Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Confronting the Myths of Domestic Violence

(by guest blogger Colleen Armstrong, Renewal House Advocate)

Since joining the Renewal House staff a year ago, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to have many wonderful conversations with many different individuals about domestic violence. Over and over again, I have heard the same questions asked and have heard the same myths about domestic violence perpetuated. Prior to working at Renewal House, I also believed many of these myths to be true. Now, I am keenly aware of how often I hear these myths repeated, not just from people in the community but also in the news and in pop culture.

I recall a conversation I had with my neighbor. He was fascinated by my job and wanted to know if there was anyway he could do to be helpful. He was grateful that there was a place where abused individuals could go. Then he asked me if we only helped the women that deserved it, not the women who “provoked” the abuse. I asked him what he meant by this. He described the archetype of the “good victim”: middle class, English speaking, documented, educated. And he was right in some respects -- domestic violence happens to middle class, English speaking, documented, educated women and men. Of course, it also happens to undocumented, non-native-English-speaking, working class men and women. Any individual can find themselves battered, and it is never the fault of the victim. No one deserves to be abused.

Domestic violence victims, however, frequently hear comments from their abusers such as, “I did it for your own good.” Outsiders will tell them, “you must have really made him mad.” These statements can confuse a victim and lead him/her to take responsibility for the violence and blame themselves. But no one can be responsible for another person’s deliberate choices and actions. Regardless of the circumstances, domestic violence is not the victim’s fault.

I often hear the residents of Renewal House take responsibility for the abuse and blame themselves for staying in the relationship when they knew it was unhealthy. I remind them that it is never their fault. But when the encouragement and affirmation they receive from Renewal House staff is countered by condemnation from their communities, victims continue to blame themselves. I am encouraged when I hear others stand up for victims, reminding the blamers that the abuse is never the victim’s fault. I believe that standing up for victims by confronting those who would blame them is an important part of ending domestic violence. I encourage you take a stand when you hear someone ask a victim what they did to cause this situation.

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