Opinion: Tackling 5 myths about domestic violence
As we take steps to see who among us may be suffering, we can mitigate trauma and promote healing in individuals, families, and communities across the state.
As founder of the Utah Women & Leadership Project, I study not only what factors help women and girls reach their potential, but what obstacles are holding them back.
And as October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I feel compelled to examine some of the myths and stereotypes we may have about abuse that further harm the individuals involved and allow us as a society to minimize a problem that impacts us all.
Myth No. 1: Domestic violence is only about physical abuse.
Fact: While abuse can be physical, it can also be emotional, verbal, financial, spiritual and sexual. Abusers often use several abuse tactics in order to maintain power and control, including isolation, coercion and gaslighting. Both fists and privilege can be weapons.
Myth No. 2: Domestic violence is only a “private, family issue.”
Fact: Domestic violence affects all of us. Even if children are not the ones being abused, just witnessing it has a profound impact. Every year, around 80 Utah children either watch the murder or attempted murder of their mothers. In turn one-third of people who are abused will become abusers, perpetuating the trauma they learned as children.
And there is a huge financial cost on the country: one study estimates that the health care costs, criminal justice costs and productivity losses that result from domestic violence to be $8.3 billion annually.
Myth No. 3: Domestic violence is about “anger management.”
Fct: Abusers are not walking around hitting strangers, they are selective in targeting family members. It is about power and control, and the abuser leans into the “anger” myth as a way of blaming the victim for “provoking” them.
Anger management does not disrupt the patterns and cycles of domestic violence. Anger may play a role, but it’s not the driving force.
Myth No. 4: If it’s really that bad, then the victim will leave the abuser.
Fact: Women fear leaving abusive partners for very important reasons: Over 70% of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has left or is planning to leave. And when a woman is killed in Utah, 70% of the time it’s a domestic violence related homicide.
To make matters worse, our shelters are at capacity, our victim services are limited, and many women leaving lack the resources to make a successful transition. And others have been so traumatized that they either believe they deserve what they get, or that the abuse is, in fact, a twisted kind of love.
Myth No. 5: Domestic violence is bad but it doesn’t happen in my community/congregation.
Fact: Domestic violence happens to people in every demographic. No race, religion, gender or age group is exempt. In Utah, 1 in 3 women will experience it in her lifetime, and 1 in 5 men. And just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Remember, most forms of abuse leave no bruises.
So what can we do? The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition has amazing resources for victims and allies alike. They have a 24-hour confidential hotline (1-800-897-LINK) that provides trauma-informed support and offers connections to local resources. If you would like to be an ally or if you are interested in becoming a victim service provider or volunteer, UDVC offers free training courses and webinars to educate people about domestic violence, and even provide specialized training for specific at risk groups like the LGBTQIA community and immigrants.
As we take steps to see who among us may be suffering, we can mitigate trauma and promote healing in individuals, families and communities across the state.
Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.