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What We Keep Getting Wrong about Domestic Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This month presents an opportunity to speak out about domestic violence — and to learn more about what domestic violence is and is not.

There are a lot of misconceptions about domestic violence, from who it impacts to whether people who abuse just have an anger management issue. Today, we are talking about what our society keeps getting wrong about domestic violence — and what the truth actually is.

As always, if you need help, we are here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our hotline is always free of charge and can be anonymous: 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available).

Domestic Violence Is about Power and Control

There is often a lot of confusion about what exactly constitutes domestic violence. More recently, a court case brought the term “mutual abuse” into our lexicon. The problem is that there is no such thing as mutual abuse. Domestic violence is about a pattern of power and control that one person exerts over another. The other person may defend themselves or exhibit “toxic” behavior — but there is always a primary aggressor.

Domestic violence is distinct from situational violence, which occurs when one or both partners handle conflict through physical violence or abuse that is specific to the situation. With situational violence, there is not a broader pattern of power and control being exerted over one partner. It also generally does not escalate over time.

Domestic Violence Does Not Always Include Physical Violence

Domestic violence can take many forms. No two situations are exactly alike — and a person can be in an abusive relationship even if they have never (or only occasionally) experienced physical abuse. In many cases, a person who abuses uses isolated incidents of physical violence of threats of violence to reinforce other abusive behaviors. Remember: emotional abuse can be just as extreme and as harmful as physical violence.

Domestic violence may include:

  • Emotional abuse, such as accusing the other person of cheating, dictating how they dress, and/or isolating them from friends and family.

  • Psychological abuse, such as destroying the other person’s property, preventing them from working or attending school, monitoring their movements or use of technology, or controlling who they see and where they go.

  • Financial abuse, such as controlling every penny spent in the household or taking the other person’s money.

  • Sexual abuse, such as pressuring the other person to have sex when they don’t want to, refusing to use protection, or sabotaging birth control (also known as reproductive coercion).

  • Physical abuse, such as hitting, punching, kicking, choking, or threatening or intimidating the other person.

Remember: even if a person can still be in an abusive relationship even if they are not experiencing — or only rarely experience — physical violence.

Domestic Violence Is Not Just a Private Family Matter

There is a common misconception about domestic violence that it is a private matter, or that we can’t ever know what goes on behind closed doors. In reality, domestic violence — particularly when it involves physical abuse — is often a criminal offense. It is no less serious than any other type of crime. Domestic violence should never be minimized by calling it a “domestic dispute.”

In addition to the negative effects on victims and survivors, domestic violence also has a much wider impact on society as a whole. Children who are exposed to domestic violence are at risk for long-term physical and/or mental health problems. It also has broad financial effects, negatively affecting the victim/survivor and the community as a whole. Domestic violence is also closely linked with mass shootings. Studies show that at least 54% of mass shootings were directly related to domestic violence. 70% of all mass shootings involve domestic violence in some way.

When we treat domestic violence as a family issue, we undermine the seriousness of the issue. This can have disastrous effects for the person being abused, their children, and our broader community.

Domestic Violence Isn’t an Anger Management Issue

Too often, people who abuse are described as having an anger issue, or even sent to anger management classes after being charged with a crime of domestic violence. They may even describe losing their temper, being stressed, or being provoked as a reason why they committed acts of abuse.

In reality, domestic violence is not about a loss of control. It is just the opposite: it is a pattern of behavior used to gain or maintain power and control over a victim. People who abuse are not angrier or more stressed than other people.

It is also important to remember people who abuse only tend to have problems controlling their anger when it comes to their romantic partners, children, and/or family members. They can control their anger when lashing out would have a more immediate effect on them. For example, a person who abuses might punch a hole in door at home because they are mad at their spouse — but they would never do so at work.

Domestic Violence Can Affect Anyone

Many of us believe that domestic violence is something that affects other people or other communities — not them. The truth is that domestic violence can affect anyone, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability status, or socioeconomic class. While some groups of people are more likely to be affected than others, it is critical to recognize that domestic violence can happen to anyone.

How We Can Help

At Blackburn Center, we have advocated for victims and survivors of domestic violence and other types of abuse for more than 40 years. We offer a range of services for victims and survivors of all types of violence, abuse, and crime. Our services include a 24 hour hotline, counseling and therapy, support groups, medical and legal accompaniment, and civil legal services. All services are or can be accessible.

If you need help, we are here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available). All calls are free of charge and can be anonymous.



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