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May 14, 2012

Battering: The Facts

There are some commonly held beliefs about battering which we feel are actually myths...that is, the facts of battering indicate that these beliefs are false. Yet people continue to believe and act on these beliefs. In a sense, they become more powerful than the facts because they influence the ways battered women, their friends and family, the professional personnel they encounter, and the general public react to specific instances of battering.

MYTH 1: "Battering" overstates the case. Few women are actually beaten.

FACTS: Once violence has begun in a relationship it will continue and will increase in frequency and severity. Battering can involve severe beatings or threats, rape, weapons, and mental or physical torture.

Battering should not be considered only as isolated incidents resulting from a family dispute, but is a pattern of repeated abuse from which the battered woman does not see an escape. All too often, battering results in murder. A study in one police department in the Midwest indicated that in 85% of the cases of domestic homicide in that city in a given time period, the police had been called at least once before. According to a survey of women in Texas, 19% of the women who were abused during the previous year and 25% of the women who had been abused during their lifetime have been battered at least once a week.

MYTH 2: Battering is a family matter.

FACTS: Assault is a crime in all states. Battering is not simply a family problem but is a far-reaching social problem affecting as many as 50% of all U.S. women. Violence against wives will occur at least once in 2/3 of all marriages and at least 25% of wives in the U.S. are severely beaten during their marriage.

Assault is a costly crime in terms of injuries and dollars. More than one million abused women seek medical help for injuries caused by battering each year. 20% of visits by women to emergency medical services are caused by battering -- in fact, it's the number one cause of emergency room visits by women. In Minnesota, 12% of the injuries sustained in reported incidences of battering required hospitalization.

MYTH 3: It is only low income, working class families who experience violence.

FACTS: Battering affects all racial, social, ethnic, economic, and religious groups and affects each group with equal frequency. The police departments in Norwalk, Connecticut, a city with a wide socioeconomic range receives the same number of domestic assault calls as the police department in Harlem, New York, a city of comparable size.

Battered women with few resources are more visible because they seek help from public agencies. However, middle and upper-class women also seek refuge and assistance, only because of their resources it is more often in hotels and from private agencies.

MYTH 4: Battered women are a particular and easily definable group of women.

FACTS: In reality, a battered woman can be any one of us. Battered women are as diverse as women are. There is no particular kind of woman who is likely to be battered any more than there is a kind of woman who is likely to be raped. The "kind" of woman who is battered is the woman who finds herself with a man who batters.

People would like to be able to identify the characteristics of a battered woman because it makes them feel less responsible. Women would like to be able to identify the characteristics of a battered woman because it makes them feel safer. In essence, it is a way of saying, "If I am not like these women, I will not be battered."

MYTH 5: Battered women ask for it, provoke it, want it, and sometimes even deserve it.

FACTS: This victim-blaming statement suggests that the battered woman should look for the reasons for his violence in her behavior. It suggests that all a battered woman has to do is change her behavior. It also ignores the criminal nature of assault. We know that no one, including a battered woman, can change another person's behavior. We also know that this myth encourages battered women to stay, in an effort to discover what they do to provoke an assault. Responsibility for violence belongs with the person who is behaving violently.

MYTH 6: It can't be that bad or she wouldn't stay.

FACTS: In the U.S. today, on the average, a woman earns slightly more than half of what a man earns. For this reason many women, including battered women, do not feel that they can support themselves and their children. Statistics show that the vast majority of court-ordered child support payments are never made to the custodial parent. Economic dependence is often the reality that traps a battered woman in a dangerous, violent marriage.

Fear of retaliation for leaving, harassment, and further violence from the abuser are also traps for battered women. In 73% of reported incidents, the woman was divorced or separated from the abuser at the time of the assault. Statistically, the most dangerous time for a battered woman is when she is leaving or he believes she is leaving. According to the Bureau of Justice, divorced or separated men committed 79% of spouse abuse.

Battered women are frequently isolated from family, friends, and co-workers, and do not have the support they need to leave or find help. The best assistance one can give a battered woman is to give her support and information.

It is important to recognize and respect that the only person who can determine the safest time to leave is the battered woman herself. She has developed a finely-tuned sense of danger and survival techniques.

For more details, go to Why We Stay?

MYTH 7: Domestic assault is caused by excessive drinking or by abuse of other drugs.

FACTS: Alcohol and other chemical use occur frequently when there is violence directed at a family member; however, it is dangerous to assume that chemical abuse causes battering. It does not. There are almost as many incidents of battering without chemical use as there are involving it. Battering is caused by a batterer who has chosen to use his violence as a means to exert power over, and maintain control of, his victim.

When chemical abuse and violence are both present it is important to deal with each as separate issues. Chemical dependency treatment will not stop violent behavior. In fact, often chemical dependency treatment for the batterer becomes a danger to the victim because of the demand that she be involved in his treatment program.

MYTH 8: Battered women hate men. Battered women need to learn that not all men are bad.

FACTS: Battered women do not hate men. They hate being battered.  After being battered, they are afraid of being hurt again by another man.

MYTH 9: It's not all one-sided. Men get battered too.

FACTS: Yes, but according to the FBI, in over 95% of all domestic abuse violence, the man is the batterer. The injuries that battered women receive are at least as serious as 90% of all violent felony crimes, yet under state laws, domestic violence is almost always a misdemeanor.

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