Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Committee Chair

Roslyn Chernesky

Committee Member

Daniel Herman

Committee Member

David Koch


The recognition of partner abuse between lesbian intimates has gained attention in the literature only within the last few decades. The current research indicates that physical and psychological abuse is occurring between lesbian partners at about the same rate as their heterosexual counterparts. The theoretical explanations for lesbian partner abuse share similarities with the heterosexual paradigm. However, significant differences in gender make-up and the patriarchal issues of power and control do not fit within the lesbian framework and the unique issues of attachment in lesbian relationships and the issue of homophobia are cause for another perspective.

This study shifts the focus from gender differences to explain abusive behavior, to another paradigm examining both the individual characteristics of the abuser as well as the particular dimensions of the relationship. This research sought to measure whether a lesbian’s sex role identity is associated with her abusive behavior toward an intimate female partner, focusing specifically on whether the dimensions o f masculinity and femininity help to explain abusive behavior. Additionally, building on existing research in the field of lesbian partner abuse, this study examined to what extent the relationship factors o f dependency, jealousy, and power imbalance are related to abusive behavior.

There were four purposes o f this study 1) to investigate to what extent partner abuse exists among lesbian intimates; 2) to examine the nature o f this abusive behavior; 3) to examine whether there is an association between sex role identity and abusive behavior; and 4) to investigate the extent to which the relationship factors o f dependency, jealousy, and power imbalance are related to abusive behavior in lesbian relationships.

This study addresses existing gaps in the research on lesbian partner abuse by combining intra-individual, social-psychological, and socio-cultural ideologies by making use o f a cross-sectional convenience sample o f 105 lesbians who frequent the New York City Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center. Participants, who were self-identified lesbians currently in a relationship for at least six months, completed the Bern Sex Role Inventory Scale (BSRI), the Abusive Behavior Inventory (ABI), and a Relationship Factor Scale containing items that measure dependency, jealousy, and power imbalance in the relationship.

The results show that, when abuse is broadly defined, a sizable minority is classified as exhibiting high rates of physical and psychological abuse at some time during their current relationship, although the abuse is such that it would not cause serious physical injury to the victim. The findings also indicate that sex role identity is neither positively nor negatively correlated with abusive behavior. The findings failed to show an association between dependency and abusive behavior or power imbalance and abusive behavior. As a group, masculinity, femininity, dependency, jealousy, and power imbalance only explain 18% o f the variance in overall abuse and 17 % of the variance in psychological abuse. The findings further indicate that jealousy was significantly associated with overall abuse, psychological abuse, and physical abuse. Jealousy was also the strongest predictor o f abuse when all other variables were held constant.

The implications of these findings underscore the need for social workers to recognize lesbian partner abuse and its unique factors. Further the findings indicate the importance for the social work profession to enhance delivery of services to battered lesbians, expanded intervention programs for lesbian batterers, and develop preventative initiatives designed to adequately address the issue o f partner abuse in lesbian relationships.

Additionally, since the results o f this study suggest that jealousy may be associated to abusive behavior, issues surrounding jealousy can be included in educational programs for lesbians designed to promote healthy and non-abusive relationships.


Awarded from the Fordham University, Graduate School of Social Service in 2001.