Family Violence Myths-Victoria Law Reform Commission

Report—Family Violence Myths

1 March 2006

Myth: Family violence is just physical assault

Family violence is much more than hitting or punching. It includes sexual assault and other sexually coercive behaviour; emotional, psychological and verbal abuse; restricting people’s social interactions; and restricting people’s access to money and property.

Myth: Family violence perpetrators lose their temper and can’t control themselves

Family violence is a cycle of domination, coercion and control, rather than a loss of temper. Many family violence perpetrators are able to turn their abuse off and on at will because they use violence to exert control, not because they can’t help themselves. Alcohol does not cause family violence but may be used as an excuse by perpetrators to behave in more extreme and thoughtless ways.

Myth: Victims provoke the violence

Our attitudes towards family relationships have moved on from archaic laws which gave men the right to beat their wives and children and rape their wives. Victoria recently decided provocation was not an acceptable defence to a murder change and most people think it should not be used to excuse family violence.

Myth: Family violence victims can leave the relationship or family

It can be extremely difficult for victims to escape a perpetrator’s control. It may also feel safer to stay—many victims are threatened with violence or death if they leave. Most victims take several attempts to leave a violent relationship before they are successful. Victims may also stay because of a combination of other factors: they can’t afford to leave, there is nowhere for them to go, they don’t know what their legal options are, there is nobody to care for children if they get a job, and police and courts are not helpful.

Myth: Family violence only occurs when people are living together

Some of the worst family violence can occur after a couple separates because the perpetrator tries to force the victim to return. The Australian Institute of Criminology has estimated that close to 30 per cent of women who were murdered by intimate partners were separated from them at the time.

Myth: All family violence victims fall into the “battered woman syndrome” category

Many family violence victims don’t just take it, they fight back. This can be by physically defending themselves, or using other defensive strategies such as calling on friends, family, social services and police for help.

Myth: Men are just as likely as women to be family violence victims

Men are far more likely to be harmed by a stranger than by a family member and women’s violence towards men is more likely to occur in self-defence. Women’s violence has been found to be a response to frustration and stress, whereas men’s violence is most often an attempt to dominate and control. Less than 10 per cent of male homicides are carried out by an intimate partner, and when they are, there is a history of the female being a victim of domestic violence in more than 70 per cent of cases.

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