Challenging the Myths
Domestic abuse is a crisis that affects us all, and it has devastating impacts; on average two women every week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. This must change.
There are many myths around domestic abuse and its causes. Women’s Aid is challenging some of the most widely-believed and deep-rooted misconceptions.
Myth #1: Alcohol and drugs make men more violent.
Reality: Alcohol and drugs can make existing abuse worse, or be a catalyst for an attack, but they do not cause domestic abuse. Many people use alcohol or drugs and do not abuse their partner, so it should never be used to excuse violent or controlling behaviour. The perpetrator alone is responsible for his actions.
Myth #2: If it was that bad, she’d leave.
Reality: Women stay in abusive relationships for many different reasons, and it can be very difficult for a woman to leave an abusive partner – even if she wants to. Like any other relationship, one that ends in abuse began with falling in love and being in love. Abuse rarely starts at the beginning of a relationship, but when it is established and often harder to leave.
A woman may still be in love with her partner and believe him when he says he is sorry and it won’t happen again; she may be frightened for her life or for the safety of her children if she leaves; she may have nowhere to go; she may have no financial independence. Abusers often isolate their partners from family and friends in order to control them, making it even more difficult for an abused woman to exit the relationship.
Women in abusive relationships need support and understanding – not judgement.
Myth #3: Domestic abuse always involves physical violence.
Reality: Domestic abuse does not always include physical violence. Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, by a partner or ex-partner. These incidents can include coercive control; psychological and/or emotional abuse; physical abuse; sexual abuse; financial abuse; harassment; stalking; and/or online or digital abuse.
Myth #4: He can be a good father even if he abuses his partner – the parents’ relationship doesn’t have to affect the children.
Reality: An estimated 90% of children whose mothers are abused witness the abuse. The effects are traumatic and long-lasting. When a child witnesses domestic abuse, this is child abuse. Between 40% and 70% of these children are also direct victims of the abuse which is happening at home.
To find out more about children and domestic abuse, join our Child First campaign.
Myth #5: She provoked him.
Reality: This myth is widespread and deep-rooted. It is often based on the belief that the man is the head of the family, and that his role is to punish his partner or children if they act in a way he doesn’t approve of.
The myth is dangerous because any reference to ‘provocation’ means that we are blaming the woman and relieving the abuser of responsibility for his actions.
Abuse or violence of any kind is never the victim’s fault. Responsibility always lies with the perpetrator, and with him alone.
Myth #6: Domestic abuse is a private family matter, and not a social issue.
Reality: Violence and abuse against women and children incurs high costs for society: hospital treatment, medication, court proceedings, lawyers’ fees, imprisonment – not to mention the psychological and physical impact on those who experience it.
All too often, when women disclose their abuse, no one listens to them, and no one asks them what they would like to happen next. That’s why Women’s Aid have launched a new approach for domestic abuse survivors and their children: Change that Lasts. It places the survivor at the heart and builds responses around her needs and the strengths and resources available to her.
Domestic abuse happens every single day all over the world, and affects women of all ages, classes and backgrounds. It is a serious, widespread crime. Despite this, Women’s Aid and other organisations like us are still campaigning to ensure that survivors’ voices are heard. When we describe domestic abuse as a ‘private family matter’, we minimise, condone and permit it.
Myth #7: Pornography is not linked to violence against women.
Reality: Most consumers of pornography are male, and pornographic material is becoming increasingly explicit, violent, and focused on male pleasure. It’s also freely available to anyone online, and studies indicate it is how many young people find out about sex.
Pornography contributes to a culture of misogyny, in which women and girls are abused by men for male pleasure. Women are harmed by pornography in two ways: directly, when they are used for the production of pornographic material; and indirectly, through the effects of mainstream availability and consumption of violent pornography.
Myth #8: Women are just as abusive as men.
Reality: In the vast majority of cases, domestic abuse is experienced by women and perpetrated by men. Two women a week are murdered by a current or ex-partner in England and Wales alone. Of the 92,779 domestic abuse court prosecutions last year, 92.4% of defendants were male, and 84% of victims were female. It is a gendered crime which is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between women and men.
Women are more likely than men to experience multiple incidents of abuse, different types of domestic abuse, and sexual violence particularly.
Domestic abuse exists as part of the wider spectrum of violence against women and girls, which also includes different forms of family violence such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation and so-called “honour crimes” that are perpetrated primarily by family members.
For more information on the facts and figures around domestic abuse, click here.
Myth #9: Women often lie about abuse.
Reality: False allegations about domestic abuse are extremely rare. The Crown Prosecution Service released the first ever study of this in 2013, and concluded that false allegations are even more infrequent than previously thought. In the 17 month period that the study examined, there were 111,891 prosecutions for domestic violence, and only six prosecutions for making false allegations.
This myth is extremely damaging, because the fear of being called a liar can and does deter women from reporting the abuse they have experienced. Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions at the time the report was released, writes about it here.
Myth #10: Men who abuse women are mentally unwell.
Reality: There is no research that supports this myth. Abuse and violence are a choice, and there is no excuse for them. Domestic abuse happens throughout every level of society, regardless of health, wealth or status.
Myth #11: Women are attracted to abusive men.
Reality: Domestic abuse is prevalent throughout society, and it is not uncommon for a woman to experience abuse in more than one relationship. To suggest that some women are particularly attracted to abusive men is victim-blaming. A perpetrator of domestic abuse can be charming and charismatic when he first meets a new partner, and often no one, let alone the woman he has just met, would suspect he would ever be abusive in a relationship.
Myth #12: Men who abuse their partners saw their fathers abuse their mothers.
Reality: Domestic abuse is prevalent throughout society, and because of this many people have grown up witnessing domestic abuse. Most of these people will never perpetrate domestic abuse in their own relationships, so it is never an excuse – and some of our most passionate supporters are child survivors of domestic abuse.
Myth #13: Domestic abuse isn’t that common.
Reality: We know through our work over the last 42 years with survivors and local services that domestic abuse is very common. On average two women are murdered each week in England and Wales by a current or former partner. Domestic abuse has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime, and on average, the police receive over 100 emergency calls relating to domestic abuse every hour.
The 2014/15 Crime Survey of England and Wales found that, overall, 27.1% of women (an estimated 4.5 million women) have experienced domestic abuse since the age of sixteen.
To find out more about the statistics around domestic abuse, click here.
Myth #14: Domestic abuse is a ‘crime of passion’, a momentary loss of control.
Reality: Domestic abuse is rarely about losing control, but taking control. Abusive men rarely act spontaneously when angry. They consciously choose when to abuse their partner: when they are alone, and when there are no witnesses (if there is a witness, then usually they are a child). He has control over whom he abuses. To find out more about the characteristics of domestic abuse, click here.
Myth #15: All couples argue – it’s not domestic abuse, it’s just a normal relationship.
Reality: Abuse and disagreement are not the same things. Different opinions are normal and completely acceptable in healthy relationships. Abuse is not a disagreement – it is the use of physical, sexual, emotional or psychological violence or threats in order to govern and control another person’s thinking, opinions, emotions and behaviour.
When abuse is involved, there is no discussion between equals. There is fear of saying or doing the ‘wrong’ thing.
To find out more about the characteristics of domestic abuse, click here.
Myth #16: Women are more likely to be attacked by strangers than by those who claim to love them.
Reality: In fact, the opposite is true. Women are far more likely to be assaulted, raped and murdered by men known to them than by strangers.
According to Rape Crisis, only around 10% of rapes are committed by men unknown to the victim. Women are far likelier to be attacked by a man they know and trust.
Two women a week in England and Wales are murdered by a current or ex-partner. Find out more from our Femicide Census, which we developed in partnership with Karen Ingala Smith.