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When most people picture domestic violence, lesbian partnerships don't often come to mind.

Yet, studies indicate that 17 percent to 45 percent of lesbians report having been the victim of physical violence by a partner. Incidents of sexual abuse can run as high as 50 percent, and reports of psychological abuse range from 24 percent to 90 percent. This indicates that lesbian-on-lesbian violence is a serious societal problem that's hiding in plain sight.

There are multiple ways that domestic violence can occur between lesbians, including rape. In addition to sexual violence, domestic abuse can include slapping, hitting, punching, kicking, economic control, verbal abuse and threats and intimidation. These violent acts are just like the domestic abuse between heterosexual couples or gay men.

Many victims are reluctant to speak up. They might not want to say they were raped because of the sense of shame that accompanies sexual assault. They also may not know how to explain female-on-female rape to people who generally see rape as something perpetuated by men. Some lesbians are hampered by outdated notions that women aren't as likely to be abusive toward their partners.

There are other reasons that lesbians often stay silent about the abuse that they suffer at home:

-- Fear that if they call for help that the police who respond will be prejudiced against them for being lesbians

--Threats from the abusive partner to "out" them to family, friends or co-workers who don't already know about their sexual orientation

-- A belief that you have to be legally married to be considered a victim of domestic violence

-- Lack of resources in communities where shelters aren't set up to take in women who are the victims of other women

-- Community pressure to keep quiet about the abuse because of fears that it will increase anti-homosexual prejudices in general

At one point, the statutory language in California didn't even allow homosexual couples to seek protection against domestic violence. It's important to know that now that marriage rights to homosexual couples have been extended throughout the United States, lesbians are afforded the same protections against abusive partners as heterosexual women are.

Domestic violence victims who need help securing temporary or permanent protective orders against their abusive wives or girlfriends should seek the help of an attorney as soon as possible.

Source: National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, "Lesbian Partner Violence Fact Sheet," Suzana Rose, Ph.D, accessed Jan. 20, 2017

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