According to data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a woman in the United States is fatally shot by a spouse, ex-spouse, or other romantic partner on average every 14 hours.
Even though domestic violence is a well-known problem, there are still many misconceptions about it, both in California and across the United States at large.
Misconception #1: Domestic Violence Is Always Physical
While physical abuse is one part of domestic violence, physical abuse is only part of the problem. The National Domestic Violence’s website looks at a variety of abuse types. Threats also constitute abuse, including threats of physical abuse or threatening to take away the children if he/she does not do something. Isolating the person from family or friends is another form of abuse. Controlling behaviors, such as deciding what the person can wear, what the person can eat, and where the person can go is also a part of domestic abuse. For some people, domestic abuse takes the form of degrading comments.
Forcing the other person to do something the person does not want to do, either through threats or physical coercion is another part of domestic violence. This might include sexually assaulting the victim or threatening to harm the person if he or she does not do as the perpetrator wants. At times, these threats may be made against the person’s children or pets. When in doubt if something is domestic abuse, consider if the behavior is degrading or makes you feel scared. This Relationship Spectrum, which shows the characteristics of healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships may also help you understand if you are experiencing domestic violence.
Misconception #2: Women Are Always the Victims
While women are the more common victims of domestic violence, males can absolutely also be victims of domestic violence. For example, in California, 32.9 percent of women and 27.3 percent of men will experience some sort of domestic violence in their lives. This includes physical violence, sexual violence, and stalking.
In the United States in general, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience some form of physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner. One in 7 women and 1 in 18 men in the United States have also been victims of stalking by an intimate partner to the point that they were afraid for their safety.
While some people may assume the men who experience domestic violence must be in a homosexual relationship, that is not always the case. Women can also be the perpetrators of domestic violence. Along with being in denial, loving their partner, and fearing the repercussions of reporting the abuse or leaving, men may continue to allow the abuse in a heterosexual relationship because they are ashamed. They do not want to feel like they are weak or admit that their wife or girlfriend has abused them. They also often feel like there are fewer resources for help.
Misconception #3: It Only Happens Between Couples
While domestic violence can involve intimate couples and often does involve intimate couples, it is not limited to just two people who are in a romantic relationship. Domestic violence can happen between married couples or those living together as domestic partners. Those who are divorced or separated from their partner and those who are dating or have dated the person may also be victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence may also happen between people who have had a child together.
While all of these examples constitute partners or previous partners, domestic violence can happen between other family members. This may include parents, children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and in-laws. In California, children 12 or older can file restraining orders against those who have committed domestic violence against them.
Misconception #4: It Only Happens Among the Poor & Uneducated
Most people would like to believe that domestic violence happens to other people and that they are immune from it. Domestic violence, though, affects people of all economic and social levels, even those who have been highly successful in their careers. For example, Mel B, formerly of the Spice Girls and current judge on America’s Got Talent, recently filed for divorce, saying she has been abused throughout the marriage. In another example, Jana Kramer, an actress and singer, was abused by her then-husband during the early days of her career. At one point, the violence got so bad that she has said she thought she was going to die.
Many other people who are in the public eye have also spoken about the domestic violence they have experienced, both as victims and as witnesses. Unfortunately, no one can ever assume they will never be hurt by domestic violence. Even if you are not the one directly hurt by it, you will likely have a friend or family member who currently experiences or has experienced some form of domestic violence.
Misconception #5: Leaving Is Easy
Unfortunately, leaving is not easy. Most of the time, the abuse is gradual and slowly starts to escalate. Maybe things were wonderful in the beginning. Many victims convince themselves that the abuse is their fault, and despite the abuse, the victims often love their perpetrator.
Even as people realize their relationship is abusive, many continue to stay for a variety of reasons, including:
- Fear for their own safety or the safety of family members, including their children if they leave (the danger increases just after leaving a domestic violence relationship)
- Inability to support themselves and their children if they leave
- Lack of support from family and friends, either because of isolation from family and friends or because of encouragement from others to try to save the relationship
- Not knowing where they will go if they do leave, including fear of homelessness
- Fear of losing custody of their children if they leave
- Embarrassment in admitting they are a victim of domestic abuse
- Rationalization of the abuse, either thinking it isn’t that bad or that they deserved it
Things You Can Do
Even though you may be afraid of leaving a domestic violence relationship, getting away from an abusive situation is important.
This begins with creating a safety plan. For your own safety, you will likely want to avoid letting your abuser know you are leaving. Keep important documents, including birth certificates, your driver’s license, and other important records somewhere where you can quickly grab them when you are ready to leave. Your car keys, a stash of cash, and other valuables should, if possible, be hidden where you can get to them quickly but where your abuser is not likely to find them. Know where you are going when you escape the relationship. If possible, have multiple places you can go.
While it will not solve every problem, you will likely want to get a restraining order against your abuser. This will legally order the person to do or not do specific things. This may include not allowing the person to get within a certain distance of you, your children, and other friends or relatives. It may also require the person to get rid of a gun or prevent the person from purchasing a new one. A restraining order may also prevent the perpetrator from contacting you in any form, including phone calls, texts, and emails.
If the person follows the conditions of the restraining order, things can go well. Unfortunately, sometimes people violate restraining orders. For the person violating the restraining order, the consequences may include fines and jail time. For the victim, the consequences can be even more serious and may include injury or even death. That is why having a safe place to stay once you leave is such an important part of your safety plan.
Even though a restraining order does not always work as it was intended, getting one can help you. If you are the person filing the restraining order, keep a copy of it with you at all times. If the other person violates the restraining order at any point, contact the police right away, and show them the restraining order.
If you were the victim of domestic violence, our family law attorneys are here for you. We can provide you with advice on the best steps to take next to protect yourself and other loved ones. If needed, we can also help you get a restraining order or work as your divorce lawyer, helping and empowering you to get out of an abusive relationship.