13 myths surrounding violence against women

4 years ago I attended a seminar in Melbourne where I learned a startling fact 1/3 women will experience some type of violence in her lifetime, whether that is being coerced into sex, beaten, or abused in another way. 1 in 3, I still have trouble wrapping my mind around that as I think about the important women in my life.

Considering violence against women is so prevalent you would think we would all know more about it. I would expect it to be all over the news, and covered extensively in school. Regrettably, this is not the case. It’s a topic people generally feel uncomfortable talking about, and for that reason, we’re left in the dark. Well, knowledge is power. So to shed some light, here are 13 myths surrounding violence against women.

Myth 1: Men have no role in ending violence against women

Violence against women is a ‘men’s issue’ in particular. It is men’s wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends whose lives are limited by violence and abuse. It’s a men’s issue because some men’s violence gives all men a bad name. It’s a men’s issue because, as community leaders and decision-makers, men can play a key role in helping stop violence against women. It’s a men’s issue because men can speak out and step in when male friends and relatives insult or attack women. And it’s a men’s issue because a minority of men treat women and girls with contempt and violence, and it is up to the majority of men to help create a culture in which this is unacceptable.

Myth 2: There is nothing we can do to stop violence against women

Some people think that rape and domestic violence are inevitable – because men are just ‘born that way’ and violence against women is the product of biology or genetics. Or because those people who use violence are ‘crazy’ and cannot change. Instead, the research shows that violence against women is the product of learned attitudes and norms, and social inequalities. Just as violence-supportive attitudes can be learned, they can be unlearned. Likewise, communities and governments can change the social conditions that feed violence, replacing them with social conditions that encourage respect and non-violence.

Myth 3: Women should just remove themselves from abusive relationships

There are many reasons women stay in abusive relationships. They include fear that the violence will escalate, financial dependence, social stigma, lack of self-confidence, isolation, religious and moral values, love and commitment and concern for children, family pressures and lack of community support, including affordable accommodation. A man who is using violence against his female partner typically uses a range of strategies to encourage her compliance and dependence, such as misusing scripture, monitoring her movements, destroying her self-esteem, and encouraging her to blame herself for the abuse. These dynamics too make it hard to leave abusive relationships.

Myth 4: Some people deserve to be beaten by provoking the violence

Responsibility for violence must rest solely with the abuser. Most abused people try to do everything they can to please their partner and avoid further violent episodes.

Myth 5: Violence against women only occurs in specific groups

Violence against women occurs across all aspects of our societies regardless of race, religious beliefs, level of education, sexual orientation, occupation, community position, or cultural/ethnic background.

Myth 6: Violent people are mentally ill or have psychopathic personalities

Clinical studies do not support this view. The vast majority of violent men are not suffering from mental illness and could not be described as psychopaths. Most abusers would appear to be respectable men who are very much in control.  They are represented in all occupations and social classes and the violence is usually manifest only within their relationship with their partner and children.

Myth 7: Some people need the violence, enjoy it or are addicted to it

The use of violence is a choice: those who use violence choose when, where and how they act. Far from loving the violence, victims find that violence destroys the relationship, and many people in violent situations eventually leave.

Myth 8: Violence against women is caused by drugs and/or alcohol

Almost even numbers of sober and drunken people are violent. Where studies do show more drinkers are violent to their partners, the studies are not able to explain why many drunken men (80% of heavy and binge drinkers) did not abuse their wives. Alcohol and other addictive substances are used by abusers to give themselves permission to be violent.

Myth 9: Violence only happens to a certain sort of woman

Research has repeatedly shown that violence crosses all boundaries and can happen to women from all social, economic, cultural and family situations.

Myth 10: Survivors of violence are unable to stand up for themselves

Survivors of abuse are often portrayed in films as fragile and weak. While some survivors find themselves unable to recover from what happened to them, others use their voice to protect others from having the same experience.

Our Active Bystander workshops, for example, engages survivors and non-survivors alike to come together and push for an end to violence against women.

Myth 11: The community places responsibility on the perpetrator where it belongs

Most people blame the victim for staying in a violent relationship rather than questioning why the perpetrator continues the violence or why the community allows the violence to happen

Myth 12: Forgiveness is synonymous with reconciliation

Victims can forgive and choose not to reconcile. A true repentant perpetrator will not force victim to reconcile if they do not want to. If the perpetrator has not changed, forcing victims to reconcile will put them in harms way once again. Change takes a long and hard road very much like recovery from alcoholism. Many perpetrators are unwilling tread this path.

Myth 13:  There can be forgiveness without the perpetrator admitting their problem of violence and facing the truth

Forgiveness begins with repentance – the perpetrator acknowledging the harm done, and being ready to offer restitution and render justice to the victim. Forgiveness is about justice and mercy – not just mercy.