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Column: Shedding light on the issue of domestic violence
Why doesn’t she leave? What did she do to provoke him? Had he been drinking?
When hearing about a domestic violence incident, I am sure these questions have entered your mind. However, these are the wrong questions to ask. When it comes to domestic violence — also known as domestic abuse or domestic battery — many of us immediately try to excuse it or blame the victim because we do not understand the dynamics of abuse. In this article, I hope to clear up some common misconceptions about domestic violence.
Misconception No. 1: Men experience domestic violence just as often — even if incidents are not reported.
Relatively few cases of heterosexual men being battered by women show up in police records, clinics or anonymous surveys. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistic, 85 percent of intimate partner violence victims are women. However, the Family Center serves ALL victims of abuse — including males.
Misconception No. 2: She must have done something to provoke him.
Batterers often try to blame violence on the victim, but the batterer has made the choice to abuse. NO ONE deserves to be beaten, battered, threatened, or victimized in any way — especially by someone they love and trust.
Misconception No. 3: If it was that bad, she would leave.
In many cases, it IS that bad, but women in abusive relationships stay for a variety of reasons. Domestic abuse is all about power, so abusers use many methods to keep victims under their control. Often times, batterers convince their victims that they are truly sorry for their actions and they will change. Many victims are so dehumanized, isolated, and dependent on the abuser that they stay because they have no one to turn to, nowhere else to go, and no means to support themselves and their children.
Children are another tool abusers use. They threaten to take the children away, to hurt — or even kill — them in order to keep victims under control. Victims also are terrified to leave because they fear retaliation from the abuser. According to End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, in 2012, “about half of the intimate partner-related homicide incidents (13 of 27) occurred after the relationship ended or when one person in the relationship was taking steps to leave the relationship.”
Misconception No. 4: It’s just a fight — they’ll work it out.
Domestic violence is not “just a fight,” an isolated incident, or a “bad” relationship — it is a pattern of behaviors. Improving the relationship will likely not end the violence. Violence is learned behavior, and many batterers are violent with all of their intimate partners.
Misconception No. 5: Abuse does not affect the children in the family.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Children who have been exposed to domestic violence are more likely than their peers to experience a wide range of difficulties, including behavioral, social, and emotional problems. Children in families experiencing domestic violence are more likely than other children to exhibit aggressive and antisocial behavior or to be depressed and anxious. Children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to experience difficulties in school, slower cognitive development, lack of conflict resolution skills, limited problem solving skills, pro-violence attitudes, and belief in rigid gender stereotypes and male privilege.”
Misconception No. 6: Alcohol, drug abuse, stress and mental illness cause domestic violence.
These factors can contribute to or worsen the batterer’s violence, but they do not cause violence. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, most abusers do not use violence at the workplace or in other non-intimate relationships to solve conflict, so abusing an intimate partner is a conscious choice made by the batterer.
Misconception No. 7: Abusers have no control over their anger.
Abusers use their anger as a method of control. Batterers choose not to abuse their bosses or terrorize their friends when they are angry. Batterers often “control” their anger enough to abuse their victims in less visible areas of their bodies or to avoid damaging their own possessions during violent outbursts. Violence or threats of violence are used specifically to maintain the batterer’s control over the partner.
Misconception No. 8: Domestic abuse only happens in lower class families.
Domestic violence occurs at all levels of society, regardless of their social, economic, racial or cultural backgrounds. However, wealthy people usually can afford legal assistance, as well as medical and mental health services. Victims with fewer financial resources (i.e., those belonging to a lower economic class) tend to call the police or other public agencies.
Misconception No. 9: Domestic violence is not a serious crime.
Domestic violence accounts for a significant proportion of all serious crimes, including aggravated assault, rape and homicide. According to the Wisconsin Domestic Violence Homicide Report, in 2012, there were 38 domestic violence homicide incidents resulting in 52 deaths: 48 homicides and four perpetrator suicides. Victims reflected the span of life, from less than 1 year old to 84 years old; 14 of the victims were younger than 18. There was an average of more than three domestic violence homicide deaths per month in Wisconsin.
Misconception No. 10: Domestic abuse is not my business, and I can’t do anything about it.
Domestic violence is a community 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 abuse and support those who have been victimized. Many victims have transitioned into survivors by breaking the cycle of violence in their lives with support from their families, friends and community agencies.
So, the next time you hear about someone affected domestic violence, instead of wondering why she stays, perhaps you should wonder why he abuses her.