Myths about Domestic Abuse

There are many myths and stereotypes about domestic abuse, which are untrue and often deeply unfair to those who are suffering domestic abuse. These attitudes, often held by those who have no experience of domestic abuse, can add to feelings of despair and isolation and make it more difficult for those experiencing abuse to seek help. Here are some questions which have been asked about domestic abuse and answers which challenge these untruths:

Q: Isn’t domestic violence just all about hitting? Surely
being emotionally abused isn’t that bad?

A: People who have been abused in several ways often say that it was the emotional abuse that had the most effect on them. Being constantly undermined, criticised and humiliated can turn someone who was once confident and outgoing into a nervous, anxious person. The threat of being hit can be extremely controlling. But all violence and abuse is damaging and does not have to be tolerated.

Q: Don’t some people choose violent partners or like the
abuse? If not, why do they stay with them?

A: Nobody chooses a violent partner because they want to be abused. Abuse rarely starts at the beginning of the relationship and many people don’t realise their partner’s controlling behaviour might lead to violence. It can be hard to leave a partner if you live together or have children, who may love the other parent. Survivors of abuse often say they love their partner, but want the abuse to stop. They may think their partner can change. They may not know that what is going on is illegal and may not know about help available.

Q. Don’t some people provoke violence by their own
behaviour?

A. Nobody deserves to be abused and there is no justification for violent crime. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone – being ‘a good wife/husband/partner’ does not stop someone being victimised.

What abusers count as ‘provocation’ is abnormal: being assaulted for not having a meal ready, or asking for money, or attacked in your sleep. Provocation is an excuse offenders use to avoid responsibility for their behaviour. No-one ever deserves to be beaten, or abused, no matter what s/he has said or done. The idea that provocation leads to violence does not universally apply -if an abuser feels provoked by their boss or bank manager, it is unlikely that s/he would punch them in the face or kick them to the ground.

The biggest risk factor for suffering domestic abuse is being a woman. Domestic abuse does not just happen to bad people. Being good does not stop a woman being victimised. Abusers are not out of control and can choose to walk away if their partner is upsetting them or they feel they are being wound up by a situation.

Q. If domestic abuse is that bad, why wouldn’t they
speak up or leave?

A. People experiencing domestic abuse may remain silent for many valid reasons. In the early stages, they often hope that the abuser will change or stop the abuse. When it doesn’t stop, they may remain silent primarily because of fear: of the abuser’s threats to kill , to stalk , to take the children away, to hurt loved ones, to kill pets or to kill him/herself. It takes great courage to tell someone if you know you will be at greater risk (often a valid assumption, based on past experience). They may not know where to go for help; they may be afraid of what the abuser will do if they were to leave or if the abuser were to find them. They may have been told they cannot take the children away from the other parent; they may be under pressure from family or community to stay.

Q. “He was abused himself: men who abuse women come
from violent families”

A. We know that many men who grow up in violent families don’t go on to become abusers and many men who are violent to their partner come from families with no history of abuse. This myth is an excuse to let abusers blame their abuse on their upbringing and not take responsibility for their behaviour. Just because he might have experienced abuse as a child this does not justify his behaviour. Each man has a choice.

Q. He has a problem in anger management

A. Most domestic abuse is systematic and premeditated, not a momentary loss of self-control. Many people feel angry but do not assault another person. Anger is a healthy feeling; physical violence is a criminal behaviour. In addition sexual violence, emotional, psychological and financial abuse cannot be explained by a ‘loss of temper’. Most men who physically assault their partners do so in the privacy of their own home, not outside in public view, suggesting that his assaults are not subject to his current emotion or poor impulse control; he can wait to beat her when they get home, in a planned way. Some women are hauled out of bed when they are asleep and beaten.

The abuse is often directed to parts of the body that will not be visible if bruised. Most violent men would not attack their boss, bank manager or a stranger when frustrated or angry. If they have enough control to do this, they could use their control to walk away. His assault is often ‘in cold blood’ with no sign of ‘loss of temper’. Physical assault may stop immediately if there is an interruption such as a phone call, a ring at the door, or if someone walks in.

Q. ‘Black men are more violent to women because of
their own experience of racist oppression and violence’

A. Black men do face racist oppression but the statistics show abuse is not greater within any ethnic minority group. Chauvinist views and oppression of women exist in all cultures, although gender power may be displayed in different ways.

Q. ‘Asian women are passive and conform to male dominated
culture and religion with harsh traditions (that may include wife
beating, maiming and killing)’

A. Women from different cultures experience domestic abuse and the risk does not differ significantly according to ethnicity or religion. However, forced marriage, family honour (izzat) and shame (sharam) can play an important part in some Asian families and further limit women’s ability and safety to seek help; Asian women are 2-3 times more likely to attempt suicide than other women as it can often feel as if their situation is hopeless.

Q. ‘Drunks are violent’; ‘if s/he stopped
drinking the domestic abuse would stop’

A. Many people who drink are not violent. Many people are sober when they abuse their partners and the majority of abusers are not alcoholics. The majority of people classified as high level drinkers do not abuse their partners. Some people use drink to deny responsibility and as an excuse for abuse. Many people know before an abuser starts drinking that s/he will be violent. Women are 17 times more likely to contact police when a perpetrator is drunk or drugged because the abuser is less predictable. This contributes to a misconception that drugs or alcohol caused the abuse.

Q. ‘He’s a good dad, so she should stay for
the sake of the children’

A. In 50-70% of homes where men assault women, children are abused as well. Half the men who abuse their wives assault their children more than twice a year. The impact of domestic abuse is serious and cumulative. Just hearing or witnessing domestic abuse can cause a variety of physical, behavioural and emotional problems for children and is considered to cause them ’significant harm’. Research shows the emotional and physical health of children improves considerably when they are removed from abuse.

Q. ‘It’s just a tiff, domestic abuse is a private
matter; we shouldn’t interfere’

A. Domestic abuse almost always is repeated and escalates in severity and frequency over time. Repeated abuse is damaging and potentially life-threatening. Domestic abuse is purposeful and systematic behaviour that occurs without a two-sided argument, since victims learn not to answer back. Although some people fight back or defend themselves when they are being assaulted, this does not mean that they ‘are as bad as the abuser’.

Domestic abuse is not something to be minimised nor is it just a private matter. Abuse is a crime and a public matter. If we suspect someone is experiencing domestic abuse, we should try and let them know that we are there to support them. People experiencing domestic abuse very rarely exaggerate; indeed, the majority minimise and under-report the extent of the abuse.

Q. ‘There is no point in getting involved because
the women always go back’

A. Leaving violent situations does not guarantee safety. Women are at most risk of life-threatening violence when they attempt to leave or have recently left a partner. So leaving can be a very hard and frightening thing to do and women need support and help to do so in safety.

Q. ‘What about the men abused by women?’

A. Although domestic abuse mainly affects women, men can be victims too. It is estimated that one in six men will experience domestic abuse at some time in their lives.

Q. ‘She stays/returns because she loves him or she
is co-dependent’

A. Loving the ‘charmer’ at the beginning is not the same as loving the reality: that the same person is capable of love and abuse. Women try many strategies to prevent abuse, and always hope it will never happen again. Women feel horror, terror, and disgust – and never talk of any positive features about being attacked. If a woman returns to a relationship, it is not to the abuse that she is returning but to the hope that it has stopped.

Q. ‘Some women just say they’ve been abused to get
re-housed’

A. Leaving an abusive relationship can often mean leaving belongings and pets behind, taking children away from their father, friends and schools; living in temporary accommodation while waiting for up to two years to be re-housed. Moving away from familiar surroundings, family, friends and community networks is something few women would choose to put themselves and their children through without good reason.

Q. ‘Men who assault their wives are mentally ill’

A. Woman abuse is too common to be explained or excused by mental illness. Most men with mental health problems do not abuse, and most abusers would not be diagnosed as mentally ill. The proportion of abusers who are mentally ill is no higher than in society as a whole. Even if it was caused by mental illness, why doesn’t the abuser attack their employer, or strangers? Finally, trying to understand him or his intent will not diminish the effects or impact of the abuse on the victim, and her children.

Q. ‘It was a one-off. The abuser was really sorry.’

A. Domestic abuse is not a single incident, or even a series ofthem. It is a systematic pattern of control and intimidation. Apologies may be another form of coercion and do not provide evidence that he has taken responsibility for the abuse and means to keep their promise that it will never happen again. On the whole, studies show that abuse tends to recur and become more frequent and severe over time and domestic abuse rarely stops without intervention.

Q. ‘If my mum had a relationship with a violent man,
does this make me more likely to become an abuser or victim?’

A. No. If you are abused as a child this definitely doesn’t mean that you are going to end up in a violent or abusive relationship yourself. Some research seems to show the opposite. Seeing what their parent went through means some people know what the effects are first-hand and never want to put anyone else through this. Others have found that through seeing the bad side of relationships they have learnt what to look out for. If you have any worries about this, you may want to talk to a friend, relative or counsellor.