Nicole Ovesen defends her thesis on violence and help-seeking in lesbian and queer relationships


On 10 September Nicole Ovesen from the Centre for Gender Research defended her thesis, Intimate Partner Violence and Help-Seeking in Lesbian and Queer Relationships: Challenging Recognition.

Nicole Ovesen

The thesis explores how people who have lived through violence in a lesbian or queer relationship have identified the violence, how they have sought help, and how they have experienced the help-seeking process. In the thesis Nicole Ovesen investigates the difficulties in seeing yourself as someone exposed to violence, and your partner as a perpetrator of violence. She explores how the help-seeking process can become more difficult for people who do not fit into the framework of domestic violence. 

The thesis can be downloaded in full here


The topic of intimate partner violence (IPV) in lesbian and queer relationships continues to be under-researched in Sweden. This lack of knowledge and recognition can have severe consequences for the help-seeking of those who are not recognized as victims of IPV. This thesis aims to fill this knowledge gap by examining the help-seeking processes of lesbian and queer victim-survivors of IPV in Sweden.

By drawing on qualitative interviews with 25 people who have experienced violence in intimate lesbian and/or queer relationships, the thesis examines how the interviewees made sense of the experiences of IPV, where they sought help and how they perceived the support they received. These findings contribute to our understanding of the challenges that recognition of IPV in queer and lesbian relationships entails. Many of the interviewees struggled to identify themselves as victims of IPV, as their experiences did not fit with the public stories of violence, which frame IPV as a heterosexual phenomenon and tend to emphasize physical violence. To understand the struggle for recognition, the thesis draws on the theoretical concept of slow violence from environmental studies, which calls attention to invisible and processual forms of violence that manifest over time.

The help-seeking patterns of the interviewees were characterized by subtle, iterative and aborted attempts to gain support and included different informal and formal actors. The findings suggest that the help-seeking processes of victim-survivors often mirror the violence experienced, meaning that they are repeated and processual. Many interviewees initially sought support for other reasons than IPV. This indirect help-seeking suggests that help-providers need to be able to recognize potential victims. Failed help-seeking encounters caused by institutionalized heteronormative values were often characterized by inadvertent misrecognition. This included ignoring or minimizing signs of abuse, leading to failed or lack of interventions.

To understand the specific conditions for help-seeking in the Swedish context, ideals around progress, family-making and community support are discussed. This includes specifically the social and legal vulnerability which shape both violence and help-seeking in lesbian and queer families. Finally, the ideal of the singular LGBTQ community as a ready resource for support is challenged.

Last modified: 2021-09-10