What follows are my speaking notes from a public forum about same-sex domestic violence, which are fairly coherent on their own. I said some things that aren’t included, and left a couple out, but this is basically what I said:
Four years ago, I escaped from a lesbian relationship in which I was isolated from my friends, economically drained, psychologically manipulated, sexually abused, and physically battered. I’d like to describe some of this abuse, especially the types that were not physically damaging, and also discuss what was helpful or hurtful about some responses when I looked for assistance.
Some of the ways in which I was abused:
Physical – This was used after other manipulation failed. It was carefully calculated to leave no visible marks or proof and frequently occurred as “accidents” like falling heavily against me. Other nonprovable tactics like sleep-deprivation, preventing acquisition of proper food, shouting, damaging property, threats of violence were also used.
Psychological – She would “revise/control reality” by denying she had said, done, or agreed to things. She would accuse me of not understanding her. She would lie. She demanded I put her needs or demands ahead of mine and isolated me from my friends by her rude behavior, and by convincing me to move out of the Boston community to Cape Ann, where I knew no one. This created economic crises so I needed to work extra jobs.
Economic – She lied about her economic situation to get me to co-sign a purchase and sale agreement for almost $200,000, and then would not consider jobs that were “beneath” her. She was always unemployed or quickly fired, yet spent $40,000/ yr on credit cards. She withheld rent money and bought expensive gifts for me that I ended up paying for.
Sexual – This was hard to realize because it is not what is thought of as rape. She forced me to do things to her I did not like and considered unsafe without being allowed to modify them. She forced me to have sex after being beaten to make up and prove I forgave her. She told me I wasn’t a normal lesbian because I did not like certain sex acts, and did not feel turned on by her after a while.
Emotional – She faked or exaggerated physical ailments to maintain my attention and threatened suicide if I left. She insisted on comforting me after she abused me, with the implicit threat that if I did not accept the abuse would continue. There were constant putdowns of my appearance, opinions.
What helped/didn’t in getting away from the abuse:
- My closest friend at the time I started the relationship with my abuser accepted the isolation tactics. Although we stayed in touch by phone, she didn’t want to hear about my difficulties if I wasn’t going to take her advice to “dump the bitch”. She did convince me to leave the abuser after a particularly nasty beating, but I didn’t stay away because she talked me into her solution. I was not the one who made the decision, so my abuser ended up talking me into returning.
- Another friend was much more helpful, because she recognized to some extent what was happening, and chose to maintain contact with me and my abuser despite her dislike of her. She made efforts to visit me, did not complain to me about the abuser, and helped me to keep in touch with the outside world despite the abuser’s isolation tactics.
I never considered police or legal help, because my abuser had a very good public facade, never left any physical evidence of abuse, and said she would accuse me of abuse if I did anything in self-defense.
- I was in therapy with an independent clinical social worker during the relationship. I believe she handled it as well as anyone could, since I was not a minor or incompetent. She listened to everything I chose to tell her, did not try to talk me into leaving the abuser but tried to help me see I was being damaged without driving me away by bad-mouthing my “lover.” She helped me keep seeing her by adjusting her fee when my finances were drained, and allowing a sometimes erratic appointment schedule.
- I had a bad experience with another lesbian therapist to whom the abuser and I went for couples counseling towards the end of the relationship. She was taken in by the abuser’s public mask, and diagnosed our problem as “poor communication” despite abuser’s admitting to abuse. She said the abuser should get an individual therapist and get into an abuser’s program but did not offer useful references or make doing this a condition of continuing with her. She did not seem to get why I was so afraid, and finally, at the last session before starting I heard through her half-open door that she was listening to audio tapes my abuser had secretly made of phone conversations with me after I left her for the last time.
- A general difficulty was that despite calling most of the lesbian therapists listed in Sojourner (local paper), none of them would consider treating my abuser once they heard that she was not the victim but the perpetrator — even if she had been seriously willing to work on her issues, no one would touch them.
- I went to some alanon meetings for support after the first escape attempt, but found general uncritical support was not sufficient. Plus I could not get feedback
- I went to a battered women’s support group at Cambridge Women’s Ctr, but straight leader was trying too hard to be nonhomophobic, and all other participants were straight and nervous, so I didn’t feel comfortable
- I owe my life and sanity to the Network for Battered Lesbians. Their support group was the major turning point in getting me to see what was happening to me, not by preaching or instructing, but by taking my experiences and fears seriously, allowing me to make connections with others currently and formerly in my position, and helping me to plan how to be as safe as possible, whether I was leaving, returning to, or staying with the abuser without value judgements regarding my decision.