Sometimes, people question or counteract the facts to downplay the seriousness of gender-based and family violence. Unfortunately, these attitudes are often used to shut down debate or change the conversation.
These are some common questions and misconceptions about family and gender-based violence, and the facts to help counter them.
Myth: “Family violence happens only to poor, uneducated women or women who can’t stand up for themselves.”
Fact: People of any class, culture, religion, sexual orientation, marital status and age can be victims or perpetrators of family violence. Because people with money usually have more access to resources, poorer people tend to use community agencies, and are therefore more visible.
Myth: “Family violence is more of a problem for some cultures than others.”
Fact: Family violence occurs in all cultures, communities and across all demographics including age, gender and socioeconomic status. However, research shows that rigid stereotypes about the roles of men and women contributes to gender-based violence and abuse.
Myth: “Some people are responsible for the violence they experience – they provoke it.”
Fact: No one deserves to be abused. The only person responsible for abuse is the person choosing to use violence and abusive behaviour. Any behaviour by someone towards their family member that is abusive –physical, sexual, emotional or financial – and causes them to fear for their safety is against the law.
Myth: “If it’s that bad, why don’t they just leave?”
Fact: There are many reasons that make it hard for people to leave an abusive relationship. And in fact, the risk of harm to the victim and their children is much higher after they leave an abusive relationship. When the perpetrator senses they are losing control over their victim, they may increase or intensify their violence.
There are a number of reasons why people experiencing abuse do not call the police for help including shame, fear of retaliation from the perpetrator or having nowhere to go. For many people in the community, calling the police is not an option because they are afraid of police and feel they will not be treated fairly.
Victim survivors often stay in abusive relationships to protect their children and the relationship they have with their parent. Perpetrators often threaten to harm their children if the victim leaves. Many victim survivors assess it is better to manage the risk posed by a perpetrator from within the relationship, rather than after ending the relationship where the perpetrator may try to gain custody of the children, or feel they have nothing left to lose.
It can also be difficult for victim survivors to leave if they don’t have the financial resources, particularly if the perpetrator is controlling their finances. According to research by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the cost of leaving an abusive relationship is about $18,000. Other barriers include not being able to access support if someone has a disability or chronic illness, is residing on a temporary visa or has limited or no English language.
Myth: “Family violence is caused by excessive drinking and drugs.”
Fact: Not all people who drink are violent and many people who use violence do not drink. Misuse of alcohol and other drugs can increase the frequency and intensity of violence perpetrated by people who have already been aggressive, but alcohol or drugs alone don’t cause family violence.
Myth: “Domestic violence is a personal problem between a couple.”
Fact: Abuse is never okay. Many forms of family violence are criminal offences, such as stalking, physical assault, sexual assault, threats, pet abuse, property damage, theft and breaches of intervention orders. While it can be difficult to call out this behaviour, we all have a role to play in preventing, identifying and responding to family violence.
Myth: “Domestic violence is caused by anger and rage – they just ‘lost it’.”
Fact: Anger and rage are emotional responses. Everyone feels anger at some point, but not everyone uses violence. Perpetrators generally don’t abuse their workmates or bosses, regardless of the amount of stress they’re under. Family violence is a pattern of behaviour that includes the repeated use of tactics designed to dominate and control a family member. Physical violence is only one of the tactics – family violence can also include threats, intimidation, isolation, financial control, and psychological and sexual abuse.
Myth: “Women and children often lie about family violence.”
Fact: This is simply not the case. In fact, the opposite is true – family violence is often underreported for fear of not being believed. According to the ABS Personal Safety Survey 2016, less than half of the women who experienced violence from a current partner had sought advice or support about the violence. This type of claim is often used to downplay the issue and shift the blame.
Myth: “Women commit family violence just as much or more than men – men just don’t report it.”
Fact: The victim-blaming culture in Australia makes it difficult for both men and women to report family violence. Rigid gender roles can cause men to feel ‘weak’ if they seek help and women to not cause trouble. Reporting violence can cause additional barriers for women due to the increased risk of the violence escalating.
Myth: “Children aren’t impacted by domestic violence if they’re not there to see it.”
Fact: Family violence has significant consequences for children and young people. Even if they don’t see or experience abuse, they’re still impacted by seeing things like injuries to a parent or damage to property. Family violence can impair children’s physical, emotional and brain development, their sense of security in relationships, their mental health and their ability to cope in different situations and contexts. Children can be incredibly resilient, however the impacts of family violence can potentially have long-term consequences for friendships and relationships, as well as participation in social and community life.
Myth: “Family violence doesn’t happen in LGBTIQA+ relationships.”
Fact: Family violence can occur in a range of relationships including LGBTIQA+ relationships. Historically, there has been low awareness of family violence in LGBTIQA+ communities due to a lack of data. While many large studies do not collect data on sexual orientation, a number of small studies have shown that intimate partner violence occurs in same-sex relationships at similar rates to heterosexual relationships. It is also felt that incidents are underreported in the LGBTIQA+ community due to the fear of discrimination or lack of available support.