Bust some commonly held beliefs! The more we learn and talk about abusive relationships, the better we can support our sisters and our children.
1. Intimate partner violence occurs only in poor, uneducated, and minority families. Myth or Reality?
Myth. Intimate partner violence can and does happen in all socioeconomic classes, all educational backgrounds, and in all racial groups. Women from already marginalized population groups are statistically at even higher risk. For example, Statistics Canada reports that Aboriginal women are seven times more likely to experience gender based violence.
2. If a woman is in an abusive relationship she can just choose to leave, it is always her choice. Some women choose to stay. Myth or Reality?
Myth. There are many reasons why a woman may need to stay in an abusive relationship, at least temporarily. Some reasons may include a lack of economic resources to leave and a lack of knowledge about community resources that can help. Some women stay because the abuser threatens to harm the children, pets, other people, or themselves. Enduring abuse can also affect women’s self-esteem and perceived ability to leave.
3. When a woman leaves an abusive relationship, all aspects of her life will quickly improve. Myth or Reality?
Myth. It can get worse before it gets better. Statistically the most dangerous time for women fleeing violent or abusive relationships is during or shortly after leaving. More homicides, violent assaults, and threats to bodily harm occur during this time period. The woman may also face ridicule from family members or her social group, and stigma from the community. She may lack affordable housing and economic support. As community workers we need to be ready with understanding, compassion, and practical resources.
4. Children who witness violence are as traumatized as if the abuse is happening to them. Myth or Reality?
Reality. Children witnessing abuse is considered to be a form of child abuse. The new Family Law Act of BC acknowledges this fact. Specialized programs for Children who Witness Abuse are available in BC communities.
5. Women can become isolated from their friends and family due to abuse. Myth or Reality?
Reality. Antiviolence workers indicate that a common method of control used by abusers is to isolate the woman from her friends and family. This may mean moving her far away from them or moving her to an isolated rural setting. This may also mean deliberate actions to alienate her from her support system, adding to the abuser’s sense of control.
Additionally, it often happens that friends and family distance themselves from women who are being abused and yet continue to stay in relationship with their abuser. This form of “tough love” can be very harmful, making it even harder for the woman to leave.
6. Abuse is not about love, it’s about power and control. Myth or Reality?
Reality. How do we express love? By trying to control or abuse someone? Love may or may not be present but abuse is about power and control.
7. Abusers have anger control issues. Anger management counseling will stop the abuse. Myth or Reality?
Myth. If the abuser has anger control issues then he would be displaying anger to other people, not only to his partner. Does he blow up at his boss? His friends? His parents? Does he become angry and physically abusive to his partner in public? At the grocery store? In the doctor’s office? Being abusive is a choice. Anger management may help to control anger but it does not, on its own, stop abuse.
8. Abuse comes in many forms, not just physical and emotional. Myth or Reality?
Reality. Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial, cultural, spiritual or other.
9. Mental illness and addictions cause men to abuse their partners. Myth or Reality?
Myth. Most persons living with mental illness or addiction issues do not abuse their partners. Mental illness and addiction do not cause abuse. Some men who abuse may be living with mental illness or addiction and this may increase the frequency of abusive behaviour but abuse is still a choice. Addressing the mental illness or addiction will not necessarily stop the abuse.
10. Women who are abused are attracted to abusive men. Myth or Reality?
Myth. Women may be attracted to a man because of his charming personality, his humour, his appearance, and other qualities that he presents. Women do not knowingly choose partners who will abuse them.
11. Extreme jealousy is the way that some men express love for a woman. Myth or Reality?
Myth. Displaying jealous behavour is a well-documented, “red flag,” that may indicate a person is an abuser. Jealousy is another form of control. Abuse is about control. Popular media promotes the idea of jealousy as a display of love. Jealousy does not equal love: It is a display of control.
12. All abusers have been victims of abuse as children. Myth or Reality?
Myth. Most victims of child abuse do not become abusers. It is an unfortunate fact that child abuse is still prevalent in our society and statistics indicate that most victims of child abuse do not go on to become abusers. There is evidence to indicate that witnessing abusive behaviour can model future behaviour, but using abusive behaviour is still a choice.
13. In relationships, abusers believe that they are superior, central, and more deserving than their partners. Myth or Reality?
Reality. Evidence indicates certain core beliefs common to abusers: feelings of being superior, central, and deserving (Bancroft, L. 2003; Cory, McAndless-Davis, 2008)
14. For some women, changes in mental wellness and substance use are a result of their experiences of violence. Myth or Reality?
Reality. Trauma and Post traumatic stress disorder can create changes to the brain, resulting in mental ill health. Some women may turn to using substances in an effort to cope with stress as well as emotional, and physical pain. Some abusers encourage or even demand women use substances with them as part of the control cycle. Long term stress can cause or exacerbate depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
15. Women who use substances to cope with abuse sometimes feel that they cannot be honest for fear of being negatively judged or denied services from service providers. Myth or Reality?
Reality. Please consider that she may be using substances as a response to living with the trauma from abuse. Women who use substances may face incredible stigma. Judgmental attitudes can put women’s safety at risk because they may not feel able to ask for help.
16. Violence against women is the most frequent single cause of injury to women in our country. Myth or Reality?
Reality. RCMP statistics on reported deaths and grievous bodily harm suffered by women continues to reports male intimate partners as the most frequent perpetrators of violence against women.
17. Gender based violence against women is the most wide spread and socially tolerated of human rights violations worldwide. Myth or Reality?
Reality. The United Nations statistics confer this statement to be true.
18. Domestic violence is a leading cause of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder which can create changes in the brain and the way it functions. Myth or Reality?
Reality. Enduring any type of prolonged or extreme stress response can result in PTSD that may also result in significant changes in the neuropathways of the brain. Neuroimaging has documented these changes (Walker, L. 2009; Courteous, et al, 2013; Seigel, D. 2003).
19. Men who batter are often good fathers and should have joint custody of their children when the couple separates. Myth or Reality?
Myth. If a man is violent with his partner there is a higher probability that he may be violent with children (Statistics Canada, 2009). In addition, batterers may use children as pawns in an ongoing struggle to maintain power over their ex-partners.
20. Batterers perceive themselves as victims and blame others for causing their abusive behaviour. Myth or Reality?
Reality. Research indicates that abusers, particularly repeat offenders, tend to justify their behaviour and blame their victims for the abusive behaviour. Abuse is about maintaining power and control. Abuse is a choice.
From Walking With Our Sisters: A Project of the Vancouver Island North Resource Society, Campbell River BC