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Common Myths

Common Myths about domestic violence
1. Women are responsible for abuse they suffer if they provoke their partner
Perpetrators of domestic abuse always have a choice about whether or not to use abuse, threats or other controlling behaviour or not in situations of conflict, discussions or arguments or simply where they want to get their own way. The victim may disagree with the perpetrators’ views, want to discuss a dispute in the household or wish to do something that the perpetrator doesn’t want her to do. That doesn’t mean she has provoked abuse, though this will often be the way victims, perpetrators and others describe it.

2. Abusers can’t help abusing; they have anger management issues or are mentally ill
Abusers are capable of controlling their anger and not responding with violence – they probably don’t hit their bosses during a disagreement, for example, or their friends or other members or their families. Abusers may have mental health problems, but this is usually not what causes them to abuse.

3. It’s not really domestic abuse unless it’s physical.
Domestic abuse can be physical, mental, emotional, financial or sexual. An abusive relationship can include all of these types of abuse, or only one or two of them. Mental and emotional abuse in particular can make it very hard for a victim to leave, as the abuser often leaves her to believe that she cannot cope alone.

4. Domestic abuse rarely affects children.
Most children who live with domestic abuse are aware of it and are affected by it in different ways. When physical violence is taking place, about 50% of children are in the same or the next room and can recount exactly what happened during the incident.

5. Children living with domestic abuse are rarely hurt by the abuser.
It is difficult to say exactly what proportion of children living with domestic abuse are also abused by the same perpetrator but research has estimated that between 25% and 75% of children living with domestic abusers will also be abused by them. The wide variation in figures is because definitions of abuse vary, some children and some parents are more or less likely to talk about child abuse at different points in the process of leaving an abuser.

6. Children who grow up with domestic abuse usually become abusive as well.
Usually False.
Some children from abusive homes do grow up to be abusive themselves. However, lots of children from abusive homes grow up without becoming abusive, and children from homes without domestic abuse can become abusive when they get older. Growing up in an abusive home does not predict whether a child will become abusive, and it can be damaging to children, particularly boys, from domestically abusive homes to be told that this is true.

7. Domestic abuse is more likely to have affected people on low incomes than others.
The British Crime Survey found that this was true but the researchers also stated that this might not indicate that poverty itself was a risk factor. From the way the data was collected it could mean that domestic abuse had caused some of the low income status. This does not mean that domestic abuse is only a problem for low income families – it affects people in all classes and income brackets.

8. Most abusers are alcoholics or drug abusers; they only abuse when they’re drunk or high.
There is some correlation but being an alcoholic or drug abuser is not a necessary or sufficient cause of domestic abuse. Alcoholics and drug abusers who abuse their partners also do so mostly when sober. Similarly, there are alcoholics and drug abusers who do not abuse their partners, the same way that not everyone abuses their partner when they are drunk.

9. Domestic abuse does not exist within gay relationships.
Domestic abuse does exist in gay relationships and gay men and lesbians can also be abused by ex-partners with homophobia as part of the controlling attitudes and behaviour. However, there has been no rigorous research on prevalence and this, coupled with the lack of a national prevalence study on domestic abuse generally, means that it is not possible to say if it exists in the same proportions as for people in heterosexual couples or not. In gay relationships, the same as in straight relationships, abuse is usually committed by a man. The greatest risk factor for being a victim of domestic abuse is to be in a relationship with a man.

10. Disabled people are much more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than non-disabled adults
Being disabled significantly increases the risk of being a victim of domestic abuse. Disabled people are also at risk of abuse from their carers, and may find it more difficult to speak out because of their disability, because their abuser is also caring for them, or because they are worried that they will not be believed, particularly if they have mental health problems.

11. Women who are victims of domestic abuse are likely to be sexually abused as part of the domestic abuse.
Sexual abuse is often part of domestic abuse but many women do not identify this aspect of abuse as abusive at the time or afterwards. Many fear telling others about it and professionals also fear asking about it. For these reasons it is difficult to know whether a majority of victims experience sexual abuse or not.

12. Abused people must like the abuse otherwise they would leave.
Abused people find it hard to leave for all sorts of reasons, the most common of which is that they don’t want to upset the children. Other reasons include: fear that the violence will continue or get worse; fear of being killed; thinking that no-one will believe them; not knowing where to go; not knowing they have rights; not wanting to lose their home or possessions; not being able to get help. Many who do leave find that the abuse continues, that they can’t get the help they need or that their children miss their home and/or dad and so they return for these reasons. Often the abuser will not be violent all the time and the victim may think that they can manage his behaviour enough. Finally, leaving in itself does not necessarily stop the abuse. In about half of the cases in the British Crime Survey where the victim left the perpetrator the abuse did not stop and in some cases got worse. Women are most at risk of death or serious injury when they leave a relationship.

13. Women who leave abusive relationships nearly always return.
and it depends on whether we mean a permanent return or a temporary one. For most women, leaving a violent relationship is a process not an event and usually takes more than one separation and return to be permanent. The British Crime Survey found that of those women who moved out of the family home after a violent incident, 50% returned home afterwards and the rest either moved on, stayed where they had moved to or returned home and the abuser left. However of the 50% who returned it is highly likely, from other research findings, that many of those women subsequently ended the relationship.

14. Pregnant women are unlikely to be subject to domestic abuse.
Most pregnant women are not abused. However for those women who are abused about 30% of domestic abuse starts or escalates in pregnancy. If the woman is already being abused when she gets pregnant, this may stop the abuse for the duration of the pregnancy; if the abuser does not want the baby though the abuse may get worse.

15. Black and Asian men are more likely to be violent in the home than white men.
The ethnicity of the perpetrator or victim makes no difference to levels of domestic abuse.

16. Older women are less likely to be subject to domestic abuse than younger ones.
Domestic abuse affects women of all ages but the highest risk group is women aged 16 – 24.

17. Domestic abuse is usually mutual; women give as good as they get.
Although some abuse does occur from women to men, this is only in small numbers, is mostly in single incidents and rarely causes injury or fear. However, abuse from men to women is usually part of an on-going pattern of violence or abuse which continues for more than four incidents and frequently causes injury or fear. When abuse seems ‘mutual’ the injury caused by the woman to the man is usually less serious than the reverse, and in response to his abuse of her.

18. Women are more likely to be killed by their husband, boyfriend, partner or ex-partner than anyone else
Around 100 women in England and Wales are killed by their partner or ex-partner each year, between 40 and 50% of female homicide victims per year. Women are more likely to be killed by a partner or ex-partner than by anyone else, and are most at risk when they are leaving or have just left a violent relationship.

19. Men are more likely to be killed by their wives, girlfriends or ex-partners than anyone else.
Men are more likely to be killed by an acquaintance or friend than a partner or ex-partner. In fact very few men are ever killed by a partner or ex-partner, around 6% of all male homicide victims.

20. Women have no right to refuse to have sex with their husbands
Forced or non-consensual sex within a marriage is rape, the same as forced or non-consensual sex outside a marriage. This has been true ever since the law changed in the mid-90s; before this, women gave up all right to say no to their husbands when they got married. Many women still believe that this is true, which is partly why so many would not describe this as rape, even though it legally is.

21. It’s not rape unless the woman shouts and tries to use force to defend herself.
The law on rape now recognises that women can be coerced or threatened into sex against their will and that for many women, trying to defend themselves will be more dangerous. It is rape if the woman did not freely consent without coercion or threats. Women are most likely to be raped by someone they know or are in a relationship with. They are also least likely to report this type of rape.