Daphne Toolkit

Violence against lesbians: education, research, public campaigns

Project Reference Number: 

Violence against lesbians: education, research, public campaigns

The project aimed to explore the diverse forms of violence encountered by lesbian women in Europe through research, public campaigns, and the creation and promotion of inter-disciplinary networks.


Based on research done in Great Britain, Germany and Austria, it is known that in Western European Societies more than 90 per cent of lesbians experience verbal abuse, more than 40 per cent sexual assaults and more than 20 per cent physical attacks because they are lesbians.
This three-year project had three main aims the first was to provide Euro-wide data on nature and forms of violence lesbian women suffer and how these are perceived and dealt with by the health and social services in order to:
- measure and assess the provision of health and social support systems available to lesbians who have experienced various forms of violence, domestic violence and/or discrimination.
- find out whether there is specialist help to deal with the particular needs of lesbians who experience violence and what kind of services are required.
The second part of the project set out to explore the different types of discriminatory attitudes held by members of the public and to challenge some of the assumptions and prejudices that can incite violence towards the lesbian communities. A public campaign entitled prejudice hurts was conceived. Again this part of the project ran in conjunction with the first part of the project to gather information on the concepts of victim and perpetrators and collect data on what motivates public prejudice against lesbians.
The final part of this project addressed the need to build interdisciplinary networks to help lesbians who experience violence by providing training to social, health, policing and governmental institutions and organisations in the partner countries.
An innovative multi-layered methodology was employed by the project to uncover the level of prejudice confronted by marginalised lesbian groups. Quantitative methods were combined with qualitative methods, visual data and an on-line comment room to build a picture of the nature and type of prejudice that exists against lesbians and what support provisions are available for lesbians who experience violence.
- A questionnaire was distributed to 2000 different social institutions in Germany, Belgium and Austria that deal with victims of crimes and domestic violence (including family centres, victim support centres, the police, women's shelters and refuges, health and social services). Each partner selected a representative sample of target institutions. Questions were simple and direct and aimed to gather information not only on the actual services open to lesbian women, but also to assess how common sense assumptions about lesbians impact on developing and delivering services for lesbian women who are victims of domestic violence, homophobic violence and/or discrimination.
- A publicity campaign was used as a way of gathering data on prejudices against lesbians as well as challenging those common prejudices. A brave and bold publicity campaign was designed incorporating a series of posters challenging discrimination against lesbians.
- Ethical issues underpinned the design of the campaign. Sensitivity to lesbians who might be distressed by the campaign meant that it was only run in cities that had helplines in place to support lesbians. For this reason the campaign was not run in Belgium. Instead an awareness raising training and sessions were provided to a selection of service providers and the police.
- Developing links with journalists before and during the campaign to disseminate the research and sensitise, inform and develop links with the press that would support the campaign and provide information in a wide range of local and national press on the issues involved.
The campaign also used an Internet comment room to record the public’s response to the campaign. Although the data gathered from the comments is not wholly representative of the population, it does provide information of an opportunist sample on the range types of attitudes held by some members of the public. Photos of the posters that were defaced during the campaign also supplemented this data.

Lessons and ideas

1. The research carried out by the project fills an important gap in the existing knowledge on health and social care provision for lesbians and vital information on the experience of domestic violence in lesbian relationships and other forms of sexualised and gendered violence experienced by lesbians. It contributes to the debates on sexualised violence within marginal groups in Europe.
2. The project collected data about quantity and quality of social and governmental institutions providing social, economical, legal support for lesbians with experience of violence. The results show that no support system existed in Belgium, Austria or Germany that provides adequate support for lesbian women. Victims of violence are regarded as more or less a homogenous group and thus it is assumed that no specific approach is needed. Only a few of the institutions questioned provide lesbian-specific offers in counselling or other services, which is due solely to the efforts of some individuals, but not to the general policy of these organisations.
3.  The coordinator and partners showed incredible perseverance and developed strategies to overcome discrimination during the implementation of the project that were unforeseen. For example, political intervention had to be sought to allow the poster campaign in Austria to take place, as the local authorities perceived such a campaign to be promoting a lesbian life-style rather than fighting prejudice against lesbians. It was also the case that in Frankfurt the agency that allocated the posters placed them in the least visible spots to undermine the impact of the campaign. The co-ordinators were forced to complain and were eventually given an extension run with posters in more prominent public places.
Key research findings identified key problems with the existing provision for lesbians who suffer from violence.
4. There is no real awareness on the issues of violence affecting lesbians
5. No adequate support to meet their needs in three member countries of the EU.
6. Contributes to conceptual issues and current debates on gender, sexuality and violence and shows the ways that these debates impact on how violence against lesbians is interpreted by political, social and economic structures and institutions in the EU.
7. There is a general reluctance to address issues of homophobia and difference that stems from the lack of training and awareness raising within all social, health, policing and women’s institutions and organisations regarding lesbians and homophobia.

Material available

· An Internet site with details of the research findings, the publicity publications, a guest comment book and lists of partner organisations in the partner country: www.lesben-gegen-gewalt.de .
· A booklet 'Gut Aufgehoben', also translated into English: 'Well taken care of ' based on the results of the research.