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Myths about domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is devastating in all its forms, whether it be physical, sexual, psychological or financial. It defies belief that a woman is killed by her male partner or former partner every four days in the UK.

This has to change.

There are many myths attached to domestic abuse, questions which are asked by those lucky enough not to have experienced it. Let’s take a look at some of these.

Myth #1: Alcohol and drugs make men more violent.

Reality: Alcohol and drugs will almost always make abuse worse and can be a catalyst for an attack, but they do not cause domestic abuse. Many people use alcohol or drugs and do not abuse their partner.

Drugs and alcohol may explain why a situation has escalated but it should never be accepted as an excuse.

The perpetrator alone is responsible for his/her actions.

Myth #2: If it was that bad, you’d leave.

Reality: It is hard for those who have not experienced domestic abuse to understand why a woman who is experiencing it doesn’t leave.

“Why don’t you leave him/her?” is a question you may well have been asked by your friends or family.

There are many reasons for staying in such a relationship.

To begin with, never forget that in the first instance, you fell in love with him/her. He/she may well have ‘love bombed’ you, convincing you that you are the be all and end all of his/her world. Even when this is not the case, it is hard to let go of the dream, to accept that it was never real.

The cycle of abuse keeps this hope alive for women.

Take a look at the diagram below and see how easy it is to become locked in a spiral not just of abuse, but of the hope that things will ‘get better’

Hope is when the abuser, who you may well still love, says they're sorry and that ‘it won’t happen again’. It’s only natural to think this may be a turning point in the relationship but when this pattern is repeated over and over again, as illustrated above, it’s time to accept that nothing is ever going to change.

There are of course many other reasons why you may be reluctant to leave. You may be afraid for your safety and that of your children; there may be financial reasons to stay; if your abuser has isolated you from friends and family it can be hard to know who to turn to, who to trust.

You should not be judged for any of this. People don’t understand and that’s ok, but we do, and we are here to support you.

Myth #3: Domestic abuse always involves physical violence.

Reality: although violence is often involved, this is not always the case. There are many other forms of abuse [Rhiannon: link to forms of abuse page?] and these are just as unacceptable, just as detrimental to your wellbeing.

Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse as:

“….an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. It is very common. In the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men.”

Such ‘incidents may include coercive control; psychological and/or emotional abuse; physical abuse; sexual abuse; financial abuse; harassment; stalking; and/or online or digital abuse.

If someone tells you it can’t be abuse because “he/she doesn’t hit you” they are minimising your experience. There are many forms of abuse that don’t include physical violence

Myth #4: He can still be a good father even if he is abusing me – our relationship doesn’t have to affect our children.

Reality: it is estimated that 90% of children whose mothers are abused do actually witness the abuse. This has a traumatic and long-lasting effect. When a child witnesses domestic abuse, it is child abuse. Between 40% and 70% of these children are also direct victims of the abuse happening in their home.

Myth #5: She provoked him.

Reality: This myth is widespread and quite deeply embedded. It derives from the outdated belief that the man is the head of the family, and that his role is to punish his partner or children if they act in a way of which he disapproves.

This way of thinking is dangerous because any reference to ‘provocation’ means that we are blaming the woman and absolving the abuser of responsibility.

Abuse or violence of any kind is never the victim’s fault. Responsibility always lies with the perpetrator, and with him alone.

Myth #6: Domestic abuse is a private family matter, and not a social issue.

Reality: Violence and abuse against women and children has a cost to us all, to society as a whole i.e. hospital treatment, medication, court proceedings, lawyers’ fees, imprisonment – not to mention the psychological and physical impact on those who experience it.

All too often, when women disclose their abuse, no one listens to them, no one asks them what they want, what they would like to happen next. Here at West Cornwall Women’s Aid we will ask what you need from us, and we will listen to you.

Our aim is to place you at the heart of everything we do

Domestic abuse happens every day all over the world, and affects women of every age, ability, culture, nationality, class and background. It is a serious, widespread crime. If anyone tries to tell you that domestic abuse is a ‘private family matter’, then they are not only minimising your experience, but they are also condoning the abuse.

Myth #7: Pornography is not linked to violence against women.

Reality: Most consumers of pornography are male. Pornographic material is becoming increasingly explicit, violent, and focused on male pleasure. It’s also freely available to anyone online. Studies indicate that this is how many young people find out about sex.

Pornography contributes to a culture of misogyny, in which women and girls are abused by men for male pleasure. Women are harmed by pornography in two ways: directly, when they are used for the production of pornographic material; and indirectly, through the effects of mainstream availability and consumption of violent pornography.

Myth #8: Women are just as abusive as men.

Reality: for the most part, domestic abuse is experienced by women and perpetrated by men. A woman is killed by her male partner or former partner every four days in the UK England and Wales. In the year ending March 2019, the majority of defendants in domestic abuse-related prosecutions were men (92%), and the majority of victims were female (75%) (in 10% of cases the sex of the victim was not recorded) (ONS, 2019). It is a gendered crime which is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between women and men.

Women are more likely than men to experience multiple incidents of abuse, different types of domestic abuse, and sexual violence particularly.

Domestic abuse exists as part of the wider spectrum of violence against women and girls, which also includes different forms of family violence such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation and so-called “honour crimes” that are perpetrated primarily by family members.

HOWEVER having said all that, if you are being (or have been) abused by someone in your domestic setting, even a female someone such as a mother or sister, please don’t think it “doesn’t count”. Women are often abused by parents (mothers as well as father) grandparents, siblings etc. IT IS abuse, it should not be happening, and we are here to support you

Myth #9: Women often lie about abuse.

Reality: False allegations about domestic abuse are extremely rare. The Crown Prosecution Service released the first ever study of this in 2013, and concluded that false allegations are even more infrequent than previously thought. In the 17 month period that the study examined, there were 111,891 prosecutions for domestic violence, and only six prosecutions for making false allegations.

If someone says this, it will feel as though they are saying you’re a liar. In fact they are minimising and discounting your experience and this in itself is a form of abuse.

 Myth #10: Men who abuse women are mentally unwell.

Reality: There is no research to support this. Abuse and violence are a choice, and there is no excuse. Domestic abuse happens throughout every level of society, regardless of health, wealth or status.

Myth #11: Women are attracted to abusive men.

Reality: Domestic abuse is widespread, and it is not uncommon for a woman to experience abuse in more than one relationship. However, to suggest that you or any woman is particularly attracted to abusive men is victim-blaming. A perpetrator of domestic abuse can be charming and charismatic and often no one, let alone you, would suspect him to be abusive.

Myth #12: Men who abuse their partners saw their fathers abuse their mothers.

Reality: Because domestic abuse is so widespread, many people have grown up around it. That said, most of them will never perpetrate domestic abuse in their own relationships. Having witnessed abuse in childhood is no excuse for perpetuating it in adult relationships.

Myth #13: Domestic abuse isn’t that common.

Reality: Hopefully you will have realised from all you’ve read so far that it is indeed very common. Domestic abuse has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime, and on average, the police receive over 100 emergency calls relating to domestic abuse every hour.

According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), approximately 7.5% (1.6 million) of women experienced some form of domestic abuse in the year ending March 2019. An estimated 28.4% of women aged 16 to 59 years have experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16 years (ONS, 2019).

Myth #14: Domestic abuse is a ‘crime of passion’, a momentary loss of control.

Reality: Domestic abuse is not about losing control; it is about taking control. Abusive men/women rarely act spontaneously when angry. In fact, they are quite calculating and manipulative (in other words, controlled) in the way they go about abusing their partner. They will choose those moments when you are alone, when there are no witnesses (if there is a witness, it’s usually a child); if their abuse is physical, they may make sure no bruises are visible to others; they will also set about undermining your view of the world, they will set about gaslighting you – a process which is very controlled and calculating indeed – so that you start to doubt your own beliefs and experiences.

Myth #15: All couples argue – it’s not domestic abuse, it’s just a normal relationship.

Reality: Of course, couples argue, but it’s important to see that abuse and disagreement are not the same things. Different opinions are normal and completely acceptable in healthy relationships. Abuse is not a disagreement – it is the use of physical, sexual, emotional or psychological violence or threats to govern and control another person’s thinking, opinions, emotions and behaviour.

When abuse is involved, there is no discussion between equals and you will find yourself afraid of saying or doing the ‘wrong’ thing. You will feel as though you are walking on eggshells

Myth #16: Women are more likely to be attacked by strangers than by those who claim to love them.

Reality: In fact, the very opposite is true. Women are far more likely to be assaulted, raped and murdered by men they know and trust: partners, parents, siblings

According to Rape Crisis, only around 10% of rapes are committed by strangers.

Myth #17 I fight back, so I am just as bad as he/she is

An abusive relationship is never an equal partnership. If you are attacked, you may well try to fight back to protect yourself, your children or your pets, but you will not win the fight because he/she is controlling you not just with strength but with all the elements of coercive control that combine to undermine your belief in yourself.

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