Domestic Violence Awareness at The University of Michigan
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Myths About Abuse

Myth: When a couple is having a domestic violence problem, it is just that they have a bad relationship. Often, it's poor communication that is the problem.

Fact: Bad relationships do not result in or cause domestic violence. The idea that bad relationships cause violence in the home is one of the most common and dangerous misconceptions about domestic violence. First, it encourages all parties involved - including and especially the survivor - to minimize the seriousness of the problem and focus their energies on "improving the relationship" in the false hope that this will stop the violence. It also allows the batterer to blame the bad relationship and the violence itself on the survivor, rather than acknowledging his/her own responsibility.

More importantly, improving the relationship is not likely by itself to end the violence. Violence is learned behavior. Many couples have had bad relationships yet never become physically violent. Many batterers are violent in every one of their relationships, whether they consider them bad or good. The violent individual is the sole source and cause of the violence, and neither his/her partner nor their relationship should be held responsible.

Myth: Most domestic violence incidents are caused by alcohol or drug abuse.

Fact: Many people have alcohol and/or drug problems but are not violent; similarly, many batterers are not substance abusers. How people behave when they are "under the influence" of alcohol and/or drugs depends on a complex combination of personal, social, physical and emotional factors. And like many other types of behavior, alcohol- or drug-affected behavior patterns are culturally learned.

It is often easier to blame an alcohol or drug abuse problem than to admit that you or your partner is violent even when sober. Episodes of problem drinking and incidents of domestic violence often occur separately and must be treated as two distinct issues. Neither alcoholism nor drugs can explain or excuse domestic violence.

Myth: Domestic violence is often triggered by stress, for example, the loss of a job or some financial or marital problem.

Fact: Daily life is full of frustration associated with money and work, our families and other personal relationships. Everyone experiences stress, and everyone responds to it differently.

Violence is a specific learned and chosen response to stress, whether real or imagined. Certainly, high general levels of domestic violence can be related to social problems such as unemployment; however, other reactions to such situations are equally possible. Some people take out their frustration on themselves with drugs or alcohol; some take it out on others with verbal or physical abuse.

Myth: Most domestic violence occurs in lower class or minority communities.

Fact: Domestic violence occurs at all levels of society, regardless of social, economic, racial or cultural background.

Researchers and service providers have found, however, that economic and social factors can have a significant impact on how people respond to violent incidents and what kind of help they seek. Affluent people can usually afford private help - doctors, lawyers and counselors - while people with fewer financial resources tend to call the police or other public agencies. These agencies are often the only available source of statistics on domestic violence, and consequently, lower class and minority communities tend to be overrepresented in those figures, creating a distorted image of the problem.

Myth: The survivor did something to provoke the violence.

Fact: No one deserves to be beaten, battered, threatened or in any way victimized by violence. Batterers will rarely admit that they are the cause of the problem. In fact, putting the blame for the violence on the survivor is a way to manipulate the survivor and other people. Batterers will tell the survivor, "You made me mad" or "You made me jealous" or will try to shift the burden by saying "Everyone acts like that." Most survivors try to placate and please their abusive partners in order to deescalate the violence. The batterer chooses to abuse, and bears full responsibility for the violence.

Myth: Most batterers simply lose control during violent incidents and do not know what they are doing.

Fact: If batterers were truly out of control, as many claim to be during violent incidents, there would be many more domestic violence homicides. In fact, many batterers do "control" their violence, abusing their victims in less visible places on their bodies, such as under the hairline or on the torso. Furthermore, researchers have found that domestic violence often occurs in cycles, and every episode is preceded by a predictable, repeated pattern of behavior and decisions made by the batterer.

Myth: There are just as many cases of "husband battering" as wife battering, even if they are not reported.

Fact: Relatively few cases of heterosexual men being battered by women show up in police records, clinics or anonymous random surveys. Most adult victims of domestic violence are current or former wives, partners, girlfriends, or lovers of the batterer.

Myth: Domestic violence is a less serious problem— less lethal—than "real" violence, like street crimes.

Fact: It is a terrible and unrecognized fact that for many people, home is the least safe place. Domestic violence accounts for a significant proportion of all serious crimes - aggravated assault, rape and homicide. Furthermore, when compared with stranger-to-stranger crime, rate of occurrence and levels of severity are still underreported for domestic violence.