With so much fear and shame surrounding domestic violence, it’s no wonder there is such a flood of misinformation about this issue. Traditionally kept behind closed doors, some conclusions drawn by society at large about domestic violence are wildly inaccurate. One way to help end abuse is to change cultural perceptions through education. Armed with knowledge, we can better understand the best ways to prevent domestic violence and to support survivors. There is a plethora of skewed and false “facts” out there that many people believe to be accurate. Here are some of the most common and harmful myths related to domestic abuse, along with the reality that needs to be better understood.
Myth: Domestic Violence is Only Physical
Physical violence is typically what springs to mind when one hears “domestic violence”. This term, however, covers not only physical violence but a wide variety of abusive behaviors. Emotional, psychological, verbal, sexual, spiritual, financial, and technological abuse all fall under the category of “domestic violence” and can all be devastating and debilitating for victims. DV is about coercive control in whatever form that takes. Learn more about the terminology of abuse in DVSN’s October 2021 blog post, “Defining Domestic Violence: Exploring an Imperfect Term”.
Myth: Victims Usually Provoke Abuse
Regardless of any issues in a relationship, abuse is never the solution. Victims may say or do things that frustrate or anger abusers, but that does not justify an abusive response. Abuse is a deliberate act by the perpetrator and often happens without any legitimate provocation. Abusers may even push their victims into saying or doing something confrontational in order to use it as an excuse, a reason for a hurtful, punishing response. There is no excuse for abuse. Keep in mind that domestic violence is not the same as an argument or altercation with both parties striking out relatively equally. Abuse is intrinsically unbalanced, when one person exerts coercive control over another. It is not a reaction but a purposeful choice to exploit a disparity.
Myth: Domestic Violence is Due to an Anger Management or Impulse Control Problem
Abusers may have anger management or impulse issues, but they are not out of control. Quite the opposite. Domestic violence is intentional abuse against specific victims, often purposely perpetrated so as not to be discovered. Abusers target victims they can control, typically in private in ways that are not easily apparent to the rest of the world. They may be agitated or enraged, and even use these outbursts as tools in controlling their victim, but it does not cause their abusive behavior. Abuse is a choice and a separate issue from either anger management or impulse control.
Myth: Abusers Only Become Violent Due to Alcohol or Drugs
Alcohol and drugs may aggravate a domestic violence situation but are not a cause or an excuse. Intoxicated abusers do not direct their abuse toward anyone and everyone they encounter but toward particularly chosen victims. They will control, manipulate, and harm these victims regardless of whether they are under the influence or completely sober. These are two separate issues that may or may not overlap.
Myth: Domestic Violence Doesn’t Happen in Affluent Communities
Domestic violence occurs in all socioeconomic levels. Wealthier individuals may have better means and greater influence to help camouflage the abuse. With larger houses that are farther apart, neighbors are less likely to hear or witness any conflict and victims are more isolated than in closer quarters and denser neighborhoods. This also makes it easier for victims to keep their experiences private to avoid any shame or stigma (real or perceived) on themselves, their family, or their community connections. These factors can make it seem that domestic violence does not occur in prosperous areas, but abuse does happen in all communities, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Myth: Victims Are Only Women, Abusers Are Only Men
This stereotype prevails because it is the most common pattern. In the vast majority of domestic violence situations, men are the aggressors and women the victims. But this is by no means the only way DV can occur. Women can be the abusers and men the victims. Women can abuse other women, and men other men. Abuse happens regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Only a fraction of domestic violence incidents are reported, particularly when men are victims, which skews the available data, but it is a universal issue.
Myth: Abusers and/or Victims Have Low Self-Esteem
Actually, abusers typically have such extremely high self-esteem that they believe they are entitled to power and control over their victim. They may, however, feign low self-esteem in an attempt to excuse their behavior or to manipulate their victims into believing the domestic violence is not the abuser’s fault. Abusers may seek out victims with low self-esteem, believing they will be easier to control, or they may seek out victims with high self-esteem, relishing the challenge of breaking them down. Victims’ self-esteem is eroded the more control their abuser gains, but it may not start out that way.
Myth: Domestic Violence is a Private Family Matter
Historically, domestic violence was something kept secret or dealt with in private. It was not something one interfered with. This feeling still pervades many cultures and mindsets, but the world in general has awakened to the fact that this approach is damaging and dangerous. Victims should not have to deal with abuse on their own, rather they should feel the support of friends and the resources of the community. Abuse does not only affect the direct victims; it is a public problem with rippling emotional, financial, familial, and societal costs. Not to mention, it is illegal. Learn more about the overwhelming shared effects of domestic violence in DVSN’s August 2021 blog post, “The Big-Picture Economic Impact of Domestic Violence”. On an individual level, it can be tricky to know when and how to intervene. Telling a friend or family member you suspect or know is being abused that you are there for them, sharing resources, and supporting their choices are good rules of thumb. We need to continue to shed light on domestic violence, not keep it in the shadows, and back up its unacceptability with laws, actions, and societal change.
Myth: Victims Can Easily Leave An Abusive Relationship
Just because a victim stays with an abuser does not mean the abuse must be minimal or infrequent. There are many factors, both emotional and practical, that can make leaving an abusive relationship difficult. Despite wishing to be free of a horrible situation, victims may still care for their abusers and feel bound to them by love, marriage vows, or religious reasons. Victims may have nowhere to go, no means to support themselves and/or their children. They may fear shame or blame. Abusers often control finances and isolate victims from family and friends, leaving them without resources and support. Getting out of an abusive relationship can be very dangerous. As abusers feel their control loosening, they threaten and lash out, increasing chances of lethality. There are extreme safety concerns for victims when leaving an abuser, as well as for any children or pets they may have. It is the most dangerous time for a victim.
Myth: Victims Don’t Care About Their Children if They Stay in an Abusive Relationship
Concern for children may be a primary motivator to leave an abusive relationship or to stay in one. If a victim feels it is safer for their children, they may well stay with any abuser they would otherwise have attempted to leave. The victim may not have the means to provide food, housing, and other material needs to their children upon leaving an abusive partner. They may fear physical harm to their children or themselves, rendering them unable to care for the children. They may feel children are better off with two parents, regardless of how one treats the other. Staying in the relationship, waiting for the right time and the right support, may be the best way they know to keep their children safe.
Myth: Children Who Grow Up in Abusive Homes Will Become Abusers as Adults
While there is sometimes a correlation between growing up around abuse and becoming abusive as an adult, it is by no means inevitable. Studies have found that around 30% of children who witness domestic violence become abusive to their own partners as adults. That is an unfortunate percentage, but it is the clear minority. Looking at it from the other side, 70% of children who witness domestic violence do not become abusers as adults. In fact, they are frequently committed to ending the cycle of abuse and actively advocate against domestic violence and child abuse.
Myth: Children Aren’t Affected by Domestic Violence Unless they are Abused Themselves
Victims and abusers may feel they are successfully hiding abuse from their children, but studies have shown that most children living in a home with domestic violence are aware of it. Domestic violence is a predictor of child abuse but even without being directly abused themselves, children feel the effects. They live in an extremely stressful environment of fear and negativity. Witnessing abuse against and/or by a beloved parent is a traumatic experience for a child and can lead to long-term emotional and physical problems that continue to haunt them as adults.
Myth: I Don’t Know Anyone Who Has Experienced Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is much more common than you might think. In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men suffer abuse at some point in their lives. That’s nearly one quarter of the entire population. With such disturbingly prolific statistics, it is practically impossible that you will never meet anyone who has experienced some form of abuse. You probably know more victims or survivors than you realize.
Thank you for taking the time to learn the facts about domestic violence. The less we perpetuate these myths, the more difficult it will be for abuse to continue. Spread the word and help end domestic violence. If you’re looking to continue learning about domestic violence, subscribe to DVSN’s monthly newsletter, check out past and future events in our enlightening Speaker Series, and share in the tributes to lives lost to DV in our annual Candlelight Vigil with compelling keynote speakers.
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