Despite our many successes, New Zealand's domestic violence rate hangs over us like a dark cloud. It's time to bust some common myths about abuse.
Myth 1: Violence only happens in poor Māori and Pacific Island families, right?
Wrong. Domestic violence happens in all types of families; in urban and rural communities; in all ethnic and religious groups; and in rich, poor and middle-class families of any age and size.
Myth 2: If it was really that bad, the person would leave.
It’s not that easy. Also, it’s not the victim’s responsibility to avoid the violence; it's the abuser’s responsibility to stop being violent. There are many reasons why people stay with someone who has been violent towards them, and it's often because they believe it is too unsafe to leave.
Other factors that often make it challenging include: traditional views about the place of women; the perception that domestic violence is a private issue; economic factors; a lack of social support for women and their children; access to housing; and a lack of understanding about domestic violence.
Myth 3: They only hit me once, so I should just let it go.
When one act of physical violence occurs, there has usually been a long period of threats, controlling behaviour, mind games, verbal abuse, and other forms of psychological and emotional violence beforehand. Many victims say this is worse than the physical violence.
Myth 4: Maybe if I provoked him less, it wouldn't happen.
The responsibility for violence lies firmly with the abuser. No one deserves or “asks” to be beaten or emotionally abused, least of all by someone who says they love you. Abusers often blame the victim for provoking them, but no behaviour justifies a violent or intimating response. Family and relationship problems can be fixed without violence. There is no excuse for violence.
Myth 5: It only happens when my partner gets really angry and loses control.
Most people who get angry don't use violence to deal with it. There are many other ways to manage anger. Abusers make the choice to be violent, and about whom they choose to abuse (such as their partner or whānau or family member, but not their workmates and neighbours). Abusers can be calm and calculating when they’re violent, using force to try and get their own way, so domestic violence is not just because they have an anger management problem.
Myth 6: The focus on male abusers is unfair – women abuse men too!
In all family domestic violence statistics in Aotearoa, the vast majority of victims of violence are women and the majority of violent perpetrators are men. This is the same across the world. Some women are violent towards their children and partners, but the causes and effects of women's violence are often different than men's violence. It's unusual for men to be seriously injured or killed by a woman, and very few men live in fear of their lives because of their female partner's violence.
Myth 7: It’s only abuse if you’re being physically beaten up.
Domestic violence as defined by the law includes psychological, emotional and sexual abuse too. These types of abuse are more common and widespread in abusive relationships and can be difficult to spot, but are equally as damaging as physical.
Myth 8: Alcohol, drug abuse, stress, and mental illness cause domestic violence.
While these factors can impact on someone’s ability to be violent, the only thing that causes domestic violence is person’s choice. We all know people who drink, or may have a mental illness, but choose not to be violent.
Myth 9: Only weak people stay in violent relationships.
It’s actually really difficult to get out of one. Because most of the abuse is backed up by serious threats, most women need to be ready to leave. The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when a woman is deciding to leave or has just left.
Myth 10: I think I can change their behavior. I just need to try a bit longer/harder.
Part of an abusive relationship is mind games and manipulation, and guilt tripping a victim to believe that the abuser needs their help. Only an abuser can change themselves. To do this they have to change their entire belief system around women, power and control. While it takes a lot of work to do, it is entirely possible, and there are many men who have reformed as past perpetrators of violence.
Information for this piece was provided by Women’s Refuge. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, dial 111. For more information and support when dealing with violence in your life, call the crisis line on 0800 733 843 or visit the Women’s Refuge website.
You can also call Shakti New Zealand’s 24 hour crisis line on 0800 742 584 or visit their website.