This International Women’s Day, millions of women will continue to suffer domestic abuse in silence. Let’s tackle the stigma that prevents women from speaking out. Let’s challenge some of the biggest (and most unhelpful) myths – starting with these fateful five.
The world is talking about celebrating and empowering women. However, as the global epidemic of domestic abuse continues to devastate lives, millions of women will carry on suffering in silence. Many feel unable to reach out, fearing they will be blamed or misunderstood. As part of the fight-back against abuse, we must banish the misconceptions that fuel suffocating stigma.
MYTH #1 Only vulnerable women experience domestic violence.
It’s true that vulnerable women are at increased risk. According to the World Health Organisation, women who have witnessed domestic violence as children are more likely to be abused themselves in later life. Women who have experienced domestic abuse may also be drawn to men who appear strong enough to ‘protect’ them from their abuser – only to wind up in another destructive relationship.
However, women who consider themselves successful and educated also find themselves on the receiving end of domestic abuse. In particular, sociopaths and narcissists target successful women, hoping to leech on to their social and economic status – or, worse, to demonstrate their own ‘power’ by destroying them.
MYTH #2 It is easy to identify (and avoid) an abuser. Women that don’t only have themselves to blame.
Whilst there are usually early warning signs, abusers are accomplished manipulators. Few declare their true colours at the start of a relationship, and they often wear a carefully constructed mask. Conditioning begins early, so a power-dynamic is already in place by the time full-blown abuse becomes obvious – making it harder for women to escape.
MYTH #3 It’s unfair to focus on women when talking about domestic abuse.
Both men and women can perpetrate domestic abuse, and it happens in same-sex relationships too. Thanks in part to much-needed awareness programmes, reporting of female on male intimate partner violence is improving. Statistics vary, but some sources say that men are the victims one in three cases of domestic violence in Britain. However, women overwhelmingly remain most at risk:
“women are considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of violence, including sexual violence. They are also more likely to have experienced sustained physical, psychological or emotional abuse, or violence which results in injury or death.” (Women’s Aid)
MYTH #4 Men are violent because they are angry.
Abusers do not abuse because they are angry. According to perpetrator programmes, abusers deliberately manufacture anger so they can abuse their partner. Some actually admit they were not as angry as they seemed. Survivors of domestic violence report that they have been attacked for no apparent reason. Often, abusers change their ‘rules’ without notice, to provide an excuse to abuse their partner. Many will use drink or drugs as a cover for their abuse.
Abusers abuse for only one reason: to establish and maintain control over their partner. For this reason, anger management courses are not effective solutions in the fight against abuse.
MYTH #5 Women that stay are weak and ‘ask’ to be abused.
Women don’t stay with their abuser because they are weak, or because they accept the way they are treated. Many women develop sophisticated coping-mechanisms and actively seek to manage the risk of abuse. They are resourceful and strong (though they may not always realise this).
Leaving is hard. Women may remain in the relationship because of practical factors, such as a lack of financial independence. However, the biggest obstacles are a complex web of emotional attachment – including trauma-bonding – and fear. To escape, they must overcome a variety of challenges and often endure emotional blackmail and determined hoovering campaigns.
Around 76 per cent of women that do leave a violent partner will still be assaulted by him (Humphreys and Thiara 2002). Women are more at risk from being assaulted or killed by a violent partner, after they leave (Paradine and Wilkinson, 2004). Violence and abuse often don’t end when a women ends the relationship.
Which myths have you encountered? What’s the most important thing that you want the world to understand?
ALSO SEE: Why your abuser isn’t broken, and you can’t fix him in Is your abuser giving you FIB syndrome?
© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14