Myths and Facts
Myth #1: Battering overstates the case. Few women are beaten, although a lot of them may get slapped around a little now and then.
Some women do get slapped or hit and leave the violent situation immediately, but most often battering escalates once it starts. Battering brutally violates a woman's rights over her body and her life. It can involve severe violence or the threat of violence, physical or mental torture, use of weapons, and sexual assault. It is not an isolated act but a pattern of power and control over another. Men who batter usually deny their behavior to themselves and to others. Battering may escalate into murder. In a Kansas study, 85% of domestic homicides involved prior police summons; in 50% of these cases police had been called five times before the murder happened. One third of all homicides in WV during the past six years have been domestic homicides. (WVUCR Report)
Myth #2: Battering is a family matter.
No act which can leave another permanently injured physically or mentally or which can lead to death is a "family matter." Assault is assault; rape is rape; murder is murder regardless of the relationship between people. These are criminal acts. Traditionally women have been encouraged by the family, clergy, and other "professionals" to remain in violent homes in order to preserve the family unit. Recently people have begun to recognize that violence within the family is unjustifiable and inherently destructive.
Myth #3: Battering happens only in "problem" families.
To identify a "problem" family assumes that most families are "normal." This ignores the statistics on women abuse. It also ignores the fact that our society has tolerated, even encouraged, violence against women on a wide-scale basis through media images of women as victims, through the reinforcement of male privilege, and through the refusal to treat violence against women as any other violent crime. Men were legally able to use the "rule of thumb" (no weapon larger than the diameter of the thumb) on their wives until this century. They were also able to exercise marital rape without legal consequences until 1984 in WV. WV acknowledged domestic battering as a crime in the Family Protection Act of 1992, and legislated proarrest in 1994. Battering cuts across all lines: cultural, social, economic, religious, educational, ethnic, etc. Some try to explain away violence by finding "problems" such as drug and alcohol abuse, stress or dysfunctional backgrounds which may be factors but don't cause abuse. The reality is that men who are abusive when under the influence of drugs or alcohol also batter when they are sober.
Myth #4: Battering occurs only in low-income and working class families.
Women of every kind have been battered at the hands of doctors, lawyers, judges, police professionals, clerics, teachers, coal miners, etc. Middle and upper class women often have many options open to them and are less likely to seek assistance from public agencies and shelters. Many middle class women are also afraid of damaging their husband's career or reputation. Others may have the skills and resources that give them access to financial independence, making them less dependant on social agencies, and less likely to be evident in statistics involving battering compiled by service agencies.
Myth #5: Battered women constitute a particular and easily definable group.
The "battered woman" stereotype is that of a passive women between 20 and 35 years old who is unemployed, has two or more children and lives with an alcoholic husband. In WV she is from "up a holler," has had little education and is lacking in most skills. The fact is that women are as likely to be battered as they are to be raped. They may be elderly, teenaged, professionals or laborers. They fit no stereotype. So too there is no single type of relationship. "Wife abuse" distorts the truth. Women are battered by male spouses, male or female lovers, relatives, neighbors; prostitutes are beaten by their pimps or customers who get sick gratification from violence. Teen battering and date rape are as possible as older women being battered by sons of other younger relatives.
Myth #6: She asked for it.
Of all the myths this is the most degrading and insensitive, yet many battered women are accused of deserving or asking for abuse, often from those whom they turn for help: clergy, police, the courts, social workers and relatives. They are asked what they did to provoke the violence and told to change their behavior in order to avoid abuse. They are depicted as wanting to be abused and dominated and therefore the cause of the violence. Those who hold this theory call a woman masochistic when she attempts to escape a violent man and ignore the danger that women face when they attempt to leave an abusive situation.
Myth #7: It can't really be that bad or she would leave.
The assumptions that women can easily leave abusive situations fail to look at reality. Many women are economically dependant and the primary caretaker of the children. Until shelters came into existence in the late 1970's there were few places a woman and her children could go. Even if a woman finds emergency shelter, it is just that: what about the long range implications of leaving for herself and her children? If she does get a job, she will probably earn less than the man she left. Daycare is expensive if available at all. Finally, she must face the loneliness of leaving old connections with family and friends who encourage her to stay for the sake of the children.
Myth #8: There is a pattern to violence.
Many professionals assert that there is a pattern to violence: boys from a violent home grow up to be batterers; girls, to be victims. While there is truth to the assertion that environments and learning are major factors, this theory is deterministic. Many men from violent homes do not batter. Many women form nonviolent homes are battered. Another facet of this theory asserts that all women who are battered in turn batter their children, although no evidence exists to support this. What is important in the analysis of violence is to separate the cause of violence - a pattern of power and control - from factors that can be involved in abuse.
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