There are many myths surrounding domestic violence. By believing them we allow the problem to continue.
Myth: Alcohol and drugs make men violent.
Many men are violent when they are stone-cold sober. Many men who drink never lay a finger on their partner.
Blaming drink or drugs is an excuse, a way of denying responsibility. Both may be the trigger for a particular attack, but they are not the underlying cause.
Myth: It only happens in poor families on council estates.
Anyone can be abused, no matter where they live or how much money they have. Abused women come from all walks of life. You only have to think of the celebrities we hear about in the papers to realise that money cannot protect you from domestic violence.
Men who abuse women are as likely to be lawyers, accountants and judges as they are milkmen, cleaners or unemployed.
Myth: More women would leave if the abuse was that bad.
It can be extremely difficult to leave an abusive partner. The abused woman may fear what her partner will do if she leaves, particularly if he has threatened to kill her or her children. She may believe that staying with him is better for the children.
There are also practical considerations to take into account. She may not have access to money, or anywhere to go. She may not know where to turn for help, particularly if English is not her first language. If she is emotionally and financially dependent on her partner, she may be very isolated.
Women from different cultures can find it particularly difficult to leave an abusive man as this would bring shame on both themselves and their family. They may feel like they are betraying their community if they contact the police.
An abused woman’s self-esteem will have been steadily worn down. She may not believe she will manage on her own, or that she has any other options. She may feel ashamed of what has happened and believe the abuse is her fault.
She may hope that her partner will change. She remembers the good times at the start of the relationship and hopes they will return. In emotional terms she has made a huge investment in the relationship and she wants it to work.
Myth: Abusers grow up in violent homes.
This is not true. Growing up in a violent home is a risk factor and some children who experience abuse do go on to be abusive in their relationships. But many do not. Instead they are repelled by violence because they have seen the damage it causes. They would not dream of hitting their partner.
Abusers learn to be violent from the society they grow up in. Inequality between the sexes means that men have more power than women – inevitably some of them abuse or exploit that power.
People who blame violence on their childhood experiences are avoiding taking responsibility for their actions. Violence is a choice an abuser makes.
Myth: Some women like violence.
Women do not enjoy violence, or find it a turn-on. Most abused women live in fear and terror.
This is a way of blaming the victim for what is happening.
Myth: Women ask for it. They deserve what they get.
Women are often attacked by their partner for no apparent reason. Even if a woman has behaved appallingly, she does not deserve to be beaten. Violence and intimidation are not acceptable ways to solve conflict in a relationship.
Again, this is a way of making excuses for the abuser’s behaviour. It allows a violent man to avoid responsibility for his actions.
Myth: Abusive men have a mental illness.
The vast majority of men who abuse women are not mentally ill. Research shows that the proportion of abusers with mental health problems is no higher than in society as a whole. And if an abusive man were mentally ill, why is it that he only abuses his partner – not his colleagues, strangers or friends?
Myth: He only hit her because he was under stress.
Some men who abuse their partners do suffer from stress. Again, this is a factor – not the underlying cause of the abuse. Many men who are stressed are never abusive. Similarly, many men who do abuse their partner cannot claim to be under stress.
Women experience stress too, yet they rarely beat or abuse their partners to the extent that men abuse women.
Myth: He loses his temper sometimes, that’s all.
People argue that an abusive man “loses his temper”, or is “out of control”. The truth is that he is very much in control.
Abusers are usually selective about when they hit their partner, e.g. in private or when the children are asleep. They choose not to mark her face or other parts of the body which show. They never “lost their temper” with other people. This suggests they are very aware of what they are doing.
Many men abuse their partners emotionally and psychologically, without ever using physical violence. This shows the extent of their control.
Myth: Domestic violence is a private matter, you shouldn’t get involved.
For too long domestic violence has been allowed to happen behind closed doors. People think what goes on in the home is private, and not their problem.
Domestic violence is a crime. It is against the law.
We are all affected by domestic violence, and we all have a responsibility to speak out against it. Only then will it end.