Domestic Abuse Myths | Mama Bird Doula

I wrote this series for DomesticAbuse Awareness Month.

Myth #1

Surely a man couldn't be abusive to his partner when she's pregnant? That's the mother of his child!

Truth:


Sadly studies have shown that domestic abuse increases during pregnancy. Abusive men are much more likely to cause an accidental pregnancy in order to incapacitate a woman and "seal the deal" on the relationship if he fears she may leave him.


When a woman is pregnant she will naturally want to lean on her partner for emotional and physical support, as well as financial, and this need can be exploited by men. They will use her vulnerability, exhaustion and inability to leave to up the ante and perpetrate further abuse.


With things like midwife and hospital appointments and excited relatives an abusive man may feel he has "lost control" of his partner and may step up the abuse in other ways. I know of one man who made his partner secretly record her safeguarding interview with her midwife on her phone!


Some women may fear that people will say "why would you have a baby with him if he is abusive?" and "but you seem so happy and excited for the baby on Facebook!" which may make her worry she won't be believed.


She may not even realise what's going on.


It is much harder to leave an abusive situation while pregnant but there is support available.

Myth #2: Once you leave, you're free forever. Just do it!


Truth:


Oh if only it was that simple. Did you know that women are most likely to be killed when they end the relationship, and these risks remain higher for that first year following the breakup?


If you have children with your abuser there is no escaping, not really.


For some women the thought of handing their children over to the unknown is worse than just staying and managing the abuse to protect the children as best she can.


Women are experts on their abusers. They know what to say and how to stay safe. The women I have spoken to can even predict their abuser's next move and sense his presence before they see him, their survival instincts have become so fine tuned.


Then if you do manage to leave, there is the aftermath of PTSD, where you can be triggered by the smallest of things, like your child hiding and jumping out at you. Or a smell, or a facial expression, and your heart is pounding and you're zoning out. If you have to interact with your abuser then you will undoubtedly be stuck in some kind of abuse cycle still, albeit in separate residences.


I knew one woman who got to her own house in a safe location finally and couldn't lock the back door one night as it was stiff and she was so frightened she sat there crying and shaking for an hour.


Leaving is not the end - it's the beginning of a scary, long and difficult road to reestaablishing your whole sense of self and navigating your life when in fact you have lost some element of control by no longer being able to "manage" your abuser as best you can.

Myth #3: Abusers look and act a certain way


Truth:


A man who perpetrates domestic abuse is not always the stereotypical big bloke with a shaved head wearing a vest, drinking beer, and shouting at his wife.


There are many different kinds of abuser, and some are very good at hiding who they really are.


Abusers - particularly narcissistic abusers - crave attention and may be drawn to professions that give them a lot of fame and glory, or heavily invest in "altruistic" activities such as charity, social justice or religious work.


They may have a large group of friends who look up to and admire them, giving them credibility (these are also known as flying monkeys). This is all so they can maintain a good image and get access to vulnerable people. Some abusers use social media to portray a strong positive image, and embroil their victim in a web of deceit.


Acquaintances and friends may express disbelief that the man they know could do something like that.

This is what makes it so hard for victims to come forward, if the person is well-respected and liked, and known for doing good deeds, who would believe them?


It has been described a bit like Jekyll and Hyde, public persona and private persona, and is a form of gaslighting designed to confuse and disorientate the victim and doubt their experience.

Myth #4: If they aren't violent, it's not abusive


Truth:


In 2017 the law finally recognised "coercive and controlling behaviour" as a form of domestic abuse.


Domestic abuse is a repeated pattern of belittling and degrading the victim, sometimes culminating in physical violence, oftentimes not.


Abusers can be very clever at knowing their victim's limits and seeing how far they can push the boundary. They enjoy grinding their victim down and eroding their boundaries over time.


Women I have spoken to have said the psychological damage from the emotional abuse has endured long-term far more than any physical violence they may have suffered.


An abuser may break things in front of you to show you how angry they are, they may use their physical size to dominate the space around you, they may make hurtful and degrading comments about you, they may impose limits and curfews on you. All they care about is control. You get to a place where it is just easier to do everything "their way" rather than face the fallout.


I knew one woman whose abuser was obsessed with a certain colour, and would berate her if she chose any other colour for the house, so she followed orders to avoid fallout.


I knew another woman whose abuser shaved a swastika into her head under the pretext of giving her an undercut, and threatened to blackmail her with it.


I knew another woman who wasn't allowed to put anything for the children in the living room and would face anger and sulking if she did.


And sadly another woman whose partner called her boring in bed and would refuse to be affectionate so she would "let" him do things she didn't want to do.


If you speak to any woman who has been abused they can come up with hundreds of examples like this, of how their abuser humiliated and controlled them


Just because somebody doesn't hit you, doesn't make it not abusive.


It is always about power and control.

 

Myth #5: Why did she not leave him the first time he was abusive?


Truth:


Nobody is abusive 100% of the time and all abusers go through a phase of wooing their victim and disarming them.


When you first get involved with an abusive man they tend to love bomb you. That includes monopolising your time, showering you with love and attention - narcissistic abusers in particular are predatory and will "mirror" your qualities and personality back to you to convince you they are your soul mate.


Almost every single woman I have spoken to has admitted that at first they were not even attracted to their abuser.


This love bombing of time and attention and physical affection produces the same chemicals in the brain as an addiction to hard drugs. You become dependent on the "high" that only your abuser can give you. They rush the relationship so you move in together quickly, get married or have a baby.


And the abuse starts small.


You'll be driving somewhere and they'll make a hurtful comment. You're so confused but you figure they didn't mean it, it was so out of character.


They start to mock you for your little habits. So you change them to avoid the mocking.


They start to slowly withdraw affection. So you work harder and harder to try and recapture that loving feeling.


You are being conditioned.


I knew of one woman whose abuser would deliberately create crises and drama so that he could "save" her from them. That relief and instant dopamine hit kept her bonded to him and craving that safe feeling she felt with him, even though he was the real threat.

And before you know it you are under their complete control.


There is rarely a definitive "first time".

Myth #6: Just because he is abusive to his partner, it doesn't mean he can't be a good dad.


Truth:


Any man who exposes his child to him perpetrating domestic abuse is unsafe and a risk. The psychological and emotional damage to that child is devastating.


Any man who abuses the mother of his child does not have that child's best interests at heart and is not a good father. This is the opinion of Lundy Bancroft, an expert in abusive men.


Any man who abuses somebody he considers "inferior" to him or weaker than him is a threat to a child.


Men are much more likely to commit revenge murders, whereby to punish the woman for leaving him he will kill the children.


Abusers love to control and dominate others, ask yourself, why is a child exempt when a woman is not?


A child is a captive audience for the abuser and is at the greatest risk of all. My heart breaks for all the children sent as test subjects into the hands of an abuser after a breakup.

Myth #7: Why does she pick men like that, she must have really low self-esteem!


Truth:


Nobody goes into a relationship seeking abuse.


Often it's the other way around - they feel sympathy for their abuser for the "hard life" that he has had!

For many abusers - particularly narcissistic abusers - their target is their "trophy" and has something that the abuser wants or needs.


This could be good looks, money, social standing, reputation.


Imagine the thrill for an abusive man of targeting a strong, independent and happy woman and turning her into a ghost of herself, trained to respond to his every whim?


The survivors I have met are all like precious jewels and I have no doubt their abusers targeted them for their kindness, beauty, humour, warmth and generosity.


She didn't choose him, she was targeted so he could keep all those qualities for himself.


And he hated that, and punished her for them.

Myth #8: We need hard evidence before we decide a man is abusive.


Truth:


The definition of "domestic abuse" is that it occurs within the home, where nobody else can see.


It is under-reported and difficult to prove. You can be found not guilty in criminal court and guilty in family court as there is different criteria to meet.


Once you go to family court with your abuser, you are no longer allowed to discuss the evidence and the case. Family court hearings are secret.


The survivor is essentially given an order of silence and is not allowed to discuss the proceedings.


So those who want evidence will likely never have it and must watch the abusive person move onto the next victim and see the devastating story play out again and again, with even more extreme consequences for that woman.


This is how the cycle continues.


False allegations are rare.


Believe women.

 

Myth #9: She doesn't act like a victim.


Truth:


Survivors of abuse are human.


How they live with their trauma is as varied as their individual personalities, coping mechanisms and situation.


There seems to be a myth that survivors must be shy, scared and meek. Those who do not conform to this stereotype are less likely to be believed, studies have shown. And yet those same people are supposed to be brave and calm in court.

We are set up to fail.


The myth of the "perfect victim" is so damaging to survivors and it is a preconception that exists in all kinds of services.


I cried with fury watching Brett Kavanaugh be sworn in on the TV, in a crowded chip shop, with my children.


Survivors can be angry. Really angry.


Survivors can be bold.


Survivors can laugh at their abusers.


Survivors can have a happy life.


Survivors can fight for, and desperately want, justice.


There is no one kind of survivor.


Believe women.

Myth #10: Survivors should facilitate their exes seeing the children or they are just as bad.


Truth:


Survivors may be so terrified of their abusers just being in their presence would be too much of an ask.


I spoke to one woman whose social worker had told her that if she let her ex see their child they would consider her an unfit mother as she was showing she was making poor decisions for the child. This woman was even advised by a police officer to do whatever social services told her.


I have seen many women who gave into their abuser's demands to see the children even though it felt wrong, and by the time it inevitably got to court they were ripped apart, called inconsistent or a liar, as why would they send the children into the hands of such a terrible person? Are they unfit? Why were they happy to be in his presence to supervise contact if they were afraid?


These women thought they were doing the right thing.


If a survivor perceives her child to be at any risk, she has every right not to expose them to abuse.


Sadly you will hear different things from different agencies through all stages of the process it is ALWAYS the woman who gets the blame for whichever approach she takes regarding child contact. Whether permitting or withholding.


The wider world will blame her too. Survivors may not be able to, or want to, tell their story.


One of the hardest things in the world is to be a survivor and a mother.


Recovering from trauma and perpetually blamed.


Women are experts in their experience and can make their own risk assessment.

Myth #11: There are two sides to every story.


Truth:


With domestic abuse and sexual violence there is a 2% rate of false accusations, just as any other crime.


98% of accused men are guilty.

Even if they never go to trial. Even if court lets them walk away.


So when you hear an allegation about a friend or somebody you know, you can be almost certain that the survivor is telling the truth.


The stories I have heard from women about their abusive partners couldn't be made up. Their trauma is real.


Believe women.


No matter your personal experience with the abuser.


No matter what you've seen on social media.


Believe her.

Myth #12: If he was really abusive, she would have reported it to the police and he would be locked up


Truth:

It is rare for abusers to be held accountable through the courts.


Sadly, when you leave an abuser your first instinct is not to contact the police, it is to make your immediate environment as safe as possible. It can be a confusing time. Sometimes a woman may be so in denial she may not realise she has been abused, just that she needs to be safe.


Trauma can cause repressed memories and I have spoken to survivors who are still remembering things years later about their relationships.


This is particularly the case for those who have fallen prey to a narcissistic abuser - the different layers of deceit have produced an alternative reality where that woman has been living, not unlike being in a cult. The shock of that is indescribable.


It is hard to prove domestic abuse even if you do report. The Crown Prosecution Service will often drop a case if they cannot be certain of a conviction.


One woman was told by the police that if she felt at all unsure about attending court, they would not recommend even taking a statement from her about her sexual assault.


The most frightening thing about domestic abuse is how most perpetrators are free to walk among us with no repercussions, just move onto the next victim.


If you are at all suspicious about a new man in your life, you can use the police service Clare's Law to find out if he has any previous reports of domestic abuse or harassment perpetrated towards a partner or ex-partner.

Myth #13: She is making it up because she wants to be a single parent


Truth:


The survivors I have spoken to are devastated about what has happened to their family.


Every single one of them I would class as a romantic - somebody who believed that their love could fix somebody else, could heal them and make their life better.


Perfect targets for abusers.


In case you wondered, they happen to be fabulous mothers as well.


In our conversations they express one of their deepest wishes for their children is for them to have a healthy, safe father to make happy memories with. It is the thing they cannot give them.


They rehearse difficult conversations in their head about how they are going to explain one day. They miss out on friends' birthdays and fun trips because of no childcare. Many of them are running their own businesses and would give almost anything for a co-parent they could trust to pick up some of the slack.

They care for their children through illness alone, they celebrate birthdays and holidays alone, they sit in the evening alone.


They want somebody to share those special firsts with, to turn to and express shared love for their child.


They wouldn't have chosen this if it wasn't the safest way. The last resort.


I am in awe of all of them.

Myth #14: He was a great guy until he just snapped.


Truth:


Abusive men do not just snap. This is a narrative we often see in the newspaper and it is grossly unjust. "If only she hadn't left him, if only she hadn't cheated, if only she hadn't taken the children"


She is not responsible for his abusiveness.


A domestic abuse murder is the culmination of years of perfect control over the victim. The murder occurs because the abuser feels his partner is escaping him.


Survivors of abuse will tell you how their perpetrator would change in front of law enforcement, cry, be remorseful. Psychopaths in particular love to deceive others and do their pity routine.


Abusers are often very in control of their actions and emotions, that is how they keep their victim in check.


He wasn't a great guy until he snapped. It was the final step in the domestic abuse pattern.

 

 

Myth #15: She should just get over it, why can't she move on?


Truth:


One of the devastating impacts of abuse is post-traumatic stress disorder. It is very difficult for friends and family of the survivor to understand how much their loved one has changed.


Those with this condition may have nightmares, flashbacks, triggers, obsessive thoughts, an exaggerated startle response and dissociation.


Added to that - her time with her abuser was a cycle, so that her brain not only associated him with pain but with the relief of that pain. We call it trauma bonding, like Stockholm syndrome. So part of her may still "love" him, or feel a strong pull that she can't explain.


There may be ongoing involvement which means she is still living in an abusive cycle, even while in relative safety.


If you know a survivor - don't rush them. One of the things they may feel drawn to do it regain control over their own lives, which can mean many different things for different people. It's okay not to be "over" it, especially when their body still feels in danger.


The most hurtful thing you can do is to minimise their pain.

Let them know that you are there for them, and you believe them.

Myth #16: He had a really hard childhood/hard life, he can't help it


Truth:


Everybody has a choice to be abusive.


There are many people who have had horrendous childhoods and life experiences and have turned out kind and compassionate.


The abuser sees the effects of his actions, but unless he is directly affected, he does not care.


There is a great quote: "Women are not rehabilitation centres for damaged men." Which I completely agree with.


It is not your job to fix him. It is your job to keep yourself and your children safe, even if that means being as far from your abuser as possible.


He can help it. He chooses to control and abuse.

Myth #17: If I were her, I would leave.


Truth:


You don't know that.


We have already discussed trauma bonding in this series and how women can feel literally addicted to their abuser.


We have talked about how insidious abuse is and how it gradually creeps into the relationship and distorts the woman's reality.


What about if the perpetrator is threatening suicide if she leaves?


What if leaving involves splitting children up?


What if she has no money, no transport, nowhere to go? Her abuser may have isolated her and whittled away her self-esteem so she feels she can't leave.


What if she feels safer right now just managing the abuse than trying to leave? We discussed before women are more likely to be killed after leaving.


You have no idea what her situation is and what you would do. A woman will try and leave an abusive relationship an average of seven times before succeeding.

Tell her you believe her and you will support her when she is ready. It is imperative then for her to go as low contact as possible in order to detox from the abuse cycle and not get sucked back in.

Myth #18: Why doesn't she hate him?


Truth:


We have talked about love bombing and how nobody is abusive all the time - for a start it would be exhausting. And counter-productive, as then the survivor would have less reason to stay.


Deciding to leave an abusive relationship is choosing to love yourself and your children more than your abuser. It is a brave and strong thing to do.


As with all relationships, there are good times. And in fact the good times can be very good, to keep the survivor craving that loving feeling.


You can love somebody and accept that they are incapable of change and dangerous.

Survivors are often targeted for their loving, giving and empathetic natures. However they feel about their perpetrator is okay, and valid.

Myth #19: He seems so happy with his new girlfriend, his ex must really be crazy!


Truth: Social media often displays the love bombing/grooming phase of the new victim for everybody to see.


Declarations of love, romantic getaways, you name it.


Survivors who haven't acknowledged the truth may wonder what is wrong with them, and why their perpetrator chose to abuse them and not the new woman. Onlookers may be fooled by the display that is put on for their benefit.


Anecdotally, with each new victim the perpetrator simultaneously becomes more abusive and more sneaky about concealing the abuse. He has not learned to stop abusing but he has learned where he went wrong in pushing his previous victim too far so she left.


Seasoned survivors I have spoken to are worried to death about their abuser's new partner but they often keep quiet, as speaking up will only back the story up of them being "crazy". Abusers don't change. They just get more clever.

The new woman will be the crazy ex one day too.


Remember you can use Clare's Law to check if a man in your life has a history of abuse or harassment of a partner or ex partner.

Myth #20: Women should publicly name their abuser to protect others.


Truth:


Some people want to get as far away from their abuser as possible.


Some people cope by pretending it never happened, or wasn't as bad as they remember.


Some men don't reveal their true abusiveness until you have children together, so this particular woman may have escaped relatively unscathed.


Some people don't even realise what's happened to them.


Some people are in family court proceedings and can't say what's happening.


Some people have children with their abuser and don't want to be accused of alienation.


My friend spoke to a few different survivors of the same person who were STILL afraid to talk, years later.


Survivors don't "have" to do anything, especially when it puts them and their families at risk.

Myth #21: If you tell family or friends, they will support you to leave.


Truth:


Not everybody can or will acknowledge domestic abuse.


There is so much shame and confusion about what is or isn't okay in a relationship.


The family may have a vested interest in the couple staying together, for keeping up appearances or keeping a community together, or avoiding being associated with something like domestic abuse.


Maybe family members are in denial about their own abusive relationship and need the survivor to show them it can be "fixed". Studies have shown that survivors will try and talk to family and friends before they will engage in services.


I have heard of family members bribing the survivor to stay, or telling them just one assault is okay. Or that marriage is just hard.


Read this: https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/relationships/2268977-The-Abuser-Profiles


Be aware of them dropping hints. Learn the signs of domestic abuse and show them you can be trusted and you believe survivors.

Myth #22: If she didn't say no, it was consensual.

Truth:


Humans have different reactions to fear. The two well-known ones are fight and flight, but have you heard of freeze?


Survivors describe this perfectly without even knowing what it is.


They describe freezing in fear, maybe after they've tried to give hints that they're not okay with this, and their partner goes ahead anyway. Their reaction is to go still and possibly even dissociate from the experience. For women particularly this is a survival mechanism.


If you've never been abused you can't fathom how impossible it is to say "no" to your abuser. You just don't. You've been trained.


This freezing and lack of a clear "no" means that in the eyes of the law, very little can be done.


Within the context of a coercive relationship, there is rarely true consent. One must believe that it is okay to say no to be able to say yes.

 


24-hour National Domestic Violence

Freephone Helpline

0808 2000 247


Cardiff Womens Aid

029 2046 0566