for sexual services? Power and control provide a reason for rape choice--whether male or female perpetrator. (Continues...) Excerpted from WOMAN-TO-WOMAN SEXUAL VIOLENCE by Lori B. Girshick. Copyright © 2002 by Lori B. Girshick. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.