Anybody remember that cheesy show from the early 2000s, starring two nerdier-than-most guys, that spent roughly 48 minutes once a week debunking commonly held beliefs? Mythbuster, was it? After doing a little research, the dynamic duo of Jamie Hyneman and Adam Scott tested over 1,000 distinct myths in 217 hours, spanning 14 years, resulting in a vast amount of information about common myths and interesting phenomena.
I am going to attempt to graze the surface of myths surrounding interpersonal violence and debunk each one with a social scientific lens that highlights the misconception and re-orients the conversation around the truth. Won't you follow along?
Myth #1: INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE AFFECTS ONLY A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION AND IS RARE.
FACT: National studies estimate that 3 to 4 million women are abused each year in the United States. A study conducted in 1995 found that 31% of women surveyed admitted to having been physically assaulted by a husband or boyfriend. Interpersonal violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in our country, and the FBI estimates that a woman is abused every 15 seconds. Thirty percent of female homicide victims are killed by partners or ex-partners, and 1,500 women are murdered as a result of interpersonal violence each year in the United States.
Myth #2: INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE OCCURS ONLY IN POOR, UNEDUCATED, OR MARGINALIZED FAMILIES.
FACT: Studies of interpersonal violence consistently have found that violence occurs among all types of families, regardless of income, profession, region, ethnicity, educational level or race. However, the fact that lower income victims and abusers are over-represented in calls to law enforcement, domestic violence shelters, and social services may be due to a lack of other resources.
Myth #3: INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE IS USUALLY A ONE TIME, ISOLATED OCCURRENCE.
FACT: Interpersonal violence is a pattern of coercion and control that one person exerts over another. It is not just one physical attack. It includes the repeated use of a number of tactics, including intimidation, threats, economic deprivation, isolation, and psychological/sexual abuse. Physical violence is just one of these tactics. The various forms of abuse utilized by abusers help to maintain power and control over their spouses and partners. Abuse also tends to increase both in velocity and extent over a period of time.
Myth #4: SOME VICTIMS ASK FOR, PROVOKE, WANT, AND EVEN DESERVE IT.
FACT: NOBODY deserves to be beaten or abused. Victims often have to walk on eggshells and try their best to avoid another incident. The abuser CHOOSES to abuse. This myth encourages the blame-shifting from the perpetrator to the victim and avoids the stark reality that only the perpetrator is responsible for their own actions.
Myth #5: IT CAN'T BE THAT BAD, OR THEY'D LEAVE!
FACT: There are many emotional, social, spiritual, and financial hurdles to overcome before someone being abused can leave. Very often, the constant undermining of the victim's self-esteem can leave him/her with very little confidence, socially isolated, and without the normal decision-making abilities a person living free from interpersonal violence. Leaving or trying to leave will also often increase the violence or abuse, and can put the victim (and/or their children) in a position of fearing for their lives. Leaving is the ultimate threat to the abuser's power and control, and they will often do anything rather than let the victim go.
Myth #6: ABUSERS ARE ALWAYS COARSE, VIOLENT MEN AND ARE EASILY IDENTIFIABLE.
FACT: Abusers are often socially charming, generous and well-presented people (of any gender!) who hold positions of social standing. Abuse is kept for those nearest to them, to the privacy of their own homes. This Jekyll and Hyde persona of the abuser can further confuse and frighten the person being abused, as the person in private is so very different to the person everyone else sees. It can also mean that when the person being abused finally does try to tell their friends, family or acquaintances of the abuse, they are not believed, because the person they are describing simply doesn’t fit the image portrayed in public.
Myth #7: INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE DOESN'T AFFECT THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY.
FACT: Such myths ignore the validity of same sex relationships. Abuse is about control within a relationship and can occur within any relationship where one partner believes they have the right to control the other. Whether they are married or living together, of the same or opposite gender, have been together for a few weeks or many years really doesn’t make much difference – abuse can (and does) occur.
As you can tell, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding interpersonal violence. It's all of our duty to debunk myths, correct misinformation, and share relevant tips for supporting survivors of interpersonal violence.
If you or a loved one is a survivor of interpersonal violence and are looking for support, advocacy, or education surrounding your experiences, please visit the Phoenix Center at Auraria | Anschutz for additional resources. We are a confidential, trauma-informed center dedicated to your recovery. Feel free to stop by Tivoli 259 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!