Date of Award

Fall 12-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Family Psychology


Professional Psychology and Family Therapy


Ben Beitin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert F. Massey, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Adriana Balaguer Dunn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Pamela F. Foley, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sharon Davis Massey, Ph.D.


childhood abuse, domestic violence, adult attachment style, lesbian relationships



There is an abundance of previous research proving that childhood abuse and adult domestic violence is an increasingly serious problem (Smith Slep, & O’Leary, 2005). However, while studies have shown that lesbian intimate battering occurs as frequently, if not more than, heterosexual domestic violence (Gosselin, [ARF1] 2003; Niolon, 2002), it remains understudied. Therefore, this study not only examines the relationship between childhood abuse and intimate lesbian violence but also secure and insecure attachment styles. Children who witness domestic violence or who are victims of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse are likely to repeat or engage in violent relationships later in life (O’Keefe, 1997; van der Kolk, 2009). Victimized children are also at a greater risk of developing unhealthy, insecure ways of relating (Siegel & Hartzell, 2003).

Unexpectedly, childhood abuse or exposure to domestic violence was not found to directly impact adult aggression, but it did influence attachment style. As predicted, women who were victimized or exposed to violence in childhood were less inclined to feel close in their intimate relationships and were fearful of rejection. It was also found that lesbian women who were securely attached experienced less aggression in their intimate relationships. Limitations, implications for therapists, and recommendations for future research are discussed.