The Nightmare on My Street: Common Misconceptions About Domestic Violence
Photo by Sydney Sims
On the 31st of this month, millions of people will celebrate the monsters, ghosts, and nightwalkers of legend and the silver screen. They will dress in their favorite ghoulish garments and squeal with delight as the undead stalk them through corn mazes and haunted houses. Their adventures will be rewarded with horror film thrills and, in some cases, the biggest hangovers this side of New Year’s Eve. The month of October is also known for its efforts to draw attention to a different type of terror, one where the monsters do not shrink back from the sunlight, but instead, they crawl into bed with you each night.
In 1989, Congress passed Public Law 101-112, officially designating October of that year as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The same law has been passed each year since then to highlight a situation that impacts 10 million Americans annually.
Despite this effort, in April of 2020, the United Nations released a report that stated that the isolation and stress caused by an extended COVID-19 lockdown could result in an additional 61 million cases of domestic violence this year alone. With numbers like this on the rise, we might ask ourselves: what is the purpose of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month?
The answer is simple. National Domestic Violence Awareness Month is the perfect platform to educate ourselves and others about this life-threatening issue. Moreover, like so many of the issues we need to combat, the first hurdle we must face is the ongoing myths surrounding domestic violence. Some of these myths we may believe ourselves. Here are eight myths about domestic violence and the truth we need to share with others. 1. Domestic Violence Is Uncommon As I mentioned earlier, each year, 10 million Americans will suffer physical abuse at the hands of their intimate partner. In other words, 20 people will be pushed, punched, kicked, grabbed, scratched, burned, thrown, spit on, or assaulted with a deadly weapon—every minute of every day by a sexual partner. 2. Domestic Violence Only Happens to Women in Heterosexual Relationships According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in 4 women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime, and 1 in 9 men will be victims of domestic violence at some point in their life. The NCADV also points out that “recent research shows that LGBTQ members fall victim to domestic violence at equal or even higher rates compared to their heterosexual counterparts.” For example, the NCADV found that 43.8 % of lesbian women and 61% of bisexual women will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime, compared to the 35% of heterosexual women. (For more information, please visit: https://ncadv.org/blog/posts/domestic-violence-and-the-lgbtq-community) 3. Call the Police and Leave, Case Closed. From the outside, it might be easy to assume that one act of domestic violence would be enough to end a relationship. The truth is much more complicated because some abusers often spend months grooming their victims before they ever become physically violent. The subtle erosion of boundaries between partners can begin with something that masks itself as consideration or interest, like asking the victim to call when they reach their destination out of safety concerns or commenting how much they like the victim in a specific color. These natural interactions that pass between partners become more oppressive with each act of compliance until the goal of complete dominance on the part of the abuser is reached using verbal degradation, intimidation, and emotional blackmail. While the first date does not usually end with a broken jaw, the abuser is secure in their ability to control their victim by the time the physical violence begins. 4. Domestic Violence Only Happens in the Poor, Uneducated, or Dependent While most of us have seen the movies with the stereotypical trailer park drunk who likes to beat his wife after too many beers and not enough work, the reality is that abusers are indifferent to zip codes, tax brackets, or age groups. Domestic violence can happen anywhere at any time. This is not to say that economics does not play a part in someone breaking free from an abusive relationship. Victims without financial resources are less likely to leave their attackers. It is one of the reasons why abusive partners will sabotage any financial independence their victim may possess. 5. Shunning the Victim will Motivate Them to Leave their Abuser Domestic violence is one of the few times that tough love measures do not work. Isolating the victim is only playing into the abuser’s hands. It reinforces the belief that a victim has no choice but to stay with their attacker, especially if they lack the financial means to escape them. 6. Victims Promote Violence and Therefore Can Control Their Abusers We need to take a hard look at any tendency we harbor toward victim-shaming. No amount of provocation justifies the physical or emotional victimization of another human being. Period. Just like a rape victim, we must stop asking: “Why?” Outrage and support are the only responses we should have in these situations. When we cast aspersions about the victim’s character, we once again echo the abuser’s methodology. The victim already blames themselves for everything from the evening meal’s promptness to their inability to control the weather. Everything is their fault—just ask the abuser. “If you hadn’t done XYZ, I wouldn’t have had to…” is like air to these monsters. We give the victim power by not spreading the lies. 7. Abusers are Easy to Spot Because They’re Violent in Every Relationship While some abusers have little filter between their rage and the rest of the world, most of those individuals who brutalize their partners at home do not come with a neon sign. They can thrive at work, have good friends, smile like a saint for the Christmas card. The signs are there, but they are usually broadcasted by the victim’s hyper-vigilance to their mate’s wants and needs, their decision to wear turtlenecks in the summer, and why they may struggle to make eye contact with anyone who could be viewed as a sexual rival by their abuser. It is also one of the reasons why half the horrible domestic murder cases covered by the media include someone saying, “We never saw it coming.” 8. Domestic Violence is a Private Family Matter As I mentioned earlier, domestic violence can happen in any sphere of life—rich, poor, young, old, devote, or atheist. When we refuse to acknowledge the existence of domestic violence in our world, we pile shame on the victim. If we are going to support someone who needs to break the cycle of abuse, we cannot make the subject taboo. We cannot look away or normalize it like it is the same thing as a couple that squabbles over where to take their next vacation. It is not a private matter; it is something that should matter to all of us. Even a single act of violence in a relationship is never okay. Furthermore, we cannot end violence through avoidance, passiveness, or willful ignorance. Our actions could save the life of a stranger or loved one. Every minute, 20 people experience a nightmare that does not get tossed out with the rotten jack-o-lantern. However, every day, victims decide to leave their abusers because people like us refuse to perpetuate the myths. We give the victim shelter, resources, and safe places to be heard, so that one day, the victim can look in the mirror and realize that they are no longer a victim—they are a survivor! For more information: https://ncadv.org/ (If you are in danger, please call 911. If you or a loved one needs help escaping an abusive relationship, please call the NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE at 1-800-799-7233)