A new study finds that adult lesbian and bisexual women who are more “butch” (or masculine) report more abuse in childhood — especially with physical and emotional neglect.
Keren Lehavot, Ph.D. and her collaborators also found that women who identify as “femme” (or feminine) and have a more feminine appearance report more adult sexual assaults.
“The purpose of our study was to shed light on the ways in which gender expression and identity among lesbian and bisexual women might be associated with experiences of abuse, in an effort to provide awareness, resources and support,” Lehavot told Psych Central.
Researchers do not fully understand why sexual minority women are at greater risk of being abused both as children and adults compared to heterosexual women.
Lehavot’s team reviewed data from the Rainbow Women’s Project in the U.S. — a national, web-based survey of adult women who identify as lesbian/gay and bisexual.
From this review researchers examined whether reported experiences of childhood abuse and adult sexual assault differed among sexual minority women of varying gender identity (butch, femme, androgynous, or other) and gender expression (more butch/masculine vs. more femme/feminine).
As part of the research, an anonymous Internet survey posted on various listservs and website groups. A total of 1,243 adult sexual minority women completed the survey informing researchers on self-perceptions of gender identity.
From the survey, researchers learned that 40 percent of participants identified with the term “femme” and 15 percent with the term “butch.”
“The sexual minority women in our sample reported high rates of childhood abuse and neglect and adult sexual assault,” noted Lehavot. “Women who described themselves as more butch reported significantly greater childhood emotional and physical neglect.
“Those who identified themselves as more femme reported significantly more forced adult sex. Given the gravity of this widespread problem, identifying the most vulnerable among this group is critical.
“Clinicians and providers working with sexual minorities should consider the role of gender identity and expression in targeted assessments and interventions.”
The work is published online in the journal Sex Roles.
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the current research with certain findings of previous research. Previous research, but not the current study, has found that lesbian and bisexual women tend to report greater rates of abuse than heterosexual women.