Dynamics of Domestic Violence – Common Myths and Facts about Domestic Violence

There are many myths about domestic violence that perpetuate a skewed view about the causes and nature of domestic violence.  To understand domestic violence, it is crucial to dispel these myths that perpetuate stereotypes about the nature of domestic violence and its survivors.

Myth 1. 

Drugs and alcohol cause domestic violence: Drugs and alcohol can increase the danger level of incidents and are found to be present in at least fifty percent of domestic violence cases.  However, many alcoholics/users do not batter, and there are many batterers who do not use drugs and alcohol.  In cases where a user batters, the most telling sign is who, how and where he chooses to batter: the intimate partner and most often behind closed doors. Assailants use drinking as one of many excuses for violence, and as a way of putting responsibility for their violence elsewhere.  There is a 50%, or higher, correlation between substance abuse and domestic violence, but no causal relationship.  Stopping the assailant’s drinking will not end the violence.  Batterers who use have two separate issues to confront if they want help – their addiction, and their abusive behavior.  Both problems must be addressed independently.

Myth 2. 

Anger causes domestic violence: Batterers are no angrier than the rest of us.  Anger is used as an excuse and justification for the abusive behavior.  All of us experience anger that does not mean that we take it out on those we love.

Myth 3. 

Stress causes domestic violence: All of us experience stress in some form or another and do not abuse the ones we love to deal with it.  Batterers who are stressed at work do not attack their co-workers or bosses.  Also, batterers will create “stress” in order to justify the abuse.  For example, many victims of domestic violence have “rules” they have to follow within the relationship, rules, which are created and enforced by the batterer, are open to change at the batterer’s whim.

Myth 4. 

Batterers “lose control” of their temper: Battering is not about loss of control, but rather about the exertion of power and control of one partner over the other. Batterers are usually not violent toward anyone but their partners or their children.  Batterers make sure that others are unaware of the abuse. They abuse behind closed doors, and make sure no one talks about it. If physical assaults are going on, batterers often inflict injuries on parts of the body that are hidden from view by clothing, or they will pull hair, or strangle– injuries that rarely leave obvious marks. 60% of battered women are beaten while they are pregnant, often in the stomach.  Many assaults last for hours.  Many are planned.

Myth 5. 

Women provoke battering: The victim’s behavior does not cause domestic violence. Only the perpetrator has the ability to stop the violence.  Battering is a behavioral choice.  Many women who are battered make numerous attempts to change their behavior in the hope that this will stop the abuse.  This does not work.  Changes in family members’ behavior will not cause or influence the batterer to be non-violent.

Myth 6. 

Domestic Violence is about mutual abuse: Domestic violence is about one partner exerting power and control over another through abusive tactics.  While a victim may get angry, yell and even fight back physically, it is not about taking power and control away from someone else but trying to maintain your own feeling of personal power and control and lack of it within that relationship.

Myth 7.

Battering is rare: Battering is extremely common.  The FBI estimates that a woman is battered every 15 seconds in the US.

Myth 8. 

DV occurs only in poor, poorly educated, minority or “dysfunctional” families:  DV crosses all demographics – racial, ethnic, economic, class, sexual orientation, occupation, educational, etc.  There are doctors, ministers, psychologists, police, attorneys, judges and other professionals who beat their partners.  Being rich, well-educated or white will not keep you from being battered.  Battering happens in rich, white, educated and respectable families.  About half of all couples experience DV at some time in their life.

Myth 9. 

If a battered woman really wanted to leave, she could just pack up and go somewhere else:  Battered women considering leaving their abusers are faced with the very real possibility of severe physical harm or even death.  Batterers isolate their partners and deprive them of jobs, of opportunities for acquiring education and job skills.  This combined with unequal opportunities for women in general and the traditional lack of support from institutions such as the police, church, and the legal system make leaving extremely difficult for women.

Myth 10.

Men who batter are often good fathers, and should have joint custody of their children: At least 70% of men who batter their wives, sexually or physically abuse their children.  All children suffer from witnessing their father assault their mother.  Even if a child never sees or hears the abuse directly, he or she is impacted by the mother’s visible or invisible suffering.

Myth 11. 

Domestic Violence is not a gender specific crime:  Domestic Violence is largely a gendered crime.  95% of all reported DV incidents are perpetrated by men on women.  To end domestic violence, we must scrutinize why it is usually men who are violent in partnerships.  We must examine the historic and legal permission that men have been given to be violent in general, and to be violent towards their wives and children specifically.

Myth 12.

Battered women always stay in violent relationships:  Many battered women leave their abusers permanently, and despite many obstacles, succeed in building a life free of violence.  Almost all battered women leave at least once.  The perpetrator dramatically escalates his violence when a woman leaves or tries to, because it is necessary for him to reassert control and ownership.  Battered women are often very active and far from helpless on their own behalf.  Their efforts often fail because the batterer continues to assault, and institutions refuse to offer protection.  However, most people blame the victim of battering for the crime, some without realizing it.  They expect the woman to stop the violence, and repeatedly analyze her motivations for not leaving, rather than scrutinizing why the batterer keeps beating her, and why the community allows it.

Myth 13.

Domestic Violence is usually a one-time event, an isolated incident:  Battering is a pattern, a reign of force and terror.  Once violence begins in a relationship, it gets worse and more frequent over a period of time.  Battering is not just one physical attack.  It is a number of tactics (intimidation, threats, economic deprivation, psychological and sexual abuse) used repeatedly.  Physical violence is one of those tactics.  Experts have compared methods used by batterers to those used by terrorists to brainwash hostages.  This is called the “Stockholm Syndrome”.