Myths and Facts About Sexual and Domestic Violence

Understanding the Facts

Misinformation about sexual and domestic violence and its causes creates barriers to appropriately addressing the issue. It is important to know the facts and to speak up when you hear misinformation in your community.

Perpetrators often perpetuate misinformation about sexual and domestic violence to avoid accountability.

The following information addresses some of the most common myths about sexual and domestic violence.

Sexual Assault

The myths about sexual violence are a pervasive part of our society. Beliefs in these myths impact people’s understanding of sexual violence, how it works, and who the victims and perpetrators are. Myths focus blame for the assault on the victim and keep our society from sharing the burden. Some think that it is easier to believe the myths than to change society in ways that prevent sexual violence.

Social beliefs in these myths often keep victims silent, keep communities from identifying offenders, and create barriers to effective prevention. Understanding myths and facts can help us become more informed about the reality of sexual violence in our communities. Here are some examples of the most commonly believed myths:

Myths About Domestic Violence

Myth: Men and women are victims of domestic violence at approximately the same rate.

FACT: Women experience more intimate partner violence than do men: In 2008, the rate of intimate partner victimizations for females was 4.3 victimizations per 1,000 females age 12 or older. The equivalent rate of intimate partner violence against males was 0.8 victimizations per 1,000 males age 12 or older. Catalano, Smith, Snyder, & Rand (2009). Bureau of Justice Statistics Selected Findings: Female Victims of Domestic Violence. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, NCJ 228356.

  • Females were murdered by intimate partners at twice the rate of males. In 2007, the rate of intimate partner homicide for females was 1.07 per 100,000 female residents compared to 0.47 per 100,000 male residents. Id.
  • Violence against women is primarily intimate partner violence: 64 percent of the women who reported being raped, physically assaulted, or stalked since age 18 were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, boyfriend, or date. In comparison, 16.2 percent of the men who reported being raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 were victimized by such a perpetrator. National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1998). Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey.
  • While some people may believe that there is a higher reported incidence of women experiencing violence by their male partners due to men underreporting when they are victims, the reality is the opposite. In 2008, 72 percent of the intimate partner violence against males and 49 percent of the intimate partner violence against females was reported to police. Catalano, Smith, Snyder, & Rand (2009). Bureau of Justice Statistics Selected Findings: Female Victims of Domestic Violence. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, NCJ 228356.
  • An estimated 40 percent of female homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner in 1993; the percentage increased to 45 percent in 2007. An estimated six percent of male homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner in 1993; this figure was five percent in 2007. Id.

Myth: Sexual and domestic violence occurs only in poor, undereducated, or dysfunctional families and communities.

FACT: Sexual and domestic violence crosses all age, ethnic, socioeconomic, religious, and educational boundaries.

  • Sexual and domestic violence may impact victims within a certain age group, ethnic or cultural background, socioeconomic class, religious affiliation or educational background because of the additional barriers experienced by these victims when attempting to access services. However, this does not mean that men from these groups are more violent, or that women in these groups are more likely to be victims.
  • For example, immigrant women may face unique difficulties because of lack of appropriate interpreters within agencies, severe economic barriers, and cultural isolation. These barriers may make it difficult for an immigrant victim to reach out for help.
  • Culture is, at times, mistakenly used by service providers working within the sexual domestic violence field as a way to explain behaviors that may be different from their own. Warrier, S. (2006). Culture Handbook.
  • Using age, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic status, religion, or educational background as a justification for domestic or sexual violence generalizes information and creates stereotypes that are not only misleading, but detrimental to victims and their children and the quality of safety services they receive.

Myth: Children who are abused or who have witnessed abuse in their homes often become batterers or victims as adults.

FACT: Research indicates that experiencing or witnessing domestic violence as a child does not automatically lead to being involved in intimate partner violence as an adult. Many people have grown up in homes where domestic violence was occurring; however, not all of those children become adults who use violence. While experiencing domestic violence can be a risk factor, many factors also contribute to children's resiliencies and their ability to grow up to become productive, safe adults.

Myth: Domestic violence is caused by substance abuse.

FACT: Studies show that while factors such as substance abuse can increase the severity of the abuse and violence, it does not cause the violence.

  • Substance abuse can be a co-occurring issue with domestic violence. The batterer may use alcohol as an excuse for his behavior and the violence. For example, the batterer may claim he was violent because he was drunk. This may also lead the victim to believe that the batterer is abusive because of alcohol or drugs.

Myth: Batterers are abusive because they cannot control themselves or because they have anger management problems.

Myth (cont.): Batterers suffer from low self-esteem. They abuse and put down their partner to make themselves feel better.

FACT: Domestic violence is about dominance and control. Most batterers do not have anger management problems. For example, they do not beat up their boss or co-workers when they are upset. Most batterers do, however, have beliefs consistent with entitlement.

  • Anger management class is not an appropriate intervention for batterers.

Myths About Sexual Assault

Myth: Most sexual assaults occur between strangers.

FACT: While stranger assaults do happen, it is far more likely that an assailant is not a stranger to the victim.

Myth: A person cannot be sexually assaulted by his or her partner or spouse.

FACT: Sexual assault is a crime regardless of the relationship between the victim and offender. In Kansas, as in most other states, a prior consensual sexual relationship does not preclude a partner or spouse from committing or being charged with sexual assault. However, in Kansas, prior to 1983 a husband could rape his wife. Victims of intimate partner assault are less likely to report the assault for fear that they will not be believed or because of their emotional investment in the relationship.

Myth: Some people ask to be sexually assaulted by their behavior or the way they dress.

FACT: One of the most prevalent and powerful myths asks us to find the cause of the assault was the victim's behavior or choices. Sexual assault is always the responsibility of the perpetrator and never the responsibility of the victim. While some behaviors may put us at some risk, they are only risky when offenders take advantage of someone’s vulnerability.

Myth: People who are drunk or high have no one to blame but themselves when they are sexually assaulted.

FACT: Alcohol and other drugs are often a part of sexual assaults. In some cases, victims voluntarily use alcohol or drugs, are encouraged to use alcohol or drugs, or unbeknownst to them, given alcohol or drugs. Whether a victim is voluntarily or involuntarily intoxicated, perpetrators will take advantage of this vulnerability to commit sexual assault. In some instances, a victim's intoxication can render her/him legally unable to give consent to sexual behavior.

Myth: Victims often falsely report sexual assault.

FACT: The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that 2-5% of all sexual assault reports are false. This is the same rate of false reporting for all other major crimes. Those rare instances of false reporting usually are connected with someone who is dealing with mental illness - not a vengeful "victim" intentionally trying to entrap another.

Myth: Most sexual assault is spontaneous and happens when perpetrators can't control themselves.

FACT: Sexual assault is less about the sexual contact and more about overpowering, intimidating, humiliating, dominating, and or controlling another. Most sexual assaults involve some planning by the offender. It is important to remember that sexual arousal is not the motivating factor for sexual assault and humans are able to interrupt sexual arousal.

Myth: Only young attractive women and girls are sexually assaulted.

FACT: This myth is another misconception that sexual gratification is the motivation for sexual assault. Victims can be women and girls; men and boys, but also infants and elderly women, or men. It is important to remember that anyone can be a victim of sexual assault; anyone can be an assailant.

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