Domestic Abuse: Myth versus Research

Domestic abuse is a problem that spans all socioeconomic and racial lines across all cultures. It is a problem that affects more women than men and can be defined as violence from shoving, verbal abuse or attacks with knives and guns resulting in hospitalization from broken bones and battered soft tissue.

There are also many myths that surround domestic abuse that inhibits the proper statistics and therefore good intervention for the women, and men, who suffer at the hands of their abusers. Some of these myths include:

  • According to the FBI, a woman is beaten every (fill in the blank) seconds
  • There are four million women beaten and abused every year
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between 15 and 44
  • Women who kill their batterers receive longer prison sentences than men who kill their partners.

Many of these myths are based on studies that haven’t been performed or statistics compiled by agencies who say they have no such data. This is the case with the FBI who hasn’t compiled such data. And since the definition of violence can be so broad defining how many women are abused each year is next to impossible.

Instead, let’s look at the research that can be substantiated and has an impact on the families, women and children who suffer at the hands of their abusers. In a study by the University of Cincinnati and published in 2005 researchers found there were predictors of domestic violence related deaths. Those women who were most at risk were those whose partners had a substance abuse problem, whose partner was escalating the abuse and they were recently separated, there was child abuse in the house, there were previous threats to kill, there is property damage or the partner had violated a protection order. Even if there was a history of animal abuse by the abuser this raised the risk to the woman for death at the hands of her abuser.

At this time many doctors and researchers have found a link between alcohol substance abuse and violence. There are also several studies ongoing which are looking at these links trying to understand the association in an attempt to reduce the frequency and the consequences of the violence. Researchers are studying the mechanisms between alcohol and aggressive behavior in humans, and have found that the number of sexual assaults is greater when there is alcohol involved or child abuse when there is alcohol abuse.

In a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in 2005, researchers found that children who have sustained physical abuse have a tendency to stay attentive in situations where there is even a subtle hint of aggression or hostility. This may explain why children who come from homes where physical abuse is common have trouble maintaining attention in the classroom at school. It’s a matter of self-preservation to remain attentive to the surroundings and become distracted from the school work being taught.

Researchers from Penn State have also found that people who observe abuse and assault also may have psychological and physiological stress levels that equal that of the person being abused. Watching abuse isn’t a neutral event. Thus children watching their mothers being abused are at the same psychological risk of stress as their mothers.

Work published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics also discussed the link between children who directly observe violent behavior and those who exhibit behavioral problems themselves.

Findings published 2004 in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found an important link between people who suffered from childhood abuse — either sexual, physical or both — and the development of psychiatric disorders and alcoholism.

Other myths about domestic violence — that is much more damaging than those myths that perpetuate that violence is far reaching are those myths that that perpetuate the beliefs that women are deserving of being abused or that they are really asking for it. Some people believe that violence occurs only in populations of poor women or women of color — or just not in their own community. This is not true. Violence spans all cultures, socioeconomic groups and all communities.

Domestic violence is a problem that affects the whole community as well. It isn’t a problem between a man and wife but rather affects all of us. Women who are abused are in stores, employed outside the home, caring for their children; end up in hospitals from the physical abuse or dead at the hands of their abuser.

There continues to be not only more domestic abuse research to find links between abuse and the causes but also programs to help both the abused and the abuser heal from the problems that caused the situation in the first place.


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