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Some Myths and Facts

Societal misconceptions about domestic violence often hinder battered women from getting support and protection from friends, family, the criminal justice system and the medical community. These attitudes are based on myths and often stem from the same "blame the victim" attitudes rape victims encounter. The first step to helping battered women is to dispel the myths and thereby gain a better understanding of domestic violence. 

Myth

The woman must have done something to provoke the attack.

Fact

There are problems in every marriage or relationship, but violence is never an acceptable response. Moreover, the violence can be triggered by almost anything no matter how trivial — e.g., not having the meal ready on time, not keeping the children quiet — or by nothing at all. 

Myth

 Alcohol abuse is the cause of most domestic violence.

Fact

Excessive drinking or alcoholism is not the cause of domestic violence, nor an excuse for it. Quitting drinking alone will not cure abusive behavior, although it may be a prerequisite to treating the abuser. 

Myth

 A man's home is his castle. What he does in it is no one else's business.

Fact

 Domestic violence is against the law. It is criminal behavior — not a purely private matter. In dealing with batterers, the criminal justice system should make no distinction between violence on the streets and violence in the home. The police should as readily arrest a batterer as a mugger, and batterers should receive punishment commensurate with punishment for similar violence perpetuated by strangers. 

Myth

 Once an abuser, always an abuser.

Fact

 Not necessarily, but the prognosis for batterers being "cured" is guarded. Some batterers can stop their behavior with willingness to change and with professional help. Unless there is intervention by outside professionals, the pattern of abuse is highly unlikely to improve. Furthermore, most programs to treat batterers were established fairly recently and their long-term success rates are not yet fully known. In addition, effective programs are not available in some communities. 

Myth

 Women must enjoy the abuse or they would leave.

Fact

The fact is many women eventually do leave but the decision to leave is extremely difficult for a number of reasons.

  • Many women are afraid to leave because the abuser has threatened their safety or has threatened to take away the children.

  • Abused women with marketable skills may have little self-esteem and self-confidence as a result of the abuse and are afraid to strike out on their own. Other victims with no recent job experience may find the idea of trying to support themselves even more daunting. 

  • Although the abuse is not their fault, women often blame themselves and try to prevent the violence by trying to be "better." 

  • Usually the relationship is not all bad. Between violent episodes, the abuser may be very apologetic and loving. The victim often loves the abuser, but hates the abuse. 

Myth

Battered women need only call the police and the criminal justice system will protect them.

Fact

Traditionally, the authorities — police, prosecutors and judges — have not treated domestic violence as a serious criminal matter. Too often police have been reluctant to arrest the abuser; prosecutors have not vigorously prosecuted domestic violence cases; and judges have failed to hand down sentences commensurate with the seriousness of the offense.

Fortunately, this situation is beginning to change. The change is primarily the result of the public outcry following tragedies that could have been prevented by a proper response from the authorities. For example, new legislation has been passed in some states providing stiffer penalties for abusers and police in many cities are receiving training on how to deal with domestic violence cases. 

Myth

When abused women make the break and get away from the batterer, they are no longer in danger.

Fact

A domestic violence victim is often in more danger after she leaves. This makes it very critical that the police and the courts effectively enforce stay away orders and incarcerate batterers for as long a time as they would any dangerous felon who commits other types of violent offenses.

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