WORKING WITH BATTERED WOMEN: A Handbook for Health Care Professionals

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Common Beliefs And Myths About The Causes Of Wife Battering

MYTH: Battering only happens in the working class or in certain ethnic groups.

FACT: Women of all income and educational levels, races and religions can be, and are, victims of abuse. Middle and upper class women tend to have more economic and social resources and so are less visible victims of abuse. For example, upper and middle class women tend to live in private homes rather than in apartment buildings where abusive incidents are more readily overheard by neighbors who call the police. People have a natural tendency to see social problems as something that can affect only "those other people". If we believe it can't happen to us or to anyone we know, it makes us feel safer.

MYTH: Aboriginal women, immigrant women, and women of colour stay in abusive relationships because it's part of their culture.

FACT: Aboriginal women, immigrant women, and women of colour may remain in abusive relationships for many of the same reasons that other women do. They may stay because they are socially isolated, have few options, and little support. Some may stay out of a sense of duty or family pride. Others may stay because they fear that once they leave the abuser, they may be forced to leave the family or the community in which they live.

Culture, in general, may be used to rationalize violence in relationships. Immigrant women may fear deportation, and believe that their right to remain in Canada depends on the abusive partner. Many immigrant women do not speak English or French and may be unfamiliar with the services that are available to them. Many women of colour, even when familiar with the services available, do not seek them for fear of encountering racism.

MYTH: Alcohol/drugs causes the man to abuse his female partner.

FACT: No research data supports the contention that alcohol causes men to batter. Many men who batter do not drink at all and many alcoholics do not batter. Alcohol may, however, affect the severity and timing of physical abuse. It is important to note that alcohol in this society is often used as a way to legitimize violence. When a person is drunk he is often not required to take full responsibility for his violent behaviour. Some men who were abusive report that drinking made it easier for them to be violent. They no longer felt the responsibility to control their actions. After the assault they could point to alcohol consumption as a way of excusing their behaviour to themselves and their partners, friends, family and the justice system. You must remember that the perpetrator chooses his victim carefully. An abusive alcoholic man may often be under the influence of alcohol while on the job but he does not assault his co-workers; he waits until he gets home and then assaults his partner. (See also The Safety Zone: The Alcohol Connection.)

MYTH: Women provoke violence.

FACT: All couples argue from time to time over a variety of marital issues: children, money, sex, etc., and these arguments are not likely to be diplomatic and "fair" in each instance. However, all couples do not resolve these conflicts through violent means. The actions of abuse victims may indeed trigger the assault but that is different from causing or provoking the assault. Those triggers are common, normal everyday actions on the part of the woman and it is impossible for her to anticipate her partner's reactions. Some triggers include:

  • not having supper ready on time/having supper ready at the regular time and asking him to come to the table,
  • not spending enough time with the kids/spending too much time with the kids and not enough time with him,
  • asking for grocery money/not having enough groceries in the house.

In the early stages of a violent relationship, women try very hard to do whatever their partners want of them in the hope of avoiding the violence.

MYTH: Men abuse their female partners because they are mentally ill.

FACT: The incidence of violence against women in relationships is too high to be explained by mental illness. If this myth were accurate, one in every eight Canadian men could be mentally ill.

Studies show that psychopathic personalities or other forms of mental illness among men who batter are rare. Men who batter have not been found to be measurably different from non-battering men except that they usually have adopted a very traditional stereotypical role, which makes it difficult for them to express their emotions.

If we label abusive men as having a problem that comes from inside them personally instead of stemming from their socialization, then the weight of responsibility can be shifted from us as a society and from the batterer, and placed entirely on the man's illness. Again, it also makes us "feel better" to believe that if only "mentally ill" men batter and we don't know any mentally ill men, no one we know could possibly be a batterer.

MYTH: Men abuse their partners because they are under stress.

FACT: This myth suggests that violence is a response to stress caused by role expectations, lack of resources, etc. It does not explain why the chosen target of the violence is most often an intimate partner. It also does not explain why women under stress do not attack men with the same frequency. Nor does it explain why there are many men under stress who do not beat their partners.


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