- Common stereotypes of domestic violence, such as males always being the perpetrator, can keep victims from coming forward.
- Marginalized groups may avoid disclosing abuse due to additional stereotypes they face.
- Therapists can play a key supportive role for people who experience domestic violence by being aware of stereotypes and privilege.
There is no question that the topic of domestic violence is circulating the airwaves a lot more lately than ever before. Conversations around domestic violence are all through social media, as well as on the daily news, with everyone feeling qualified to give an opinion about what constitutes abuse. But what is not being talked about as often is the topic of the many survivors who do not come forward, either due to social shaming, not being believed, or personal choice.
In my practice, I have found that these are 10 of the most common stereotypes that keep survivors from coming forward:
1. The abuse stops when the victim leaves. There is an assumption that when the victim leaves, the abuse stops. This is often a very dangerous time for a victim, as it is often when the abuse turns from psychological or emotional to physical, or when the physical abuse can become deadly.
What to do: Stay aware of all surroundings and revisit your safety plan, making sure you have emergency numbers available for friends, family, or local shelters. It is also sometimes necessary to change your routine and habits if there is a chance that you will be stalked or retaliated against for leaving.
2. Non-physical abuse is harmless. While physical abuse is usually seen as worse than emotional, psychological, or other forms of abuse, recent research shows that the harmful effects of non-physical abuse can be just as detrimental, or even worse, for victims who survive this form of IPV.
What to do: Stop gaslighting your own experiences. Write down what happened if needed, so you can review it and remind yourself how bad it was.
3. A victim will always be believed by society or the police. The legal system and courts are about proof, which can often feel like victim-blaming to victims.
What to do: Here, I stress the importance of documentation, written and photographic. It is important to prepare documentation and bring a friend for support.
4. Males are perpetrators and females are victims. Many male clients do not come forward about their abuse due to fears of not being believed, as well as shame and embarrassment.
What to do: Understand that all genders can be perpetrators, and all genders can be victims. Find support, online if needed, for men who are survivors where you will be believed and validated.
5. Protection orders are easy to obtain, and they prevent further abuse. Obtaining a protection order is often re-traumatizing, as the victim has to recount every detail of the abuse in front of strangers, and many victims are unprepared for what they will need in order to complete the paperwork. It is also important to understand that many forms of abuse such as harassment and slander are difficult to stop even with protection orders, as they are more subjective in the eyes of the law.
What to do: Discussions around what to expect when seeking and obtaining a protection order can be held when you fill out the paperwork. It is okay to call and ask questions.
6. It only happens to poor people. The typical domestic violence victim comes to mind with the recent Netflix film, Maid: a single, young mother. And while this might be true that a lot of victims fit this category, these stereotypes ignore many victims who try to seek support every day in our society.
What to do: Don't be afraid to ask for any support or resources that are not offered to you, or to call other communities or counties to ask if they have resources available. Sometimes, a city with a larger population has more resources allocated for support.
7. It takes two to tango, so it’s always both people's fault. There is an assumption in our court system that when there is a “high conflict” divorce or court case, that is it due to both parties refusing to cooperate. In these cases, there is often one person who is trying to prolong the conflict and one person who is trying to move on but who is being prevented from moving on due to the endless court battles.
What to do: Clear, calm communication will take you further than arguing. Do not try to refute every claim, and do not engage with the perpetrator at all. Do not try to label the perpetrator with a personality disorder in court, as this will backfire. Work on showing patterns instead of telling.
8. LGBTQ victims do not experience intimate partner abuse. This is simply not true, but for some reason, this is one of the most common questions I get as a provider. I suppose that this is in part due to the limited exposure that most people have had to non-cis-het relationships, and also due to LGBTQ clients frequently cast as funny or quirky characters in films and media, perpetuating a stereotype that they do not experience the same struggles as their straight friends.
"Although it is estimated that domestic abuse is as common in gay male and lesbian intimate relationships as in heterosexual relationships, the legal system often fails to recognize or respond to same-gender cases" (Seelau et al. 2003).
What to do: Validate any and all survivors' experiences, without making judgments or assumptions based on their sexuality or gender, and find providers and support systems that validate and understand your experience.
9. BIPOC have more violence or abuse in their relationships. BIPOC individuals face constant hurdles in our society, for they are frequently seen as either going against stereotypes or perpetuating stereotypes, and this can prevent them from disclosing abuse in their families or relationships.
What to do: It is okay to have conversations with your provider about these fears and concerns. Many clients try to find a provider who is a person of color with lived experience, but sometimes that is not always possible. In this case, I urge you to find support through local or online support groups to validate your concerns and experiences.
10. My therapist will have to call the police if I disclose abuse. This is frequently untrue, but it is usually what holds many victims back from disclosing abuse, especially if there are children or other vulnerable populations involved.
What to do: It is important to have conversations early on about what types of things need to be reported based on your state and the license laws and restrictions that your therapist might have about confidentiality. Some states might mandate a report if children are involved, or if weapons are used, and others might not. It is okay to have these conversations with your providers about what could reasonably happen if you disclose certain forms of abuse.
All survivors need protection and support, and it is okay to seek that support and validation for yourself and for loved ones.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, call 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org for further support.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Gender and role-based perceptions of domestic abuse: does sexual orientation matter? Seelau EP, Seelau SM, Poorman PB. Behav Sci Law. 2003;21(2):199-214. Accessed 5/2/2022.