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There are many popular myths and prejudices about domestic violence. Not only do these myths lead to many women feeling unable to seek help, but they can cause unnecessary suffering. They may come to believe these myths in an attempt to justify, minimise or deny the violence they are experiencing. Acknowledging these cultural barriers can be an important part of coming to terms with what is really happening. 

“It’s just the odd domestic tiff, all couples have them.” 

Fact: Violence by a man against the woman he lives with commonly includes rape, punching or hitting her, pulling her hair out, threatening her with a gun or a knife or even attempting to kill her. Often women who have been abused will say that the violence is not the worst of their experiences -it’s the emotional abuse that goes with it that feels more damaging. 

It can’t be that bad or she’d leave.” 

Fact:  Women stay in violent relationships for many reasons ranging from love to terror. There are also practical reasons why women stay; they may be afraid of the repercussions if they attempt to leave, they may be afraid of becoming homeless, they may worry about losing their children. Some women who have experienced domestic violence just don’t have the confidence to leave.  

They may be frightened of being alone, particularly if their partner has isolated them from friends and family. If they leave, they may decide to go back because the children are really missing their dad, or because of  fear and  insecurity or because of a  lack of  support. Some women believe that their partners will change and that everything will be fine when they go home. (Sometimes the separation does provide a catalyst for real change). 

“Domestic violence only happens in working class families.”  

Fact:  Anyone can be abused. The wives of doctors, lawyers, businessmen, policemen and teachers have all sought help as a result of domestic violence. Domestic violence crosses all boundaries including: age, sexuality, social and economic class, profession, religion and culture. 

Unemployment and poverty are circumstances which can of course be very distressing, especially to those trying to bring up children.  However, unemployed and financially challenged people do not have a monopoly on domestic violence.  Many people survive the misfortune of unemployment and poverty retaining dignity, good humour and a caring response to their families. 

“They must come from violent backgrounds” 

Fact:  Many men who are violent towards their families or their partner come from families with no history of violence.  Many families in which violence occurs do not produce violent men.  The family is not the only formative influence on behaviour. Blaming violence on men’s own experience can offer men an excuse for their own behaviour, but it denies the experiences of the majority of individual survivors of abuse who do not go on to abuse others.  A violent man is responsible for his own actions and has a choice in how he behaves. 

“It’s only drunks who beat their partners.” 

Fact:  Domestic violence cannot be blamed on alcohol.  Some men may have been drinking when they are violent but drink can provide an easy excuse.  Many men who are violent do not drink alcohol.”  

“She must ask for it.” 

Fact:  No one ‘deserves’ being beaten or emotionally tortured, least of all by someone who says they love them. Often prolonged exposure to violence has the effect of distorting perspectives so that the woman believes that she deserves to be hurt. It also distorts her confidence and some women may start to rationalise their partner’s behaviour. Often, the only provocation has been that she has simply asked for money for food, or not had a meal ready on time, or been on the telephone too long. 

Women often blame themselves because they have been consistently told that the violence is their fault. 

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Women's Aid Federation Northern Ireland