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Domestic abuse myths & facts

Sometimes, people question or counteract the facts to downplay the seriousness of domestic abuse. Unfortunately, these attitudes are often used to shut down debate or change the conversation.

These are some common questions and misconceptions about domestic abuse and the facts to help counter them.

FACT: Family violence has long been a hidden and underreported problem, but it is a very widespread social issue in Australia and around the world. 1 in 4 Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in Australian women aged 15 to 44 than any other preventable risk factor including smoking, obesity and high blood pressure.

FACT: Domestic and family abuse occurs among all types of families, regardless of income, profession, region, ethnicity, educational level or race.

FACT: Domestic and family abuse is about gaining control, not a loss of control. Using violence is a choice an abuser makes.

FACT: It is common for abusers to blame women for provoking them, but there is no excuse for violence. Family violence happens because a person chooses to act violently. Most women experiencing abuse try to do everything they can to please their partner and avoid further violent episodes, but they remain vulnerable to further abuse regardless of their behaviour.

Just as men often blame women for provoking them to act violently, the wider community has historically blamed women for male violence – a woman who has been raped is told she shouldn’t have been wearing a short skirt or been out alone at night, a women experiencing intimate partner abuse is accused of failing in her wifely duties of keeping the house clean. This is called victim-blaming and can lead many women to blame themselves because they are constantly told that violence that happens to them is always their fault.

FACT: A woman is at the highest risk of extreme violence, including murder, when she does leave an abuser. Many women stay because they are justifiably fearful for themselves or their children if they do leave. If a woman chooses to stay in an abusive relationship, it doesn’t mean the situation isn’t bad, it means she’s worried leaving might make it even worse. Other reasons why a woman might stay in a violent environment include:

  – Fear, low self-esteem, shame, guilt
   – Lack of financial independence
   – Desire to maintain the family unit; sometime there may be family pressure to keep the family together
  – Belief that the partner can and will change
  – Isolation – lack of family and social support networks

FACT: Domestic and family abuse can be defined as any controlling or violent behaviour that causes emotional, psychological, sexual, financial or physical damage to a family member, partner or ex-partner or causes them to feel fear. And, as many survivors of family violence can attest, supposedly “less serious” types of violence like emotional and psychological abuse can leave profound scars and are very hard to overcome. All violent behaviour – emotional, psychological, or any other form – is harmful and inexcusable.

FACT: Seeing violent behaviour perpetrated by one parent towards another and growing up in an unpredictable, fear-filled environment can have significant detrimental impacts on children. Studies have shown children exposed to family violence are at greater risk of developing depression and experiencing behaviour problems. They can also suffer at school, developing poor reading and language skills and struggling to make and maintain friendships. Under Victorian law, if someone is abusive towards their partner or spouse in front of a child, they can be charged with child abuse.

FACT: False claims about domestic and family abuse are extremely rare. 80% of women who experience violence from a current partner don’t contact the police about it. When talking to family, friends and others, women are more likely to downplay their experience of abuse than exaggerate it.

Fact: Abuse against women is common in all cultures, races, and societies. The fact that it may be a common occurrence does not lessen the suffering and damage it causes to the woman, the family and the society, nor does it lessen its significance as a crime. Violence against women, including sexual violence, is a breach of human rights.

Fact: Women may be relegated to specific roles, and they may be repressed by state or religious laws, but this does not mean they are themselves passive or submissive.  Abuse against women is a social construction that generally reflects and reinforces the unequal distribution of power between men and women in society. Being passive and submissive does not invite abuse or give anyone the right to perpetrate abuse against them.

Fact: A woman’s fundamental human rights must be upheld regardless of cultural values and traditions.  Abuse must be challenged and discussed at every opportunity with the woman.  Promoting discussion with the woman about her cultural traditions allows women to think and reconsider traditional cultural norms that foster violence towards women and children.

Fact: Secrecy and silence are part of the violence perpetrated against women. Women’s experiences of violence are minimised, dismissed and disbelieved by the community. There may be a tendency to justify violence as part of the cultural norms within that community.