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Misinformation perpetuates the cycle of domestic abuse

Many victims of domestic violence buy into the myths. Often the people they turn to for help – family members, police officers, judges – also adhere to outdated ideas that perpetuate the cycle of abuse.

Breaking the cycle requires knowledge, courage and support. It may be necessary to leave the abusive relationship and go to court to obtain a protective order.

Challenging the myths about domestic violence

Statistically speaking, abusers don’t change. But victims can change their circumstances. We as a society can change the narrative. Starting with harmful myths about domestic violence:

Myth # 1:  “That’s not abuse” – Domestic violence does not necessarily involve a black eye or bruises. Abuse takes many forms: Physical abuse, including slapping, kicking or shoving. Threats of violence or intimidating gestures such as a clenched fist. Throwing things or punching walls. Screaming and emotional abuse. Controlling or isolating behavior, such as constant cellphone contact. Stalking or electronic spying. Threatening to hurt your child or your pet. Emotional blackmail such as threatening suicide. Any one of these, or a combination, might be grounds for a domestic violence protection order.

Myth # 2: “If it was really bad, they would leave.” – People stay in abusive relationships for many reasons: Genuine fear that the abuser will kill them. Fear they will lose their children. Lack of financial resources. Threat of deportation. Religious beliefs. Keeping the family intact. And some stay because they have become brainwashed that “it’s not abuse” or “it was my fault” or “he won’t do it again.” Many victims do leave abusive situations but later return – often with tragic results.

Myth # 3:  “Only men/husbands are abusers” – Domestic abuse is not only between married spouses, and the victims are not necessary female. Abusers can be a live-in partner, a dating partner, a roommate or an ex-spouse. They can be a parent or a sibling. They could be the victim’s  teenage or adult child. The Centers for Disease Control says that 1 in 7 men have been victims of violence by an intimate partner (wife/girlfriend or same-sex partner).

Myth # 4: “Domestic violence is a trailer park issue.” – The chief of staff to the president of the United States recently resigned due to allegations that he abused both of his ex-wives. Domestic violence occurs across the spectrum, black or white, wealthy or poor. It happens to old couples and newlyweds. It happens to women who have advanced degrees. In fact, women from “respectable” homes may have a harder time convincing the police or a judge that they are being abused.

Myth # 5: “He didn’t mean it. It was a one-time thing.” – Domestic violence is not an aberration. It’s a pattern. The violence occurs in cycles, but the abuser’s need to control is a constant. The narrative that the person “snapped” is a sorry-not-sorry attempt to avoid sanctions such as jail or a protection order, and to go back to the status quo.

Keeping the abusive person at bay

Leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time for victims. If the abuser is not able to reassert control, he or she may escalate the violence. This is why it is important to get a temporary restraining order (TRO) and then go to court to pursue a more permanent final restraining order (FRO). The restraining orders will require the abuser to stay away from the victim and the home and to have no contact.

Yes, the abuser may be mad about a protective order. But it’s not true that it’s safer to stay in an abusive situation. It doesn’t get better. It usually gets worse.

Five Myths About Domestic Violence: Susan Paisner, Criminologist (