When it comes to domestic violence, appearances are deceiving.

Because victims’ resistance to abuse is often not noticed, some people assume that victims have not done enough to protect themselves. People may, therefore, believe that victims create their own misfortunes.

As well, victims tend not to talk about their experiences of abuse or violence. They may choose not to talk so that they are safer from the perpetrator, and they also may wish to avoid the negative judgments of others. Often family, friends, and professionals do not hear the full story of how much victims have suffered or have resisted the abuse.

Perpetrators are often good at hiding their violence, blaming the victim, and showing other people a positive image of themselves.

Because of this deception, outsiders may view the abusive actions as being “out of character” and impulsive behaviour. People also tend to think that the abusive actions are caused by stress or other matters beyond the perpetrator’s control.

Since people tend not to notice victims’ resistance to abuse, they may tend to judge them harshly. Similarly, since they tend to excuse perpetrators, they may tend to judge them mildly.

Many victims of violence encounter messages that are painful and disheartening.

For example, a counsellor labeled a victim as indecisive and unassertive. This counselor also implied that she was responsible for the abuse in her marriage because “she did not assert herself strongly enough”.

Acquaintances often imply that the victim was “damaged” and “responsible for the abuse”. Well-meaning family and friends may feel there was something wrong with the victim for having picked an abuser to marry, and that “she is still so damaged that she is likely going to pick another abuser”.

Other examples of damaging messages encountered by victims are:

  • “She has a target on her forehead.”
  • “She grew up in an abusive home, so abuse is all she knows.”
  • “Her self-esteem is so low that she does not believe that she deserves anything better.”
  • “She became involved in an abusive relationship because she is passive – she was looking for someone to make decisions for her.”
  • “She is dependent on the abuser to take charge, to be the dominant person in the relationship, and to make her feel feminine.”
  • “I would never put up with somebody treating me like that! How could she have put up with it?”
  • “How could she have stayed with him that long?!”
  • “She is exaggerating what she experienced.”
  • On the other hand, people often excuse perpetrators of their responsibility for their actions, and they fail to see that perpetrators deliberately try to stop victims’ resistance.

Some typical statements made about perpetrators are:

  • “He was on outstanding member of our community. I would never have thought he could do something like this. Stress must have caused him to behave out of character.”
  • “He seemed like such a caring person. He was devoted to his family. I cannot understand how this could have happened.”
  • “He wrestled with his demons for a long time, but they finally overcame him.”
  • “He witnessed his father abusing his mother, so this was all he knew.”
  • “Anger always got the better of him. He could not seem to control his impulses.”
  • “Once he had a few drinks, the alcohol took over and he became a scary guy.”

To learn more about how women resist abuse in intimate relationships, read our publication, Honouring Resistance.