Myths and Truths

Children walking while holding hands after experiencing domestic violence

There are many myths about domestic violence which have come about in part because it can be difficult to understand why one person would hurt another, particularly in the context of an intimate relationship. Myths create wrong information about why domestic violence happens and many of these myths are common not just in Australia but throughout the world. If you are experiencing domestic violence, understanding these myths and the realities of domestic violence may help you to better understand what is happening to you and if you are ready, start to seek help to explore a pathway that leads to safety.

Violence against women is a major issue in Australian society. It is also a hidden crime because it usually happens in the privacy of the home and has low levels of reporting. A Victorian study in 2004 by VIC Health found that violence against women is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15-44, being responsible for more disease burden than many well-known preventable risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking and obesity1.

Domestic and family violence happens everywhere, in both the city and in the country. In fact, an AIHW analysis of National Hospital Morbidity Databases found that people living in remote and very remote areas were 24 times as likely to be hospitalised for domestic violence as people in major cities3.

The 2016 Personal Safety Survey reported that women living outside major cities at the time of the survey were more likely to have experienced violence from a current or previous partner since the age of 15, compared with women living in major cities4. Men living outside major cities also have an increased likelihood of experiencing domestic violence than men living in major cities.

Violence occurs in ALL communities regardless of the location and cultural, education or socio-economic background.

Domestic violence can affect anyone regardless of marital status. The person using violence can be a current or past partner, and the violence can continue after separation, with the risk of violence often increasing at the point of separation.

Domestic violence can occur in any intimate or family relationship, including same-sex relationships, between older or adult children and parents, between siblings and between people with disabilities and their carers.

Domestic and family violence is a pattern of behaviour that includes the repeated use of a number of tactics designed to dominate and control another person. These tactics can include threats, intimidation, isolation, economic and financial control, and psychological and sexual abuse. Physical violence is only one of the tactics used to control another person.

Like alcohol, stress is often used as an excuse for domestic and family violence. This myth is based on the idea that  something else is to blame for the violence – work, lack of work, the neighbours, the children, financial difficulties etc., rather than focussing on the fact that the person using violence is responsible for his/her violence. The majority of individuals who are stressed are not violent.

It can be extremely difficult to leave a violent and controlling relationship. We know that people can often leave many times before they permanently leave a violent and controlling relationship.

There are many reasons for this including:

  • the shame / embarrassment / humiliation associated with admitting you are in a violent relationship
  • still caring for the person using violence
  • believing that the violence is your own fault
  • limited or no access to financial assistance due to financial dependence
  • lack of awareness of support services
  • threat of suicide by the person using violence
  • fear of isolation from community and support networks
  • fear that the person using violence will kill you or your children
  • fear of rejection by friends and family
  • a belief that families should stick together
  • a belief that the situation will get better
  • a belief that no-one else will love you
  • a religious commitment to a partner
  • fear of losing children in a custody battle, especially if the domestic violence has not been documented
  • fear of the legal system and the police
  • low self-esteem and self-confidence.

Society can also hold women accountable for looking after relationships and blame women for a relationship failing, implying that she somehow deserved or incited the violence. Men experiencing domestic violence may feel shame that they have been abused, have been unable to stand up for themselves, or somehow failed in their role as a male, husband, or father.

People experiencing domestic violence often believe it is impossible to escape the violence and abuse. There are many reasons why someone may not leave, including fear for themselves, their children and their pets. In some cases, violence, harassment and intimidation can escalate during separation.

Often, people in situations of domestic violence face significant practical barriers to separating from their partners, including a lack of money and housing options. Obtaining suitable accommodation for themselves and their children is often difficult, particularly in regional and remote areas. Due to the effects of the abuse, many people experiencing domestic violence lack confidence in their own abilities and accurate information about their options. Not leaving does not mean that the situation is okay or that the person wants to continue to be abused. Sometimes, one of the most dangerous times for a person who is being abused, is when they try to leave.

People who use violence may use their religion as an excuse for their violence. Some people may feel pressure from their faith or community to ‘honour’ their commitment to marriage and stay in an abusive relationship. They may think that to leave or get a divorce is contrary to their religious beliefs. Using religion to justify domestic and family violence is unacceptable, and religious beliefs are no excuse for domestic and family violence.

The relationship between exposure to violence in childhood and becoming an adult who uses violence is a complex one. There are many factors that contribute to someone becoming a person who uses violence in their relationship.

Some people who use violence do come from violent backgrounds, but many people who use violence in a domestic or family setting do not. Further, many people who have experienced abusive backgrounds do not go on to use violence, but instead choose to deal with issues in a non-violent and constructive way.

The majority of men (including young men) in our community are not violent. The use of violence is a choice. People who use violence in their relationships choose where and when they are violent. The majority of people who use violence in domestic or family settings do not use violence outside of these settings, including in interactions with friends or work colleagues, where there is no perceived right to dominate and control.

The idea that ‘all men are violent’ misplaces the blame for the violence, and distracts from the reality that the person using violence is responsible for that use of violence.

While alcohol does not cause domestic violence, it can contribute to greater frequency and severity of abuse.

Most people experiencing domestic violence try to do everything they can to please their partner and avoid further violent episodes. People experiencing domestic violence are vulnerable to further episodes of abuse regardless of their behaviour.

Research does not support this view. Most people who use violence against family members demonstrate acceptable behaviour in other settings. Many are considered respectable members of the community, and others are often reluctant to believe they could be capable of using violence in a domestic or family setting.

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