Myths and misunderstandings

NSW

  • Judicial Commission of NSW, Equality before the Law: Bench Book (2018).
    The bench book notes the overrepresentation of women as victims of domestic and family violence, highlighting that women are statistically more likely to be victims of abuse and homicide, while men are more likely to be perpetrators [7.1.4]. It also acknowledges that it is not easy for women to leave abusive relationships, that women do not ‘ask for’ or invite rape or violence, and that separation increases risk of violence [7.3.3.2].

QLD

  • Supreme Court of Queensland, Equal Treatment Bench Book (2nd ed, 2016).

    This Bench Book provides insight into domestic violence under the section ‘Gender’, countering a number of myths and misunderstandings including:

    • Domestic and family violence only affects particular groups of people: ‘when approaching issues of family violence, stereotypes about the gender of abusers and victims should be avoided: all family members, regardless of gender/sex or age, may be affected. Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (Qld) specifically acknowledges this by identifying a ‘relevant relationship’ as an intimate personal relationship, a family relationship or an informal care relationship’ (p.29).
    • Men and women are equally victims and perpetrators of domestic and family violence: ‘There is evidence that women are the most common victims of domestic violence’ (p.171). ‘It is significantly more common for a woman to be the victim of physical violence at the hands of a partner or another person she knows than at the hands of a stranger. This is also consistent with the profile of victims of sexual assault reported to the police; the perpetrator is likely to be known to the victim and the most commonly reported location where sexual offences occur is in a residential setting’.
    • A victim of domestic and family violence is able to leave the abusive relationship: ‘Members of the judiciary, court staff and legal practitioners responding to cases of domestic violence should be aware of the fact that leaving a violent relationship is often extremely difficult, on emotional and practical levels. Women may stay in violent relationships for various reasons: financial dependence, the presence of children in the relationship (and manipulation by their partner concerning this), a sense of isolation and lack of external support, and the threat of further or worse violence if the relationship is ended. Extended abuse over a period of time may cause women to enter a state of permanent fear or “learned helplessness”, which describes a developed inability to see a way out of their situation or to work out how to protect oneself in the face of random and variable violence’ (p.172).

Vic

  • Judicial College of Victoria, Family Violence Bench Book (2014).

    This Bench Book has a specific section ‘5.2.7 – Myths about family violence and potential for unconscious prejudice’. Myths include:

    • 5.2.7.1 - Myth: family violence is just physical assault
    • 5.2.7.2 - Myth: family violence perpetrators lose their temper and can’t control themselves
    • 5.2.7.3 - Myth: victims provoke the violence
    • 5.2.7.4 - Myth: family violence victims can leave the relationship or family
    • 5.2.7.5 - Myth: family violence only occurs when people are living together
    • 5.2.7.6 - Myth: all family violence victims fall into the "battered woman syndrome" category
    • 5.2.7.7 - Myth: men are just as likely as women to be family violence victims
    • 5.2.7.8 - Myth: culture is an excuse for family violence

    Also see:

    • ‘5.4.1 – Men’s use of violence towards family members’, emphasizing that ‘Family violence is a choice that men make. It cannot be excused by their partner’s actions or factors such as upbringing, alcohol or stress. There are men who experience relationship difficulties, significant life problems or addictions, or who experienced violence as a child, who do not perpetrate family violence’
      • especially subsection 5.4.1.3 – Violence as a choice’
    • ‘5.6.3 – Myth: violence against women is an accepted part of some cultures’

WA

  • Department of the Attorney General (WA), Equality before the Law: Bench Book (2009).

    This Bench Book provides the following comments, countering a number of myths and misunderstandings:

    • Unequal perpetration of violence: The higher prevalence of women experiencing physical assaults by current or previous partners [10.1.6]; and the differing experiences of violence by men and women [13.1.1]; see especially [13.2.1.1] ‘Family and domestic violence as ‘gender-based violence’ exploring the statistics around the gendered nature of domestic violence; [13.2.3] ‘Women as victims of family and domestic violence’ detailing the impacts of violence on women
    • Sexual assault as a form of domestic violence: ‘Where the relationship between victim and offender was stated, most sexual assault victims had some form of relationship with the offender (78%).’
    • Controlling vs physical violence: [13.1.1.1] notes the significant numbers of women experiencing controlling behaviours and the significance it has for higher rates of physical violence
    • Women are not passive/helpless: ‘One such theory was that women who had been repeatedly victimised suffered from “learned helplessness” as a result. This prevented them from resisting violence or leaving a violent relationship. This theory proved inadequate as further research highlighted the many social, economic and cultural reasons why women do not leave relationships; what is more, it is inconsistent with the many ways in which women in such relationships attempt to leave or often act in very conscious ways to minimise the abuse directed at them and to protect their children.’ [13.2.1]
    • Abuse will stop post-separation: ‘Nearly all the women (97.5%) in one study had experienced violence or abuse after separation, and many described an increase in violence immediately post-separation, although some said that it had later declined or, in a small number of instances, ceased as time passed’ [13.2.3]; ‘Statistically, the most dangerous time for a victim in a violent relationship is at separation or after leaving the relationship.’ [13.3.6]
    • Not easy to leave the relationship: ‘It is not easy for a victim to leave a violent relationship — it takes considerable emotional and practical strength for an abused and frightened victim to do this, particularly if the victim is a parent and children are involved. Many who do leave or threaten to leave are coerced into returning or staying by threats or further violence from their partner. There are often insufficient support and protection structures to enable a victim to either leave or leave safely. This can be even more difficult for Aboriginal victims, victims from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, victims with disabilities and victims in rural and remote locations. Statistically, the most dangerous time for a victim in a violent relationship is at separation or after leaving the relationship.’ [13.3.6]
    • Section [13.1.1] notes the under-reporting of assaults against women

Canada

  • Neilson, Linda C, Domestic Violence Electronic Bench Book (National Judicial Institute, 2017).

    Neilson addresses numerous myths throughout the Bench Book including:

    • Myths about children: e.g. domestic violence does not harm children, very young children are less affected (Sections 6.2.5 and 6.2.6);
    • It is easy and safe to leave a relationship (Section 4.4 Understanding & interpreting evidence of domestic violence): there are ‘multiple reasons female victims of violence do not leave violent relationships. Reasons include economic necessity, traumatic bonding, loss of self-esteem, immigration status, love and or emotional dependency, lack of alternative housing, inadequate legal protection, lack of access to economic resources, protection of children, and fear’ (Section 5.4.3);
    • Abuse stops once separated: ‘[d]omestic violence does not necessarily end with separation, sometimes it gets worse’ (Section 17.6.7.6); ‘Contrary to popular belief, separation can increase the risk of serious forms of DV, especially for women’ (Section 8.14.2);
    • False allegations: ‘[s]purious child-abuse claims against the custodial parent are common’ in cases where the perpetrator employs litigation abuse; however, generally, ‘malicious known-to-be-false allegations of child abuse are rare’ (Section 7.4.21);
    • Partner provoking or equally responsible for violence: minimization techniques involve claims that acts of violence were defensive, and that the abuse and violence was mutual (Supplementary Reference 3);
    • Drugs and alcohol cause domestic violence: ‘experts agree that drugs and alcohol are more a rationalization than a cause’ of domestic violence; judicial responses should avoid comments that could ‘give the impression that intoxication has been accepted as a cause of the domestic violence, thus absolving the perpetrator of personal responsibility; [or] encourage false and potentially dangerous expectations among perpetrators and family members that limiting alcohol and drugs will stop the domestic violence problem’ (Section 7.2.1);
    • Abuse only affects particular groups of people: while particular groups may be more vulnerable, ‘domestic violence homicide with suicide crosses all gender, age, socioeconomic, professional and cultural boundaries’ (Section 8.14.8).