Unpacking the common myths around domestic violence

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This week I revisit common myths and untruths about family violence. A common myth blames poverty as a driving factor. Domestic violence, sexual abuse and child abuse occur in all kinds of families from all income levels, ethnicities, cultures and education levels. As a woman named Donna Marie recently pointed out in a recently published Taos News' letter to the editor, stereotypes and other factors create the myth that domestic violence is uncommon in families who do not appear to be struggling financially.

Service providers know poverty has a huge impact on whether a victim is going to go to an emergency room, call the police, or go to a shelter. People with enough money are often able to get help from private health providers. Rather than go to the shelter, they may be able to afford a place to stay or they have family who have spare rooms. Studies show that wealthier people are also far less likely to call the police for help with DV.

Myth: "Men and women are equally likely to be DV victims."

Reality: Women commonly hit their partners during a conflict (I will talk more about "situational violence" in another column), but women rarely use violence or threats resulting in a partner's constant fear, serious injury, rape, or death. Every day in the US, three women are murdered by their intimate partners. Men are rarely seriously injured or killed by their intimate partners. (CAV provides services, including shelter and other victim services, to men, women and transgender survivors.)

Myth: "Drinking causes DV," or "The batterer just 'lost control.'"

Reality: Being drunk does not cause violence. Substance abuse and domestic violence often happen together, but being drunk does not cause someone to be violent. Alcohol does not cause drunk driving either: it is the driver's choice to get behind the wheel. It is the abuser's choice to use alcohol as an excuse to be violent. Domestic violence is about the batterer maintaining control over his partner.

Myth: "Men abuse their families because they were abused as children," or "were raised without fathers in the home."

Reality: Being abused does not make someone abusive. Many people were severely abused as children, or raised without fathers, and are not abusive.

Myth: "Victims need to learn skills to stop from triggering violence."

Reality: Abusers use violence because they want to and use any excuse to abuse their partner. Many victims go through life "walking on eggshells" to try to keep their abuser from targeting them. But, of course, when a batterer feels out of control for any reason, they choose to use terror or violence on their partner.

Myth: "If someone looks happy with their partner or wants to stay, she can't be a victim."

Reality: Almost every batterer is able to display photos of their victim appearing happy with him. Victims often act happy because abusers may use lack of enthusiasm as an excuse to use violence. Or they were happy in the moment because their partner was being especially nice or the abuse had not happened for a while.

Malinda Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence, Inc. which offers FREE confidential support and assistance for adult and child survivors of sexual and domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking including counseling, shelter and transitional housing. Call CAV's 24-hour crisis line at (575) 758- 9888. TaosCAV.org.

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