The public health issue of domestic violence is plagued by its invisibility and misperceptions at the societal level. These two factors combined profoundly impact society's response to both the problem of domestic violence and the victims.
More than 1 in 3 women (35.6 percent) in the United States have experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime according to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, the same survey found that 24.3 percent of women, nearly 1 in 4, have experienced severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. These cold, hard facts illustrate the brutal state of reality and the sheer scale of the issue.
Given the pervasiveness of intimate partner violence within society, it has not garnered attention in accordance with its magnitude. In fact, the myths surrounding domestic violence alter the way victims are treated and the issue is dealt with.
Myth 1: Victims knowingly enter into abusive relationships.
The process of disempowerment happens incrementally, cumulatively, and often unpredictably. At some point, the victim is conflicted by the memories of happier times in their relationship. She is faced with the dichotomy of man that she once fell in love with and the man standing in front of her.
NISVS found that nearly half of all women in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime, approximately 48.4 percent.
One Second Chance Employment Services, Dr. Ludy Green's non-profit employment agency dedicated to victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, client spoke about the nature of the intimate relationship, an environment of love and trust, creates vulnerability because your guard is down and you do not have any reason, at that point, to believe your partner is going to hurt you.
The desire for security and companionship can be taken advantage of by abusers and used to trap their intimate partners into domestic captivity with a façade of chivalry and respect.
Myth 2: If I were in an abusive relationship, I would leave immediately.
This type of wishful thinking seems intuitive, but the question of why victims stay in abusive relationships is crucial to constructing a solution for domestic violence. Often times victims believe they are responsible for their situation.
Like the first myth, the incremental and intermittent nature of abuse traps victims into domestic captivity. Between violent phases there is often tender moments of romance that drastically alters the self-wroth of victims and their relationship.
Myth 3: Victims return to their abusers because they are unwilling to leave their partners.
The concept of the cycle of violence at the most basic level implies that the victim must come to a decision on her own to permanently leave the violent relationship. Thus, no amount of outside help would combat the issue of domestic violence or break the cycle.
This, however, is not the case. Victims do not stay in these violent relationships due to a lack of will, but rather a lack of power. They are powerless to change their situation despite a wanting to escape. Treating the symptoms of domestic violence, physical and psychological ailments, is important for the well being of victims, but a more practical solution is the empowerment of victims via financial autonomy.
Linda and her two little boys, a family Dr. Green bonded with while volunteering at My Sister's Place, a battered women shelter in the metropolitan DC area, returned to her abuser after seeking temporary refuge at the shelter. Linda struggled to look for a job and secure financial independence to gain freedom from her violent partner.
Linda's actions were not unusual. Shelters offer a safe, but temporary, place for victims to stay in times of extreme danger. They were not necessarily a stepping-stone to permanent freedom.
In addition, depression becomes a large obstacle to escaping from the abusive relationship. One client of Second Chance said she was unable to find a job because she was too depressed to look for work. Abuse of all forms, psychological, physical, verbal, etc., can chip away at the victim's self worth and identity. Depression, therefore, hinders the ability to secure freedom creating a state of paralysis.
Myth 4: Domestic violence is something that happens to the poor and poorly educated people.
This common held misperception overshadows the reality that domestic violence penetrates all barriers: socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, cultural, etc.
Diane believed she had married her prince in shining armor. She grew up in a loving middle class family and married a Harvard graduate with a promising career and an affluent upbringing in New England. A year after their wedding, her husband began to verbally abuse her. With time, the abuse got worse escalating to physical harm that led to multiple arrests for battery.
Diane's story is not an anomaly. The frequency of the crime does not vary by income or education, and the degree of pain and suffering is felt regardless of the victim's socioeconomic status or level of education.
These personal stories and more can be found in Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide to Economic Freedom by Dr. Ludy Green. Biographical details have been modified to protect the identities of Dr. Green's former clients.