Stokkete/Shutterstock
Source: Stokkete/Shutterstock

Thousands of organizations drew attention to domestic violence last month by posting to social media the hashtags #domesticviolenceawareness and #domesticviolenceawarenessmonth. Events also took place in every major city in the country—but these events typically draw people already dedicated to the cause.

What if you don't know much about the issue? Take a few minutes to educate yourself about its true scope:

Abuse is Common

A generation ago, abuse victims were often terrified of coming forward, worried that they would appear weak or be blamed for their abuse. Thanks to the growth of the women's movement and the victim's rights movement, as well as the lobbying of millions of advocates across the globe, we now know how common domestic violence is. Indeed, some sociologists argue that gender roles, a fixation on control, and a culture of aggression have ingrained domestic violence into the American way of life. Consider:

  • A woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds.
  • 1 in 3 women—and 1 in 4 men—have been in abusive relationships, and 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have faced severe physical violence.
  • 20 people are abused by an intimate partner every minute, adding up to 10 million each year.
  • More than 200,000 phone calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines every year.
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes.
  • The presence of guns in a home where domestic violence is a problem increases the risk of a murder by 500%.

Both Men and Women Can be Victims

Domestic violence outreach campaigns often focus on women, but both men and women can be and are victims of domestic violence. One study found that 40% of domestic violence victims are men. Of course, the picture is a bit more complicated: While some groups have used this figure to argue that women are just as violent as men, most domestic violence directed at men is in the form of slaps and other low-level violence. Men are significantly more likely to resort to extreme violence, to use weapons, and to kill their partners.

So while domestic violence against men does happen and is a serious problem, women remain the primary victims. But for this reason, men who have faced abuse often find themselves stigmatized and ridiculed. If someone you love says they've been the victim of domestic violence, you should believe and support them, since no gender is safe, and no amount of physical strength or emotional fortitude protects against abuse.

Abuse Victims Face a Culture of Blame

It's not just male domestic-violence survivors who find their stories disregarded. Myths about domestic violence are common, particularly among those most likely to abuse their partners. For instance, it's common to hear some people say that, if hit, they will hit back, and so women who slap their partners should expect whatever violence the partners dish back out. These thoughts support a culture of abuse and victim-blaming.

Remember these key facts, which debunk many intimate partner violence myths:

  • No amount of bad behavior can induce someone to behave violently. Victims do not cause their abuse, even if they are unfaithful, unreasonable, or unkind.
  • Responding to violence with violence is only acceptable in cases of self-defense, not to punish the perpetrator.
  • No level of violence is normal or acceptable in a relationship; a person who resorts to violence once will likely do so again.
  • Domestic violence harms children even when the children are not physically abused; many police departments treat domestic violence in the presence of children as a form of child abuse.

Leaving Isn't as Easy as It Seems

Domestic violence survivors are often asked why they don't leave. But consider this: How would you feel about leaving your partner? As difficult as it may be to admit, domestic violence relationships still offer their victims something, such as financial security or a relationship with a person they love. Programs designed to help victims leave, then, need to address these concerns.

Perhaps most important, though, is the fact that leaving can be dangerous. Research consistently shows that abusers are more likely to kill their victims in the two weeks after they leave than at any other time. When considered in conjunction with the fact that leaving can spark financial troubles, not to mention the pain of losing a relationship, it's easy to understand why so many survivors are hesitant to leave.

Responding to Abuse Can be Challenging

It's not easy to know what to do when someone you love is in an abusive relationship; confronting the abuser is rarely the solution.

The following steps may help:

  1. Listen to and believe your loved one. Allow them to control their own lives. If your loved one does not want to leave or call the police, do not force them to.
  2. Do not get involved in their fights, as doing so may endanger you. Call the police instead.
  3. Offer your loved one a safe place to stay, or help him or her get to a shelter.
  4. Explore your loved one's reasons for staying, and offer to help. If childcare or finances are a concern, for instance, try offering some financial assistance.

We can all do our part by abandoning false beliefs, embracing a culture of safety, and supporting the victims we know.

References

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