By Ben Atherton-Zeman, 2003 (www.voicesofmen.org)
Myth 1: It’s the victim/survivor’s job to stop the abuse. (Usually stated in a question: “Why don’t they just leave?” or “Why do they stay/go back to their abuser?”)
Reality Check 1: Often when victims leave, the abuse increases. More than half of domestic homicides occur when a victim has left or is trying to leave. This is a dangerous time – instead of urging victims to leave, we should urge abusers to stop abusing, and urge the community to address domestic violence so that our homes are safer places to be. The best expert on the life of any victim is the victim themselves, not us – we need to help them make informed life decisions, not make those life decisions for them.
Myth 2: If you’re not hit, you’re not being abused.
Reality Check 2: Sometimes emotional, psychological, financial abuse can hurt worse than physical abuse. Domestic violence is about power and control, not about hitting – the abuser sometimes uses physical violence to control their victim, but doesn’t always.
Myth 3: Batterers are out of control due to provocation, alcohol/drug abuse, or anger management issues.
Reality Check 3: Domestic violence is about being in control, not about being out of control. No matter how much they are “provoked” by their victim’s behavior, it is not an excuse to be controlling or abusive. Alcohol/drug abuse and anger management issues do not deal with the core issue for a batterer – a mindset that they get to control the person they are dating or married to.
Myth 4: Victim/survivors have low self-esteem and choose abusers because it’s all they know.
Reality Check 4: Victim/survivors may have low self-esteem, but it may come from being abused. Very few people fall in love with someone because of their abusive behavior – most fall in love with someone the way any of us do – they are fun to be with, or good lovers, or attractive, etc. Many victims start out with a strong sense of self, and just happen to fall in love with someone who uses power and control. If a victim has grown up with abuse, or has been abused in other relationships, they may put up with it for longer, but no one chooses to be abused.
Myth 5: That would never happen to me. I’d leave right away, or hit them right back.
Reality Check 5: Many of the early warning signs aren’t so obvious – quick involvement, jealousy, putting you on a pedestal, etc. Batterers can seem very charming at first – often the abuse doesn’t start until you’re already in love with the person. By then, leaving isn’t such a simple thing – this person committing a crime against you isn’t some random person – it’s the person you love, perhaps the person you are raising children with.
Myth 6: Victim/survivors are poor women with lots of kids who are on welfare.
Reality Check 6: Survivors come from all walks of life, all economic backgrounds, ages, sexual orientations, genders, races, religions, geographic areas, etc. Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate – in fact, many abusers will use relevant factors about their social identities to further the control and abuse (threatening to “out” a lesbian, or get an immigrant deported, etc.). Abuse isn’t specific to one “culture,” and there is no culture that supports abuse, although an abuser may use culture as an excuse for their behavior.
Myth 7: Abuse is a private matter.
Reality Check 7: You can make a difference. Abuse will end only when we, as a community, change the norms around relationships and power. You, dear reader, have the power to help end abuse in our community –call your local domestic violence program to see how you can become involved.