Who Is the Victim?
Victims of domestic violence do not possess a set of universal characteristics or personality traits, but they do share the common experience of being abused by someone close to them. Anyone can become a victim of domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence can be women, men, adolescents, disabled persons, gays, or lesbians. They can be of any age and work in any profession. Normally, victims of domestic violence are not easily recognized because they are not usually covered in marks or bruises. If there are injuries, victims have often learned to conceal them to avoid detection, suspicion, and shame.
Unfortunately, an array of misconceptions about victims of domestic violence has led to harmful stereotypes and myths about who they are and the realities of their abuse. Consequently, victims of domestic violence often feel stigmatized and misunderstood by the people in their lives. These people may be well-intended family members and friends or persons trained to help them, such as social workers, police officers, or doctors. Exhibit 3-3 presents common myths about victims of domestic violence.
Myth One: Only poor, uneducated women are victims of domestic violence.
Victims of abuse can be found in all social and economic classes and can be of either sex. They can be wealthy, educated, and prominent as well as undereducated and financially destitute. Victims of domestic violence live in rural towns, urban cities, subsidized housing projects, and in gated communities. The overrepresentation of underprivileged women in domestic violence crime reports may be due to several factors, including the fact that those seeking public assistance or services are subject to data tracking trends that often capture this information. Victims of domestic violence who have higher incomes are more likely to seek help from private therapists or service providers who can protect their identity through confidentiality agreements.
Myth Two: Victims provoke and deserve the violence they experience.
An abusive tactic used by perpetrators is to accuse their partners of "making" them violent. This accusation is even more effective when the perpetrator and other people tell the victim that he or she deserved the abuse. As a result, many victims remain in the abusive relationship because they believe that the violence is their fault. Many victims make repeated attempts to change their behavior in order to avoid the next assault. Unfortunately, no one, including the victim, can change the behavior except for the perpetrator. The perpetrator is accountable for the behavior and responsible for ending the violence.
Myth Three: Victims of domestic violence move from one abusive relationship to another.
Although approximately one-third of victims of domestic violence experience more than one abusive relationship, most victims do not seek or have multiple abusive partners. Victims of domestic violence who have a childhood history of physical or sexual victimization may be at greater risk of being harmed by multiple partners.
Myth Four: Victims of domestic violence suffer from low self-esteem and psychological disorders.
Some people believe that victims of domestic violence are mentally ill or suffer from low self-esteem. Otherwise, it is thought, they would not endure the abuse. In fact, a majority of victims does not have mental disorders, but may suffer from the psychological effects of domestic violence, such as posttraumatic stress disorder or depression. Furthermore, there is little evidence that low self-esteem is a factor for initially becoming involved in an abusive relationship. In reality, some victims of domestic violence experience a decrease in self-esteem because their abusers are constantly degrading, humiliating, and criticizing them, which also makes them more vulnerable to staying in the relationship.
Myth Five: Victims of domestic violence are weak and always want help.
Some victims of domestic violence are passive while others are assertive. Some victims actively seek help, while others may refuse assistance. Again, victims are a diverse group of individuals who possess unique qualities and different life situations. Victims of domestic violence may not always want help and their reasons vary. They may not be prepared to leave the relationship, they may be scared their partners will harm them, or they may not trust people if past efforts to seek help have failed.
Barriers to Leaving an Abusive Relationship
The most commonly asked question about victims of domestic violence is "Why do they stay?" Family, friends, coworkers, and community professionals who try to understand the reasons why a victim of domestic violence has not left the abusive partner often feel perplexed and frustrated. Some victims of domestic violence do leave their violent partners while others may leave and return at different points throughout the abusive relationship. Leaving a violent relationship is a process, not an event, for many victims, who cannot simply "pick up and go" because they have many factors to consider. To understand the complex nature of terminating a violent relationship, it is essential to look at the barriers and risks faced by victims when they consider or attempt to leave. Individual, systemic, and societal barriers faced by victims of domestic violence include:
Fear. Perpetrators commonly make threats to find victims, inflict harm, or kill them if they end the relationship. This fear becomes a reality for many victims who are stalked by their partner after leaving. It also is common for abusers to seek or threaten to seek sole custody, make child abuse allegations, or kidnap the children. Historically, there has been a lack of protection and assistance from law enforcement, the judicial system, and social service agencies charged with responding to domestic violence. Inadequacies in the system and the failure of past efforts by victims of domestic violence seeking help have led many to believe that they will not be protected from the abuser and are safer at home. While much remains to be done, there is a growing trend of increased legal protection and community support for these victims.
Credits to Soon Heng Leng