Myths About Domestic Violence
There are many myths about domestic violence which delay or discourage recognition. In fact, what we think we know about domestic violence is frequently wrong. Dispelling these myths is critical to obtaining a correct perspective on the nature and magnitude of the problem.
Myth 1: Domestic Violence Is Rare
Domestic violence occurs in all communities without regard to age, race, ethnic origin, religion, occupation, socioeconomic class, level of educational attainment, or other demographic factors.
If screened for it will be found in every medical practice and in every healthcare setting.
Myth 2: The Violence That Occurs In Marital Relationships is Marital
Conflict, Not Battering
Some confusion exists among practitioners as to the level of violence expected in "normal" marital relationships. It has been suggested that intimate violence should be viewed as being part of a continuum with one extreme being mutual combat and the other a traditional battering relationship in which the abusive partner uses violence and a variety of other tactics to control the victim. While there may be an isolated incident of violent behavior in many marital relationships, it cannot be assumed that any violence that comes to the attention of the health care practitioner is either isolated or "normal." Only more thorough examination of the circumstances can lead to this conclusion. The presence of continuing tension, fear, or repeated displays of anger in the relationship signal that a pattern of domestic violence has been established. Violence in intimate relationships can be seen as a continuum with emotional/psychological abuse on one end, physical and sexual violence in the middle, and an alternating combination of all forms at the far end. Any combination of abusive acts can be seen in an individual relationship. These constitute battering when the victim fears the abuser, accepts blame for provoking him, tolerates outbursts of threatening behavior or violence, changes her behavior to accommodate him, and submits to his control.
This view identifies a larger cohort of couples with dysfunctional relationships and potentially identifies a larger population of patients in need of some form of treatment. The danger of this view is that it may lead to the practitioner dismissing violence as being a normal part of an adult marital relationship. Rather than dismissing them as having "marital difficulties," it should be recognized that these couples may be manifesting the earliest signs of an evolving battering relationship. They should be targeted for closer assessment and intervention to detect or prevent the evolution of classic battering. For example, in a small sample of couples (N=158) seeking marital therapy in a clinic, 71% reported at least one act of marital aggression during the preceding year. Although 86% of the aggression was reported as reciprocal, wives were more likely than husbands to be strongly affected and to sustain severe injuries (e.g., depressive symptoms, broken bones, broken teeth, injury to sensory organs).
Clinicians need to be wary of dismissing any level of violence as being a normal part of an adult marital relationship. Couples with less severe outbreaks of violence and less obvious controlling behaviors may be manifesting the earliest signs of an evolving battering relationship. They should be targeted for closer assessment and intervention to detect or prevent the evolution of classic battering. If the occasional, and often subtle, signs of violence in an individual patient are "written off," the opportunity to intervene on behalf of that patient is lost. It is important to direct the focus of the medical interview specifically toward characterizing the quantity and type of violence whenever an indication of violence is noted. While marital distress and occasionally violent arguments can be seen in many relationships, it is possible with direct questioning to distinguish them from a battering relationship. In battering relationships, control over the partner is the central issue and a variety of methods including violence are used to achieve this control.
Myth 3: Domestic Violence Occurs Only Among Married Women
In fact, a number of studies have found that divorced or separated women are significantly more at risk for domestic violence.4, 5, 6 This is not to say that married women do not suffer greatly from domestic violence. In fact, because one of the central causes of domestic violence is the male belief that marriage gives them rights of ownership over their wives, married women are victimized with great frequency.
However, the threat of loss of the partner increases the abusive male's efforts to reclaim his "property." The sentiment of, "If I can't have her no one will," is not uncommon and leads to an increase in the severity of violence against the woman who leaves or attempts to leave the battering relationship. Thus divorced or separated women suffer some of the most severe violence among women who are battered.