Debunking myths surrounding family violence
Family Violence is something that can affect anyone regardless of their social or economic status, or their racial and cultural background. Family violence will also occur in any kind of family relationship, including between couples, family members, in heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and against people who are elderly or disabled. While there are so many groups that are at a higher risk of becoming victims of family violence, the reality is that we will never truly know how deep the problem is, as a vast majority of occurrences remain unreported.
Researchers have found that while there is not a ‘typical’ kind of offender, they do find that the perpetrator will usually:
- Use violence and emotional abuse to control their families
- Believe that they have the right to behave in whatever way they choose while in their own home
- Hold certain beliefs about masculinity, including that a ‘real’ man should be tough, powerful and the head of the household. They may believe that they should make most of the decisions, including about how money is spent
- Believe that men are entitled to sex, from their partners
- Don’t take responsibility for their behaviour and prefer to think that loved ones or circumstances provoked their behaviour
- Make excuses for their violence – for example, they will blame alcohol or stress
- Report ‘losing control’ when angry around their families, but can control their anger around other people. They don’t tend to use violence in other situations, for example, around friends, bosses, work colleagues or the police
- Try to minimise, blame others for, justify or deny their use of violence, or the impact of their violence on family members.
Some perpetrators have grown up in an abusive household themselves, but the majority have not.
Myths about Family Violence
There are a lot of misconceptions in the community about what ‘causes’ family violence. In some cases, these myths act not only as a way to ‘blame the victim’, but they can also act as an excuse for the perpetrator.
One of the biggest myths surrounding Family Violence is that it stems from alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse itself can be a trigger, but it is not the root cause. In a lot of cases reported to police, around half are not found to be under the influence of alcohol. There are also others who may abuse alcohol or binge drink, but do not lash out when they are feeling frustrated or angered. Anger Management and Alcohol abuse are two separate problems, however can be a trigger toward one another.
Another misconception is that people believe that financial strain is a cause of domestic violence, particularly in areas where families are living in poverty. The reality is that Family violence is occurring behind closed doors in all communities, including those which are considered to be ‘wealthy’.
Stress is another factor which is often blamed as a cause for family violence. Financial stress, long hours at work and the general pressures of life are considered by some to be enough to push them over the edge.
According to Humanrights.gov.au, the recent National Community Attitudes to Violence Against Women Survey showed us that the main influence on people’s attitudes to violence against women was their narrow understanding of what violence against women looks like, as well as how supportive they are of gender equality. The more they subscribe to conservative stereotypes about men and women, the more likely they were to excuse, trivialise or justify violent behaviour.
The survey revealed some disturbing attitudes in our community, for example:
- 17% of Australians think that domestic violence is a private matter, to be handled in the home.
- More than 20% of Australians believe domestic violence can be excused if the attacker cannot control their anger or regrets it
- 16% of Australians believe women often say "no" when they mean "yes"
- 1 in 5 people believe if a woman is raped while drunk or drug-affected she is partly responsible
- This data reveals that we need to do much more to change attitudes and stamp out violence against women in our community.
Family Violence occurs in a cycle
Phase 1: Tension-building Phase
- Build Up: Tension between the people in the relationship starts to increase and verbal, emotional or financial abuse occurs.
- Stand-over: This phase can be very frightening for people experiencing abuse. They feel as though the situation will explode if they do anything wrong. The behaviour of the abuser intensifies and reaches a point where a release of tension is inevitable.
Phase 2: Explosion
Explosion is often referred to an aggressive outburst where one loses control. This is the stage of the cycle you may describe as 'having no control over being angry'. The fuse has been lit in a BUILD-UP and the “TNT goes off!”
EXPLOSION is the most dangerous of all of the stages. It is where rational control can be lost and negative emotionality has taken over. Direct acts of power, control and manipulation can be seen here. This then makes the explosion a choice to be violent or abusive.
The behaviours used in the Explosion stage can vary from extreme aggressive behaviours to very passive behaviours. It does not have to be a loud outburst of violence/abuse. Quite often this is where physical ABUSE is displayed and physical danger to others becomes a very serious safety concern. The current statistics associated with women being killed over a family dispute by a partner or former partner is alarming.
Phase 3: Remorse Stage
At this point, the perpetrator may start to feel ashamed and guilty. They may become withdrawn and try to justify their actions to themselves and others. For example, they may say: “You know it makes me angry when you say that.” In this stage, they may try to explain the violence by blaming other factors such as alcohol or stress at work.
Phase 4: Pursuit Stage:
During the pursuit phase, the perpetrator may promise to never be violent again. The perpetrator may be very attentive to the person experiencing violence, including buying gifts and helping around the house. The perpetrator becomes a good listener and acknowledges how frightening he was. For example, they may say: “You don’t deserve to be treated like that….”. In this stage most perpetrators may suggest the victim means the world to them and they will do anything to make it right, including seeking professional help. It could seem as though the perpetrator has come to his senses and is prepared to change. At this point, the person experiencing the violence can feel confused and hurt but also relieved that the violence is over and hopeful the perpetrator is genuinely wanting to change.
Phase 5: Honeymoon Stage
Both people in the relationship may be in denial about the severity of the abuse and violence. Intimacy can increase during this phase. Both people may feel happy and want the relationship to continue, so they may not acknowledge the possibility that the violence could happen again. Generally; in this stage victims are walking on egg shells worried not to talk about sensitive subjects like the violence etc or scared they may upset the perpetrator.
Over time, this phase passes, and the cycle continues. This cycle never stops; it may slow down but as time goes on it speeds up eventually destroying relationships and breeding resentment.
We end up teaching our children the cycle and they learn to develop their own cycle which they in turn end up taking into their own relationships.
- If we don’t break this cycle we breed resentment in our relationships
- If we ignore the cycle it will only speed up. It can speed up to the point where you skip pursuit and honeymoon. This is where you should be engaged with a professional counsellor or psychologist.
- If we leave the relationship and ignore the cycle it will only come back in the next relationship
Ultimately, using violence as a way of lashing out is not an excuse and cannot be blamed on stress, alcohol or money. It is a choice. It is never too late to make a change.
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