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Woman-to-Woman Sexual Violence

Does She Call It Rape?

Lori B. Girshick

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: Northeastern University Press

Series: Northeastern Series on Gender, Crime, and Law

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

There are times when an idea takes root so firmly that nothing can stop you. The idea for this project felt like an obsession to me, and waiting for several years for the right time to proceed proved to be a challenge. Like most things in life, challenging projects cannot be accomplished alone. Working on an issue that is surrounded by so...

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pp. 3-8

In 1984 it was a bit of a shock to me when I dated a woman who told me she had been battered by her former partner of several years. Of course I’d heard of battering. But by a lesbian? I never discounted her story, and years later when I worked at a domestic violence shelter agency, I was mystified by the lack of services for and discussion...

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1: Speaking the Unspeakable

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pp. 9-30

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....

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2: The Societal Context of Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia

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pp. 31-48

How is it that these women felt they could not reach out for help after their sexual violence? And why were the women who weren’t worried about a homophobic or biphobic reaction to their victimization not worried because primarily they were telling someone else who was gay? To answer these questions we must explore the societal...

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3: The Myth of Lesbian Utopia Unraveled

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pp. 49-62

The mythology of women’s nonviolence and lesbian egalitarianism has proven to be a formidable block to admitting and dealing with same-sex sexual violence and domestic violence perpetrated by women.1 It is not only that others in the community believe in the utopian vision; survivors of this abuse internalize the myths and want to...

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4: "I Couldn't Believe a Woman Did This to Me"

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pp. 63-99

The sexual violence that the seventy women in this study experienced spans a continuum of the types of violence that a range of female abusers perpetrate. A continuum of violence has been written about regarding heterosexual women; this is the first time such a range has been verified for lesbians and bisexual women with female perpetrators. This confirms...

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5: Did She Call It "Rape"?

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pp. 100-118

It is no accident that women struggle when we try to name what has happened to us. Within the context of lesbian and bisexual invisibility and societal sexism, females reside in alien territory. Language is a powerful mechanism of oppression. Language encodes our society’s values and assumptions; it is the culture’s way of classifying and ordering...

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6: The Emotional Impact of Sexual Violence

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pp. 119-134

Every woman who is included in this study has experienced sexual violence by a woman at least one time. That is difficult enough for her to admit and cope with. But an astounding 71 percent of the participants also have incest (which includes a few cases of statutory rape) in their background, and just over half (51 percent) have been raped at least once by a male. Forty...

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7: Heterosexism in the Legal System

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pp. 135-148

I think it would be safe to say that any woman in our society would have mixed feelings about turning to the legal system in the aftermath of sexual violence. Though states have passed rape shield laws, many lawyers, judges, or jury members often still expect something in the survivor’s previous sexual behavior or background to be related to the present rape

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8: Lesbian- and Bi-Friendly Services

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pp. 149-162

How to best address woman-to-woman sexual violence? Homophobia, biphobia, sexism, and heterosexism condemn lesbians and bisexual women to inferior social status. Our society sexualizes violence in the media while denouncing sex education in the schools, thus encouraging sexual violence. As individuals, we balk at discussing sexual matters, abusive or otherwise. The idea of female perpetrators runs contrary to...

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9: The Vision and the Challenge

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pp. 163-169

We have shared the ‘‘painfully resurrected’’ memories of seventy survivors of woman-perpetrated sexual violence.1 Perhaps they have evoked fear or alarm, or triggered past hurts in you, the reader. They did in me. We now realize that the severity of sexual violence, as well as the forms and the impacts of this violence, are quite similar regardless of who your perpetrator is. It is not whether you are male or female, lesbian, gay,...


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pp. 171-174


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pp. 175-184


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pp. 185-198


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pp. 199-201

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781555537265
E-ISBN-10: 155553726X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781555535285

Page Count: 201
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Northeastern Series on Gender, Crime, and Law