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Myths and Realities

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Myth Men are just as likely to be victims of domestic assault as women.
Reality According to a recent survey, men were much more likely than women to be perpetrators of domestic violence. Men are also more likely to repeat the abuse than female perpetrators. And the proportion of domestic abuse incidents committed by men increases with repeated abuse (one-time 86%, repeat incidents 94%, ongoing 97%). From Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, 2006

Myth Fights or heated arguments are a natural part of relationships.
Reality Disagreement occurs in all relationships but what distinguishes that, or a heated argument, from abuse is emotional degradation and physical violence. Abuse is a systemic pattern of behaviour by one person in a relationship to gain power and control over their partner. In some circumstances, the abuser may physically abuse his partner and she may defend herself. However, this is not a mutual fight, but self defense against a violent attack.

Myth Drugs and/or alcohol make the abuser violent.
Reality Some abusers will only hurt their partners when they’ve been drinking or doing drugs. Alcohol and drugs can provide an easy excuse, but tend to be more of a trigger and not the root cause of the violence. An abuser will often try to minimize the violence or deny responsibility for it. Blaming drugs or alcohol is a convenient excuse. Violence is a choice.

Myth If it was that bad, she’d just leave.
Reality A woman may be reluctant to leave for a complex set of reasons including shame, fear of being unable to support herself and her children, degraded self-esteem after years of emotional abuse, concern about leaving pets, feeling responsible for the abuse, having feelings of love or concern for her abuser, being disabled, being unaware of outside supports, not speaking English, fear of being deported. Statistics show that a woman is at the greatest risk of being murdered by her partner as she’s leaving, or just after she’s left the relationship.

Woman abuse is a complex continuum and there are no easy answers. Women are the best judges of their situations and what choices are safest for them and their children. If you’re concerned about someone you care about and she’s not seeking help, don’t become angry or frustrated with her decisions. She may be frightened and not ready to take the next steps. If she has children, you might share your concern about her and her children’s safety and well being. She may be more likely to accept the danger of her situation if she recognizes that her children may be in danger too.

Myth Violence against women only happens in heterosexual relationships.
Reality Abuse happens in same-sex relationships too, only it’s much more invisible in our society and lesbian women often encounter homophobia and insensitivity in seeking help. Rather than it being about how men or women inherently behave, battering is about power and control.

Myth Batterers are never a loving partner.
Reality In many abusive relationships, there’s an escalating pattern of abuse. When not in a violent episode, victims of domestic violence often describe their partners as loving, sensitive and playful. And despite the abuse, it’s this that can keep women emotionally hooked into the relationship.

Myth Domestic violence is a family problem.
Reality Many families believe that what happens in the family should stay there. This is especially true for many immigrants who fear shame and alienation from their cultural community for speaking up. But domestic violence impacts everyone, and has a huge cost to society. There’s a huge ripple effect with far reaching consequences. Family, friends, neighbours – we all have a part to play in ending violence against women. For more information visit www.neighboursfriendsandfamilies.ca.

Myth Violent men just can’t control themselves.
Reality Most abusive men are able to control themselves and not hit or abuse their partners in public. Most that are abusive to their partners and children are not to others. It’s sometimes easier to believe that men are mentally ill rather than that they are intentionally assaulting and torturing those closest to them. Many violent men were, themselves, victims of abuse as children. They deserve compassion and support for their woundedness. But even this is not an excuse. We are all responsible for our own behaviour.

Myth It was just a one-off thing. It won’t happen again.
Reality Once a man has started to abuse, it likely will happen again. Abuse is rarely an isolated event. Usually it’s part of a pattern of behaviour that gets worse with time. Violence, or the threat of violence, is used to gain power and control over the victim. And in addition to physical violence, many women experience tremendous emotional degradation, which is equally destructive and often much more insidious because it’s invisible.

Myth Children are not usually aware that a parent is being abused.
Reality More than half of children who live in homes where there is domestic violence, witness the abuse. And many are victims themselves. There is a marked increased likelihood of child abuse in homes where there is also domestic violence. And children can also find themselves in the line of fire in the violence of one parent towards the other – from thrown objects, while being held by the victim, or because they try to protect the battered parent.

In addition, psychologically, witnessing violence takes a huge toll on children. They are much more likely to exhibit behavioural or health problems like depression, anxiety and violence toward peers. Children in violent homes feel afraid and confused. Even if they are not harmed physically, they are traumatized emotionally. And without intervention, many are likely to be either a victim or perpetrator as an adult. Children learn by observing. If they see that an abuser gains control through violence, especially against someone less powerful, they learn to use violence in their own lives.

Myth Abusers can’t change.
Reality Abusive behaviour is learned, not innate. Violence is intentional and a way to gain power and control. The criminal justice system holds abusers accountable for their actions in sentencing them to jail and ordering counseling. There, men have the opportunity to learn about the damaging way that socialized beliefs about privilege and dominance hinder intimacy, to take responsibility for their behaviour, and to begin to act in loving and non-violent ways. Some may need counseling to heal their own wounds. But with willingness, it is possible to change and to build healthy relationships and families.

For more information, visit the Changing Ways website.