Myths about domestic violence
Women's Aid aims to challenge commonly held myths and to build a deeper understanding of domestic violence.
There are many myths and much misinformation surrounding the issue of domestic violence. This can cause confusion and make a difficult situation worse for women who are affected by domestic violence. If we do not challenge such myths then society will not be able to respond effectively to domestic violence.
Myths also encourage a victim blaming response to domestic violence while reinforcing the beliefs of abusive men. We have listed below some of the most common myths about domestic violence and the reality for women experiencing domestic violence.
- Domestic violence only happens in a small number of homes.
- She must do something to provoke or deserve the abuser.
- Women must enjoy or be addicted to the abuse. Otherwise she would leave.
- It only happens in working class, Migrant and Traveller families.
- It is not gender-based violence.
- It is just a 'domestic' - we shouldn't get involved.
- All men who are abusive come from a violent home.
- It is easy to spot an abusive man. She must have known what he was like.
- Alcohol causes domestic violence.
- The recession and economic difficulty causes domestic violence.
Myth: Domestic violence only happens in a small number of homes.
Reality: Domestic Violence is a daily reality for thousands of women in Ireland. Women's Aid research shows that 1 in 5 women in Ireland has experienced domestic violence. More recent research in 2005 estimated that 1 in 7 women has suffered severe abuse at the hands of their intimate partner. This means that 213,000 women in Ireland have been physically, emotionally, financially and sexually abused.
That means that there are thousands of women in Ireland suffering in silence and who are alone. It is important that any woman who is being abused feels she can talk to someone, whether that is a family member or a friend, a colleague or a support service like Women's Aid. No one deserves to be beaten and no one should suffer in silence. For many of those who call our Helpline, it quite literally is, a lifeline.
Women's Aid received over 17,000 calls last year to our National Freephone Helpline from women who are living with abuse every day. Without exception, a woman's greatest risk of violence is from someone she knows. Sadly, domestic violence is a feature of contemporary life in Ireland.
Myth: She must do something to provoke or deserve the abuser.
Reality: No woman "deserves" the sort of treatment disclosed to Women's Aid by women using our services. This is typical of a 'victim blaming' mentality which focuses on the behaviour of the woman, rather than the perpetrator of the abuse. No matter what she has or has not done. So-called "provocation" often amounts to no more than asking for money for food or not having a meal ready on time.
It is important that the abuser takes full responsibility for his actions without any 'blaming of the victim'. "Blaming the victim" is something that abusers will often do to make excuses for their behaviour. This is part of the pattern and is in itself abusive. Sometimes abusers manage to convince their victims that they are to blame for the abuser's behaviour. Blaming his behaviour on someone or something else - the relationship, his childhood, ill-health, alcohol or drug addiction - is an abuser's way of avoiding personal responsibility for his behaviour.
Myth: Women must enjoy or be addicted to the abuse. Otherwise she would leave.
Reality: One of the frequent questions Women's Aid is asked is - why doesn't she just leave. We would never tell a woman what she should do. We consider her to be the best judge of her situation. Women stay with violent men because it is extremely difficult for them to leave. No one enjoys being beaten, threatened and humiliated in their own homes.
There is a growing understanding of the barriers women face when trying to end the abuse. It isn't as simple as telling the woman to leave. As a key national organisation that has been supporting women for nearly 40 years, we know that leaving an abusive relationship is fraught with difficulty.
Whilst the risk of staying may be very high, simply leaving the relationship does not guarantee that the violence will stop. In fact, the period during which a woman is planning or making her exit, is often the most dangerous time for her and her children. Many women are frightened of the abuser, and with good reason. It's common for perpetrators to threaten to harm or even kill their partners or children if she leaves. Reasons why a woman may not be ready to leave include:
- She may still care for her partner and hope that they will change (many women don't necessarily want to leave the relationship, they just want the violence to stop).
- She may feel ashamed about what has happened or believe that it is her fault.
- She may be scared of the future (where she will go, what she will do for money, whether she will have to hide forever and what will happen to the children).
- She may feel too exhausted or unsure to make any decisions.
- She may be isolated from family or friends or be prevented from leaving the home or reaching out for help.
- She may have low self-esteem as a result of the abuse.
- She may believe that it is better to stay for the sake of the children (eg wanting a father for her children and/or wishing to prevent the stigma associated with being a single parent).
- Women need to know what options are available to them, that they will be taken seriously and that their rights will be enforced. They need to be supported to make safe changes for themselves and their children. Resources and support they will need to leave safely include: money, housing, help with moving, transport, ongoing protection from the police, legal support to protect her and the children, a guaranteed income and emotional support. If a woman is not sure if these are available to her, this may also prevent her from leaving.
- Women may also seek support from family or friends and the quality of the support they receive is likely to have a significant influence on their decision-making. Sometimes women will make several attempts to leave before they can actually leave permanently and safely. Regardless of her decision, it is important that the support a woman receives enables her to increase her and her children's safety regardless of the choices she makes about her relationship to the abuser.
- It also is vitally important that women are also supported whilst living with an abuser. If she feels that she will be excluded from ongoing support if she does not leave, she is unlikely to seek help from the same person or organisation again.
None of these reasons include being addicted or enjoying the violence. To suggest as such is deeply offensive to the women and children affected by domestic violence.
And the abuse does not always end when the relationship does. We also know that 17% of callers to our National Freephone Helpline in 2013 were experiencing abuse by their former partners including stalking, physical assault and abuse during access arrangements.
In order for women to move on many things are needed - good legal protection, the practical and emotional support of their friends and support of organisations like Women's Aid.
Myth: It only happens in working class, Migrant and Traveller families.
Reality: Domestic violence is described as the 'most democratic of all crimes'. This means that domestic violence can happen to any woman in an intimate relationship. There is no *type* of home in which happens. There is no *type* of woman it happens to. 1 in 5 women in Ireland are affected by domestic violence regardless of age, marital status, ethnicity, religion or socio-economic background.
Myth: It is not gender-based violence.
Reality: The vast majority of the victims of domestic violence are women and children, and women are also considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of violence and sexual abuse. Over 30 years of data and research have confirmed that men are generally the perpetrators of domestic violence and that women are generally the victims. Irish and worldwide research - as well as data from hospitals and police stations all over the world - reveal a consistent pattern of violence in intimate relationships where men are the perpetrators 90 per cent of the time. This violence frequently results in physical injury, often serious, and sometimes results in death. Of the female murders in Ireland since 1996, 55% of the resolved cases were committed by a husband, ex-husband, partner or ex-partner.
The 2005 National Crime Council and ESRI research into the domestic abuse of women and men in Ireland found that 1 in 7 women in Ireland compared to 1 in 17 men experience severe domestic violence. Women are over twice as likely as men to have experienced severe physical abuse, seven times more likely to have experienced sexual abuse, and are more likely to experience serious injuries than men. According to the research, women are twice as likely to be injured as a result of domestic abuse; more likely to experience serious injuries; more likely to require medical attention as a result of abuse; and the impact of the abuse in terms of fear, distress and health impacts is more significant for women than men. (NCC & ERSI, 2005)
Myth: It is just a 'domestic' - we shouldn't get involved.
Reality: Domestic violence is a serious crime and should be treated as such. Domestic violence includes physical assault, cruelty, verbal abuse, rape, and sexual assault of women. It can lead to physical injury, hospitalisation, mental health issues. In some extreme cases it can result in homicide. Perpetrators of domestic violence against women can also abuse the children of the relationship. No behaviour which so degrades and violates a human being can be dismissed as "just a domestic".
Thousands of women have come forward to seek support from Women's Aid and they have been relieved to find that someone cares about what has been happening to them within their relationship.
Domestic violence is a social problem, not a private affair. The abuse of any human being by another is everyone's business. Society has a responsibility to speak out against domestic violence. To show that domestic violence is not acceptable.
Myth: All men who are abusive come from a violent home.
Reality: Abusers come from all walks of life and backgrounds. Domestic violence is a learned intentional behaviour rather than the consequence of stress, individual pathology, substance use or a 'dysfunctional' relationship. Perpetrators of domestic violence frequently avoid taking responsibility for their behaviour, by blaming their violence on someone ro something else, denying it took place at all or minimising it. This includes blaming an aspect of their childhood. It can be the case that men who grew up in abusive homes in turn are abusive as adults. However, many more men who grew up with domestic violence abhor violence and do not abuse their partners. The abusive man alone is responsible for the violence. There is no excuse for domestic violence. The abuser has a choice to use violence, or instead they can choose to behave non-violently, fostering a relationship built on trust, honesty, fairness and respect. The woman affected is never responsible for the abuser's behaviour.
Myth: It is easy to spot an abusive man. She must have known what he was like.
Reality: Since abusers typically display different kinds of behaviours in public than they do in their private relationships, most people are not usually aware of domestic violence when it is happening in their community. Sometimes it is difficult to believe that a person who behaves so respectably in public can behave so appallingly behind closed doors. This can sometimes make it more difficult for women who are trying to reach out for support, as they may feel that they will not be believed when the speak out about the abuse.
Frequently, men who will become violent do not reveal this aspect of their behaviour until the relationship has become well established. The tactics of abuse can be very subtle and difficult to recognise. Some tactics of abuse may seem insignificant in isolation. However, it is important to recognise the intent behind such behaviour. Abusive men will quite often groom their partners. This lays the ground work to facilitate their controlling and abusive behaviour. It may start with him telling her what to wear, taking her shopping and picking out clothes, making remarks on what looks bad or good on her. He may start to prevent her from seeing her friends and family by sabotaging arrangements or making her choose between spending time with him or her loved ones. He may start to build gulfs between her and her friends and family by making negative comments about them or saying that they do not like him. He may be overbearing to the extent where she has no time to herself to think, evaluate the relationship or judge certain situations or behaviours.
Women do not seek out relationships with abusive men.
Myth: Alcohol causes domestic violence.
Reality: Women's Aid is often asked if alcohol abuse is the cause of domestic violence. This is a common misconception. Alcohol does not and cannot make a man abuse a woman, but it is frequently used as an excuse. Many men drink and do not abuse anyone as a result. On the other hand many men abuse women when they are sober. It can be easier for some men and for some women to believe that the violence would not have happened if drink had not been taken.
It is important to state that while we do see a strong link between alcohol abuse and domestic violence, we do not see any evidence that alcohol is the cause of domestic violence. Our experience shows us that alcohol abuse greatly increases the risk to a woman and has clear links to increased severity in relation to physical and sexual abuse. For this reason, it is always included in risk assessment procedures developed by agencies such as the Cardiff Women's Safety Unit in Wales. Risk assessment is a crucial tool used in homicide prevention that recognises the role of alcohol in domestic violence situations.
Myth: The recession and economic difficulty causes domestic violence.
Reality: Callers to the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline disclosed over 17,855 incidents of physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse in 2013. Many callers to the Helpline in 2013 disclosed that they are trapped in abusive relationships and are more vulnerable to abuse due to the recession. Women reported they were experiencing domestic violence before the recession but that the economic downturn was leading to more frequent abuse and more severe abuse. In addition, women disclosed that abusive men were using the recession to excuse their behaviour.
We know that economic difficulty does not cause domestic violence. All forms of domestic violence (physical, emotional, sexual and financial) are a feature of Irish life during boom times and times of recession. But we hear from women living in abusive situations that that their ability to escape domestic violence is being hampered by the recession. Women fear increased impoverishment, losing their home and the effect of poverty on their children. This barrier to leaving is exacerbated by the use of financial abuse by a controlling boyfriend, husband or partner.
Men, who were already emotionally, physically, sexually and financially abusing their partners, continue to do so during times of recession. Women disclose that the abuser may start to use his unemployment or financial difficulties as an excuse for the abuse. However, the violence and abuse, including financial abuse tactics, were a feature of the relationship before the recession. Unemployment may give abusive men the opportunity to increase the levels of abuse inflicted on their partners as they may be around the house more. The abuse may also become more dangerous. Women may experience an escalation of the abuse. There is no evidence emerging from our helpline that suggests that the recession is causing men, who once treated their partner with respect and love, to suddenly become abusive because of financial difficulties.
The majority of people in relationships who are facing this economic crisis do so within a caring and supportive environment. It is misleading to say that men only abuse because they are under huge stress. This is not the case.
If you have found this information useful, you may also be interested in our frequently asked questions.