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Myths Related to Intimate Partner Violence

Media professionals can challenge common misconceptions about intimate partner violence by examining how they report domestic violence. Several myths are inadvertently perpetuated because beliefs about the underlying causes of the violence are misunderstood. A better understanding of the problem can help media professionals identify and accurately represent the intimidation, isolation, and coercion that survivors experience.

Fact: Intimate partner violence is prevalent in every community:

  • The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) recorded 106,979 acts of domestic violence in 2017 resulting in 64,781 arrests.[1] In the United States one in four women are victims of intimate partner violence.[2]
  • In 2017, there were 180 women, children, and men killed in domestic violence fatalities in Florida. Of the homicides committed in Florida during 2017, 17 percent were domestic violence related.[3]
  • Florida’s 42 certified domestic violence centers provided 682,311 nights of emergency shelter to 14,394 survivors of intimate partner violence and their children and received 84,394 hotline calls in the 2016-17 fiscal year.[4]
  • A woman is abused every 15 seconds and on average three women are killed daily by their past or present partners.[5]
  • Intimate partner violence does not discriminate. There is no typical profile of an abuser or a victim. It happens in all kinds of families and relationships. Persons of any class, culture, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, or age can be victims or perpetrators.

Tips for media professionals: Media professionals can present local, state, and national statistics on the prevalence and scope of intimate partner violence and reinforce that intimate partner violence occurs across all communities and affects all age groups. Repeated messaging helps change perceptions.

Fact: Intimate partner violence is a crime committed by one person against their intimate partner. The perpetrator is responsible for the violence. It does not passively occur between partners – it’s a choice made by the perpetrator of the violence. The perpetrator’s violence impacts the entire family, workplace safety, and the community at large.

  • The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services.[6]
  • Sixty-four percent (64%) of victims of intimate partner violence indicated that their ability to work was affected by the violence.[7]
  • Among key causes for their decline in productivity, survivors noted "distraction" (57%); "fear of discovery" (45%); "harassment by intimate partner at work (either by phone or in person)" (40%); “fear of intimate partner's unexpected visits" (34%); "inability to complete assignments on time" (24%); and "job loss" (21%).[8]
  • In 2015, domestic partners or relatives committed 43% of workplace homicides in which women were victims and 2% of workplace homicides in which men were victims.[9]

Tips for media professionals: Media professionals can provide statistics on the healthcare and economic impact of intimate partner violence to promote the need for a collective community response to end intimate partner violence for the benefit of all citizens.

Fact: Research indicates that more than 90 percent of "systematic, persistent, and injurious" violence is perpetrated by men.[10] The Department of Children and Families Domestic Violence Program (DVP) recognizes that there are male victims of intimate partner violence and that their experiences of violence should not be minimized. However, women are five times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner.

  • Seventy-two percent (72%) of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner and 94% of the victims of these murder-suicides are female.[11]
  • Ninety-five percent (95%) of perpetrators were male in the 200 Florida domestic violence-related fatalities reviewed by local fatality review teams from 2009-2014.[12]
  • In 2017 there were 106,979 acts of domestic violence reported to law enforcement in Florida.[13] However, only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalking incidences perpetuated against females by their intimate partners are reported to law enforcement.[14]

Tips for media professionals: DVP is available to assist media professionals with information on the underlying dynamics of intimate partner violence and the strategies perpetrators use to keep victims under their control.  Contact us  here.

Fact: There are a number of reasons why survivors may stay in a relationship where violence is occurring. When evaluating the violence, a better question to ask is, “Why does the abuser choose to abuse?”

Survivors’ choices are unique and personal:

  • The abuser may have isolated the survivor from friends, family, or other support systems and withheld economic resources from the survivor, diminishing her options.
  • Many survivors stay in violent relationships because of fear. The greatest risk for a survivor is when she leaves or attempts to leave the relationship. She is at a 75 percent greater chance of being killed after leaving.[15] She may also be afraid that the abuser will take and/or harm her children if she attempts to leave.
  • A survivor may only leave when she believes the circumstances are safe to do so or because she believes she will be killed if she stays. On average, three women die at the hands of a current or former intimate partner every day.[16]

Tips for media professionals: Media professionals can examine the challenges survivors face when attempting to leave and describe the barriers to safety they may encounter. Identifying power and control tactics used by batterers and observing the systemic responses for holding them accountable provides contextual understanding of survivors’ experiences. Focusing on the batterer’s use of violence to maintain control illustrates the complexities of survivors’ experiences, instead of placing responsibility on the survivor for staying. Questions to consider include:

  • Were there any prior calls to law enforcement? What were the outcomes?
  • Did the perpetrator use tactics of economic abuse to keep the survivor economically dependent?
  • Did the survivor feel she would be believed if she disclosed the abuse in an attempt to stay safe and hold the abuser responsible?
  • What measures were in place to hold the perpetrator accountable?
  • What support systems were accessible to the survivor?
  • Did the survivor express fear that the perpetrator would harm her and/or her children if she left?
  • Did the perpetrator threaten suicide?
  • Was the survivor isolated from spending time with friends and family or prohibited from activities due to the perpetrator’s extreme jealousy?
  • Did the perpetrator express possessiveness and/or stalking behaviors, such as repeated unwanted text messaging or the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring to track her whereabouts?

These questions demonstrate an existing pattern of violence, which helps raise awareness of the warning signs among the general public and helps prevent future cases of abuse and intimate partner violence related crimes/deaths. For example, a news report including information about the perpetrator’s prior use of violence, threats, stalking, and violations of court orders, shows your audience the warning signs leading up to the case being reported. 

Fact: According to David Garvin, Chairperson of the Batterer Intervention Services Coalition of Michigan (BISC-MI), “battering is a purposeful, instrumental and strategic behavior designed to bring about a result.”[17] Intimate partner violence is a deliberate act perpetrators use to intimidate and coerce their current or former partners.

  • A batterer often directs his anger only at his partner and does not “lose his temper” in front of colleagues or with friends. Batterers often do not commit violence against anyone but their partner. Culturally, we often support this notion when we maintain the idea that the violence is a result of an anger issue, such as a “crime of passion” or “temporary insanity” instead of seeing violence as a strategy chosen by the perpetrator to control their partner.
  • Batterers are strategic in their displays of anger and affection to get what they want at the expense of their partner.
  • Batterers use sadness, grief, or other emotions to achieve, maintain, or regain control.
  • Batterers use the excuse of an “anger problem” to avoid taking responsibility for their choice to use violence toward their partner. They are in control of their temper and do not need help with anger management.

Tips for media professionals: The image batterers present of themselves to friends, relatives, or community members is often radically different from the tactics of coercive control to which they subject their victim.

  • Batterers use coercive control tactics in private settings so the violence is not witnessed by friends or family members.
  • A batterer may start name-calling and/or falsely accuse the survivor of behaving inappropriately once they leave a private gathering without showing any of these controlling behaviors to the others present.
  • Batterers may politely cooperate with law enforcement, giving no indication of the threats they may have made to the survivor while the officers were on their way to the scene.
  • Batterers often appear calm and in control, while survivors’ reactions may seem detached or overly emotional due to the trauma they have experienced. Reactions to trauma such as emotional numbing may be interpreted as the survivor “lying” about what happened or minimizing the impact of the trauma. [18]
  • Batterers manipulate survivors, friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers into believing that the reactions of the survivor are actually the cause of his violence and that her behavior is the problem.
  • The batterer may threaten that he will have the survivor’s children removed or convince others that she is “crazy.” First responders, friends, and family members may misinterpret the survivor’s response as erratic and support the claims made by the batterer.

Media professionals should be aware that interviews describing batterers as “nice,” “charming,” or “a good father” without any mention of statistics/expert data that perpetrators often hide this behavior from others contributes to the idea that the incident is out of character or an isolated incident, instead of the batterer’s choice to use violence.

Fact: Intimate partner violence is never the fault of the survivor. The batterer made a choice to act in a certain way and is, therefore, responsible. Blame is a way to manipulate the survivor and other people into believing that the violent behavior was provoked, instead of seeing the perpetrators attempts to maintain control in the relationship.

Tips for media professionals: Safety and confidentiality issues should be considered before interviewing a survivor.

  • Media professionals can suggest that a survivor contact a certified domestic violence center to talk with an advocate about any concerns they may have, especially if they are considering making their information more public through a media source.
  • When interviewing the survivor be sure to include the perpetrator’s actions that led to this case in the first place. Not doing so, implies the survivor is at fault or law enforcement/community partners not helping are the cause of the problem. For example, a story about roadblocks to a victim’s recovery should include the originating violence:  “A year after this woman’s husband set her on fire, she is struggling with the health insurance company to pay the hospital bills…”  
  • Media professionals should carefully consider whether to use a source’s statements that blame the survivor for causing the violence. If you elect to use, consider asking follow up questions that provide balance to the narrative. If a source makes a statement such as “we told her to leave before it got worse”, a reporter could ask what barriers she faced in leaving the relationship or what systems were in place to hold the perpetrator accountable for prior abuse.
  • Reporting should frame the violence around the perpetrator’s behavior and describe the violence committed by the perpetrator, rather than stating the survivor was abused.

For example:

Use: “Robert Anderson, Jr. stabbed Mary Smith 32 times after their break up.”

Instead of: “Mary Smith was stabbed 32 times after she broke up with her high school sweetheart.”

Researchers have found that shifting the focus from a victim of a crime onto the perpetrator reduces victim-blaming.  Using batterer-focused language rather survivor-focused language may help reduce the perception that the survivor is responsible for the abuse.

  • “She was afraid of her partner after he threatened her” is focused on the survivor instead of the perpetrator. Alternatively, an example of perpetrator focused language is, “He threatened the survivor, and she was afraid of him.”
  •  “She was beaten by her partner” does not imply accountability as does the statement “He beat his partner.” The latter statement indicates that the abuse was a person’s actions. The violence did not happen by chance.

Fact: Intimate partner violence is not limited to physical abuse and also includes verbal, emotional, financial, and psychological abuse. Physical acts of violence are often preceded by other forms of abuse. Abusers gain power in the relationship by manipulating their partners. Signs of manipulation early in the relationship may include irrational jealousy and controlling behaviors that are disguised as loving concern for the survivor’s wellbeing. Batterers often isolate the survivor by deciding with whom their partner interacts and how often.

Abusers may exhibit subtle warning signs of abusive behavior such as:

  • Becoming possessive early in the relationship
  • Isolating the survivor
  • Abusing pets
  • Controlling finances
  • Undermining the survivor’s relationship with her children
  • Blaming others for problems or feelings and keeping the survivor from participating in leisure activities or spending time with family or friends

Tips for media professionals: Abusers can be charming and show no sign of violent behavior outside of the home, leading to the public perception that the batterer is a caring and devoted partner. Most people do not want to believe that their family member, friend, or colleague is capable of such violence. Describing the warning signs for abuse can educate survivors, friends, family members, and the community on indications that the partner is abusive. Media professionals can investigate information that demonstrates existing patterns of intimidation, threats, and coercive control, and avoid describing intimate partner violence as isolated acts. There often have been many warning signs indicative of an escalating pattern of violence.

Fact: There are 15.5 million children in the United States living in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year, and seven million children live in families in which severe partner violence occurred.[19] Although the batterer may not abuse the children, there is a direct impact on children’s wellbeing when their mother is being abused. Perpetrators of intimate partner violence create safety and risk concerns for children by their choice to use violence or by using the children as a means of controlling their partner.[20]

  • The effects on children exposed to intimate partner violence can vary and include short and long term effects. Many studies have documented the association of other adverse childhood experiences, such as exposure to substance abuse, mental illness, incarcerated family members, and other forms of abuse or neglect, with a child’s exposure to intimate partner violence. [21]
  • Thirty-one percent (31%) of children who witnessed intimate partner violence reported being physically abused themselves. Of those children who did not witness intimate partner violence, only 4.8 percent reported physical abuse.[22]
  • Separation is often the most lethal time for a non-offending parent and her children.[23] It may be protective for a non-offending parent to stay in the relationship so that she can mitigate the dangerous threat to herself and her children.[24]

Survivors use a variety of protective strategies, for themselves and their children. These strategies include, but are not limited to: maintaining supportive relationships with their children, friends, and community; parenting effectively; providing for the physical needs of the children; safety planning with children; and maintaining employment. Survivors use both informal safety strategies (e.g., taking children for overnight visits with family/friends when the batterer is most threatening) and formal strategies (e.g., going to a certified domestic violence center, obtaining an Injunction for Protection, or calling the police) in response to the risks to the children.[25]

Tips for media professionals: Media professionals should refrain from blaming a non-offending parent who still may be living in the home with the abusive parent as “failing to protect” their child(ren) from the violence. Whenever possible, media professionals can identify the non-offending parent’s protective capacities by pointing out the methods by which she kept her children safe, such as supplying her children with an emergency cell phone and teaching them how to dial 911.  Children are harmed psychologically by the violence to which they were exposed, even if they do not directly witness an act of violence. Statements such as "the children were unharmed” can be qualified as “the children were not physically harmed.” [26]

Quote from a family friend of an intimate partner violence homicide victim:

"He committed a crime in front of her children, and something needs to be done about it," a family friend said. "It tears me up because it is something they will carry for the rest of their lives.” [27]

[1]  The term domestic violence is used when reporting law enforcement data because FDLE statistics are inclusive of intimate partner violence and other types of intrafamilial violence that meet the Florida statutory definition of domestic violence.

[5] Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991). .

[6] Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control, Atlanta Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control, Atlanta, GA.

[7] Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, 2005.

[8] Ibid.

[10] Kimmel, Michael S. "'Gender Symmetry' in Domestic Violence: A Substantive and Methodological Research Review," Violence Against Women 8(11) November 2002: 1332–1363

[11] Use of force” refers to physically, verbally and emotionally detrimental behaviors used by one intimate partner toward another to gain short-term control over an abusive situation. Violence Policy Center. (2012). American Roulette: Murder-Suicide in the United States. Retrieved fromwww.vpc.org/studies/amroul2012.pdf

[13] Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 2017 Annual Uniform Crime Report at http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/FSAC/UCR/2017/CIFAnnual17.aspx

[14] National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, “Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey,” (2000)

[15] United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Crime Victimization Survey, 1995.

[16] U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Homicide Trends in the U.S. from 1976-2005. U.S. Department of Justice (2008).

[17] Garvin, D. Conceptual Clarity. Paradigm (Spring 2006). 4-5.

[18]White-Domain, R. “You Can’t Believe a Word She Says! Credibility Issues for Survivors of Violence With Mental Health and Substance Abuse Histories”. Presentation for Battered Women’s Justice Project Bridging Differences: Advocating for Survivors from Underserved Communities Conference, November 2017.

[19] McDonald, Renee, Ernest N. Jouriles, Suhasini Ramisetty-Mikler, et al. 2006. Estimating the Number of American Children Living in Partner- Violent Families. Journal of Family Psychology 20(1): 137-142.

[21] Futures Without Violence. The Facts on Children’s Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence.

[22] Hamby, S, Finkelhor, D., Turner, H., & Ormrod, R. (2010). The overlap of witnessing partner violence with child maltreatment and other victimizations in a nationally representative survey of youth. Child Abuse and Neglect 34, 734-741.

[25] Assessing the Impact of Domestic Violence on Child’s Safety, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (2007).

[26]Jane Doe Inc. The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. Media Guide: Reporting on Domestic Violence Related Homicides.