Facts and Myths about Domestic Violence

Why doesn't she just leave?

Ignorance regarding the dynamics of domestic violence gives the impression that the victims are to blame for their own abuse, or that they enjoy being abused. The fact is leaving an abusive relationship does not guarantee that the abuse will cease.


 All batterers are brutish louts who act like the scourge of society whether they are in their victims' presence, drunk in a bar, or at work.
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There is no composite for the "average" abuser. He may be rich or poor. He may be very well respected in his community, his church, and his job. Abusers are very charming and friendly people. Con artists. A woman certainly is not initially attracted to a brute. The charming, friendly persona is just that -- a persona. Very slowly, over a long period of time, the controlling, manipulative side comes out. By the time the woman realizes she is in an abusive relationship, she is already enmeshed in it, and it may be very difficult for her to leave safely. This is compounded if children are involved.

MYTH: Abused women don't leave their abusers.

FACT: The overwhelming majority -- over 75% -- of abused women eventually DO leave their abusers. Leaving an abuser is a process, not an event. A woman may make several attempts to leave her abuser before she in fact is completely successful. If a woman left her abuser before she was actually ready to do so, and if she did not have enough resources and support such as friends, family and other women who have been through similar situations backing her up, she may return to her abuser.

There are a wide variety of reasons that a woman does not leave an abuser at a given point in time. She may have young children, and is not in a position to leave. She may be financially dependent on the abuser. He may have made threats that should she try to leave him that he will hurt or kill her and the children, destroy her property, or hurt or kill her pets. He may threaten that should she leave, he will take her to court, impoverish her, refuse to pay child support, and gain custody of the children so that she will never see them again. On the other hand, there is the honeymoon period, during which the abuser makes an abrupt about face, becomes very contrite and shame-faced, and swears he will never, ever hurt her again.

He may even go into counseling. This usually occurs after a severe episode of abusive behavior. The woman believes him, and gives him another change because he's begun to treat her well -- which may mean that being treated well in her mind equates with an absence of abuse. She really believes him when he says he'll never do it again. Also, she may still love him. She remembers the man she first met, and wants him to replace this other person who terrorizes her. She wants things to be the way they were when they first met. Many abused women blame themselves for their own abuse; i.e., if she wasn't fat or had a better job or didn't make demands on him or kept the kids out of his hair or cooked better meals or kept a cleaner house he'd have no reason to abuse her. Of course she thinks this because he is constantly telling her that is the case. In many instances, his family and even her family may be telling her the same thing. She will do everything she can to change her behavior in the mistaken belief that she is causing her own abuse.

When it not only doesn't change but becomes worse, her self esteem plummets because she sees her situation as a personal failure, especially if she ends up divorced. After years of emotional and psychological abuse, she may not be in a strong enough frame of mind to be able to handle the added stress involved in leaving the abuser. Consider the state of mind an abused woman is in, and the war zone in which she lives. It's very easy to say "why doesn't she just leave" from the safety and security of your own home. Once you place yourself in the abused woman's shoes and understand her situation from her point of view, you will realize exactly what she is up against. It takes a great deal of resolve, energy, and courage to leave an abusive relationship.


Domestic violence means a man is beating a woman.


Physical beating is only one form of domestic violence. Other forms, and these forms often occur concurrently, are:

Psychological Abuse:

 The batterer tries to frighten the victim by intimidating her, threatening to harm her or others, threatening to kidnap her, harassing her, or killing pets and destroying property.
Emotional Abuse: The batterer undermines his victim's sense of self-worth by constant criticism, belittling, name calling, the silent treatment, subverting parent-child relationship, making and breaking of promises, and so forth.

Economic Abuse:

This includes making, or trying to make, a person financially dependent -- for instance, by maintaining control over both parties' income, withholding money or access to money, keeping the victim from outside activities such as school or employment, harassing the victim at work, and requiring her to justify all money spent.

Sexual Abuse:

 Sexual abuse is coerced sexual contact -- for instance, rape and beating of the sexual parts of the body, as well as forced bestiality, prostitution, unprotected sex, fondling, sodomy, sex with others, or use of pornography. Sexual abuse may also include undermining a person's sexuality with insults and unfounded accusations of infidelity. Rape in marriage is illegal, yet it happens all too often. Rape can happen if intercourse starts while the victim is asleep.

Physical Abuse:

This is hurting someone or trying to hurt her -- for instance, by grabbing, pinching, shoving, slapping, hitting, hair pulling, biting, arm twisting, kicking, punching, hitting with objects, stabbing, shooting. Other kinds of physical abuse include withholding access to resources necessary to maintain health; e.g., medications, medical care, a wheelchair, food or fluids, sleep, hygienic assistance. An abuser may also force his victim to use alcohol or drugs.

Legal Abuse:

The abuser may drag his victim through a vicious custody battle or an expensive court case when she leaves him. He may give her less than she deserves by law and may drag out the proceedings. He may refuse to pay court-ordered support or alimony or to turn over assets. This may sound like a typical divorce, but abusive divorces continue a pattern of abuse established in the marriage. Incredibly, the abuser often tries to win back his spouse during or after the abusive divorce. More incredibly yet, she sometimes goes back to him. (This is a part of the cycle of violence ...) The point is, the abuse does not end when the woman leaves. It will continue in another form.


Abuse stops when the woman leaves the abuser.


Abuse actually may increase when the woman is attempting to leave and after she has left because the abuser can see that he is losing control of his victim. He will not back down -- he will increase the severity, frequency, and methods of abuse as a means of re-establishing his power and control over his victim.

This period is the most dangerous period for an abused victim. The severest abuse, including murder, occurs during and after the period of separation. Other forms of abuse common during and after separation are stalking, obscene telephone calls, harassment at the woman's workplace, kidnapping or attempted kidnapping of children from school or daycare and his refusal to return them until the woman agrees to the man's demands, and making false allegations of child abuse against the woman. In cases where the custody dispute has lasted years, and the woman has remarried or has become involved with another man, the abusive ex may allege that child abuse is being committed by her partner.

An extreme example of continued abuse is when the man moves, without his ex's knowledge, out of state during his visitation time with the children as a means of establishing a new "home state" with the intention of gaining custody in the new domicile. He may not return the children once his specified visitation time is up, and she has no way to retrieve them since she does not know to where her ex-husband has moved. It may take years and thousands of dollars spent for her to find her children. By then, her ex may petition for a change in custody, citing "best interests of the children," because the children have over that period of time become established in the neighborhood, school system, and have made friends. A move to the custodial mothers' home would disrupt the status quo.

This tactic is described in Timothy J. Horgan's "Winning Your Divorce: A Man's Survival Guide" (Plume/Penguin Book, 1994). If she alleges he committed child sexual abuse and/or domestic violence he may insist that she is suffering from "Parental Alienation Syndrome." He may attempt to break in to her home, vandalize her property, slash her tires, and attempt to break into her car. He may also claim that she was abusing him should she file for an order of protection against domestic violence.


Men and women are equally abusive of each other.


This particularly heinous bit of propaganda is especially popular with the men's and father's rights movement, which also claims that most allegations of abuse made by women are false; a means of obtaining an upper hand in divorce proceedings. The idea that women are just as abusive as men comes from a purposeful misrepresentation of a survey conducted by Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz, which is described in their book "Behind Closed Doors" (Straus, M.A., Gelles, R.J., and Steinmetz , S.K. Behind Closed Doors: Violence in American Families. Anchor/Doubleday, Garden City NY, 1980.)

These researchers used Conflict Tactic Scale (CTS) to count individual "hits" between partners in abusive relationships. Each partner was required to indicate how many times and in what form(s) they physically abused the other partner over the course of a year. What the researchers discovered was that women struck back just as often as men, if not more so, giving an impression that women are as physically violent as men.

There are several serious problems with this book and the research, which the researchers have acknowledged. The only form of abuse considered was physical abuse, which narrowed down the field considerably. Violent acts by husbands were more common than violent acts by wives, and the husbands' acts were much more physically debilitating. Husbands also had higher rates of the most injurious abuse such as use of a gun or beating. Gelles himself stated that "Data from studies of households where the police intervened in domestic violence, clearly indicate that men are rarely the victims of "battery" (Berk et al, 1983). Thus, although the [the CTS figures] show similar rates of hitting, when injury is considered, marital violence is primarily a problem of victimized women." (p79-80 - "A note on husbands as victims.")


An abused woman should not focus on leaving her abuser. Her focus should be on doing what is necessary for her to get her life in order. If leaving the abuser is one of those things, she must be properly prepared for it. Her physical, psychological, and emotional health need to be restored and stabilized. She will need to get her finances in order. There are several ways to go about doing all of this. With renewed strength will come her resolve to better protect herself and her children.

Since her standard of living will plummet should she leave her abuser, extraneous debt may force her into personal bankruptcy. If she needs to have work done on her car, or if she and her children need medical care such as replacement of contact lenses and eyeglasses, standard checkups, or dental work, she should take care of it as quickly as possible. First and foremost, she must eliminate or greatly reduce her credit debt. She should also seek to increase the limits on her credit cards for emergencies.

If she does not have a credit history, she should establish one. She should never, ever use a credit card that is in her partner's name because she may be held responsible for half of that debt, even if she used the card only once. If she and her partner have joint credit accounts, she should remove her name and open a separate account in her name only. This will prevent her from being held responsible for future debts he may incur. If she has used that card in the past, she may be responsible for at least half of the debt should she and the abuser end up in court. Should he file for bankruptcy once a divorce is underway, the creditors will seek her out to pay the outstanding balance if she had cosigned. That's a reality she must be prepared to face.

One way women have been disadvantaged in court is to hold them responsible for half or more of a debt acquired by the partner through his excessive use of credit. This is common in cases of alcohol and drug abuse or gambling addictions in which monstrously high amounts of cash advances are acquired through the use of one or more credit cards.

In marriage, a woman has not only a right but a responsibility to be aware of all account balances held by herself and her husband. She should also call the IRS and request copies of past tax returns if she neglected to keep copies herself. She needs to know the value of all assets and investments such as automobiles, collectibles, money market funds, treasury notes, pensions, 401K's, and stock options acquired during the marriage.

If necessary, she may hire a private investigator or an asset search firm to determine if her husband has hidden assets from her since a percentage of the investment legally belongs to her, depending on property laws in her state. She should be knowledgeable of the values of all insurances, including life and auto. She needs to have on paper the amount of equity in the marital home, as well as any additional mortgages acquired.

One particularly nasty wake-up call for many divorcing women is learning that the marital home they had considered a financial asset has been deemed worthless by the existence of several home equity loans acquired without their knowledge by their partners. These loans are often acquired in order to pay off credit debt.

If she doesn't have a checking and savings account in her name only, she should get one even if she has no plans to divorce. She has a right to control her own finances. She needs to save a minimum $5,000 in order to pay the retainer for a lawyer should it come to that. If the divorce involves a contested custody case, the final payment may cost in the neighborhood of six figures because one form of continue abuse is his abuse of the legal system -- he will continue to force her into court on one charge after another until she is financially and emotionally exhausted. He does this as a means of punishing her for leaving him, as a means of maintaining control, and as a means of acquiring full custody of the children and/or extreme reduction or elimination of child support and alimony. If she actually does leave, she should withdraw her half before her husband cleans out and cancels all the accounts. She may qualify for reduced fee or pro-bono representation. Representation by legal council in contested custody cases is crucial.

If she is being physically, psychologically, emotionally, financially or sexually abused, she should contact her local domestic violence and/or sexual assault center. If addictions are involved, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-anon, Narcotics-Anonymous and Co-dependents Anonymous may be located in the Yellow Pages. All of these resources are available at low cost or free to the public. It is important that an abused woman not isolate herself, which is exactly what the abuser wants because isolation enables him to maintain control over her. She needs to talk about the abuse. She may be able to obtain single or group therapy at a reduced cost (or for free) through a domestic violence shelter or through the county mental health system. The best thing a friend or family member can do for an abused woman is to listen. Do not tell her what she should do. Do not tell her that should leave because she may not be ready to leave. In time, most abused women do leave their abusers. But they cannot leave until they are ready to do so. Give her emotional support. Let her know that your home is available to her should she need it. Knowing that she does have a way out when the time is right is a wonderful stabilizer to a woman who has absolutely no stability in her life whatsoever. When she is ready to act, she will act.

She must educate herself. It is vitally important that an abused woman know her rights regarding family law. The law libraries in each state's capital are open to the public. The library staff will refer her to the texts she needs. Several family law reviews and magazines are available in each state, either in the public or courthouse libraries. The Internet provides an amazing wealth of information and assistance for women who are in abusive relationships and for women who are preparing to leave abusers. She should educate herself -- read, read, read!! If she has the resolve to do so, she may want to visit the misogynistic men's and father's rights sites (not all men's and father's-related sites are misogynistic, but too many of them are on the Internet) in order to get a grasp of exactly how these men and their subsequent wives and girlfriends educate each other regarding how to completely ruin the first wife. However, if a woman determines her abuser is involved with one or more of these groups, she should take a look at their material in order to understand exactly what she is up against. It won't be a pleasant experience, but it will most definitely be worthwhile. As Sun Tsu aptly wrote, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

A Court Watch may be available for women who fear misrepresentation in the courtroom. Court Watches consist of groups of men and women, dressed in business suits, who sit quietly in the back of the courtroom and take notes. The purpose is to let the court personnel and others present know that they are being watched, and that they will be held accountable for their behavior and decisions. The presence of a large and highly visible group of people is very effective. It also provides a source of support and empowerment for the woman who requests it. If there is no Court Watch in her area, she may be able to gain assistance from women's law centers and other women's groups in order to create one. Law students need to spend time in court observing cases as part of their education, so a Court Watch program may be an ideal situation for all involved.


Stop Domestic Violence: An Action Plan For Saving Lives
by Lou Brown, Francois Dubau, and Merritt McKeon, J.D.
(St. Martin's Griffin, 1997)

Healing Your Life: Recovery from Domestic Violence
by Candace Hennekens
(Pro Writing Services and Press 1991)

When "I Love You" Turns Violent
by Scott A. Johnson
(New Horizon Press, 1993)

When Love Goes Wrong: What to do When You Can't Do Anything Right
by Ann Jones and Susan Schechter
(Harper Perennial 1992)

Next Time She'll Be Dead: Battering and How To Stop It
by Ann Jones
(Beacon Press 1994)

Every Eighteen Seconds: A Journey Through Domestic Violence
by Nancy Kilgore
(Volcano Press 1992)

Dating Violence: Young Women in Danger
by Barrie Levy
(Seal Press 1991)

Battered Wives, Revised, Updated
by Del Martin
(Volcano Press 1976, 1981)

Getting Free: You Can End Abuse and Take Back Your Life
by Ginny NiCarthy
(Seal Press 1986)

The Ones Who Got Away: Women Who Left Abusive Partners
by Ginny NiCarthy
(Seal Press 1987)

You Can Be Free: An Easy-To-Read Handbook for Abused Women
by Ginny NiCarthy and Sue Davidson
(Seal Press 1989)

Domestic Tyranny: The Making of American Social Policy Against Family
Violence from Colonial Times to the Present
by Elizabeth Pleck
(Oxford University Press 1987)

The Art of War
by Sun Tsu (Edited and with a foreward by James Clavell, author of Noble House)
(Delacorte Press 1983 - originally published in China two and a half thousand years ago.)

The Battered Woman
by Lenore Walker
(Harper and Row 1979)

The Battered Woman Syndrome

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