Dominant Discourse 1: Violence Against Women
Myth #1: Abuse means physical abuse.
There are many forms of abuse, including physical and sexual abuse, psychological abuse with verbal intimidation, progressive social isolation and economic control.
“The physical abuse actually was a little better because the bruises go away. But the mental and verbal abuse really sticks with a person for a long time.”
Myth #2: Physical abuse is the most serious form of abuse.
All forms of abuse are devastating and need to be treated with the same degree of seriousness.
“My partner never hit me but the verbal attacks were brutal. I couldn’t live like that anymore. I tried to kill myself. I ended up in the Psych Unit. Now he is telling everyone I am ‘crazy.’”
Myth #3: Abuse happens to women who have poor self-esteem.
Being abused negatively impacts a woman’s self-worth, value, and esteem but it is not the cause of abusers’ violence.
“I was always judged for ‘letting’ the abuse happen to me because of my ‘low self-esteem’ or ‘lack of confidence.’ I wasn’t like that before I met my partner.”
Myth #4: Abuse happens to ‘certain types of women’ – immigrant women, poor women, women with mental health or substance use concerns, less educated women, etc.
Abuse happens to any woman, regardless of their social, economic, cultural, or sexual place in society.
“I was a professional woman so I didn’t want to call it abuse. I thought, ‘someone like me wouldn’t let themselves be abused.’”
Dominant Discourse 2: Choice
Myth #1: Survivors are attracted to abuse or choose abuse.
Abusers conceal their abusiveness until they have secured the survivor’s commitment.
“My counsellor told me I chose an abusive man. That made me feel damaged. Being in the group made me realize that I wasn’t messed up like my counsellor said. I learned about the patterns of abusive men – how they honeymoon you in the beginning. Being in this women’s group was the first time that I was able to see that the abuse was not my fault and I did not choose it.”
Myth #2: The survivor has made bad choices.
Abusers take away the survivor’s ability to make choices without the fear of consequences or increased risks. Survivors make the best choices they can with the information they have and the options available to them.
“My friend said to me that if I choose to go back to him, she would never speak to me again. But he said he would sue for custody of the kids if I don’t come home.”
Myth #3: Survivors can do things that can stop the abuse.
Survivors can and do resist the abuse, but nothing they do will stop the abuse. The abuser is in control and makes choices about their behaviour.
Women are told, in so many ways, that they can stop the abuse, if they just do the “right” thing. Here are some examples of advice women are given:
“My counsellor said to me, ‘You just need to spend more time with him. Maybe you guys need to have more sex.’”
“My friend said, ‘Have you tried dressing up nicely and cooking him his favourite meal? Men have to deal with a lot of pressure.’”
All of this leaves a woman thinking, “I just need to try harder.” Her efforts to keep herself safe, resist his abuse, and plan for her safety are invisible because we choose not to see all the work women do on their own behalf.
Dominant Discourse 3: Responsibility
Myth #1: Relationship problems are 50/50. Both partners are equally responsible for the problems, even in an abusive relationship.
In the context of abuse, abusers are 100% responsible. Abuse takes place when one person uses their power to dominate. It is unilateral. It takes two people to make a relationship work but only one person to destroy a relationship.
“My family’s attitude was, ‘It’s always 50/50.’ They always pushed me to take ‘my share’ of the problem. They would always say to me, ‘It takes two to fight.’”
Myth #2: Survivors provoke the abuse.
The offender is 100% responsible for their choice to use abuse. Nothing a survivor does justifies abuse.
“I told my dad that when I didn’t make pancakes the way my partner wanted them, he dumped the batter on my head. My dad said, ‘Why don’t you just make pancakes the way he wants.’”
Myth #3: In some situations what is going on is “Mutual Battering”: the two individuals are abusing each other.
Abuse is unilateral. It is not conflict and it is not an argument that gets out of control. A survivor may fight back in self defense or to protect themselves or their children, but they do not initiate the abuse nor are they motivated to have power and control over their partner.
“The police officer said that I ‘gave as good as I got’ and they refused to remove him from the house or take me somewhere safe. They didn’t know what he had done to me for years.”
Myth #4: Individuals who are abused are passive and timid. They need to learn to stand up for themselves.
Standing up to someone with more power is dangerous. Survivors are very strong and resilient but have learned this danger. They are wise to ignore advice to be more assertive or set boundaries. They may act in ways
that look passive in an effort to reduce the violence, but they are not passive. We need to acknowledge all the ways that individuals resist abuse.
Myth #5: Abuse happens to individuals who don’t set appropriate boundaries.
Abusers have no respect for boundaries and will often escalate the abuse if they feel their power and control is being challenged or limited.
Myth #6: Survivors think abuse is “normal” and are attracted to abusers.
Abusers know survivors don’t find abuse acceptable. That’s why abusers conceal their abuse and only escalate their abuse once a survivor has shown their commitment to the relationship.
“The social worker told me I had allowed the abuse to happen. I took that on. I thought that was a good thing. I thought I was owning my share of the problem. But now, after being through a support group, I realize I didn’t allow this to happen! You don’t allow abuse to happen.”