Myth: Only married couples experience domestic violence 

Reality: Compared to couples who are dating or living together, married couples experience the least amount of domestic violence. This is partly due to the maturation process; as people age, they become less aggressive, and married couples tend to be older.

The term domestic violence leads to a perception that couples who don't live together cannot experience toxicity/abuse, and that is untrue. Younger, dating or cohabitating, couples experience the highest rates of intimate partner abuse. This is why researchers and health organizations now use the term intimate partner violence because the violence is based on the intimacy of the relationship not the domesticity, meaning a couple can experience "domestic violence" even if they don’t live together.

From RTÉ Radio 1's This Week, Justin McCarthy reports on research showing the links between homelessness and domestic violence

Myth: Men can sometimes be victims, but most abuse is suffered by women in heterosexual relationships

Reality: The heterosexual pattern for perpetration is 50% bidirectional, 35% female unidirectional, and 15% male unidirectional. The most common pattern of violence is bidirectional perpetration, meaning both men and women perpetrate equally in both frequency and severity of the violence. Unidirectional then means one partner perpetrates more often and with more severe violence. The numbers show women abuse their male partners more (this applies to western countries, as non-Western countries have very different patterns). 

Intimate partner violence is the only area of violence that sees women being more violent than men, but this doesn't mean women aren’t victims: they are. Same-sex couples experience similar rates of violence, but lesbians experience more partner violence than women in heterosexual relationships. Along with the bidirectional rates, this shows that the gender paradigm—men perpetrate violence to retain patriarchy and women only hit in self-defence—is simply not evidence-based.

Myth: Women only hit in self-defence

Reality: With data from 52 countries, researchers found as gender empowerment (how politically and economically equal women are) increased, women’s unidirectional IPV perpetration also increased. Ultimately, the more equal women are in their society, the more they perpetrate. Ireland is ranked third for high gender empowerment. Other researchers found women initiate and retaliate more with physical violence than their male partners, and men don’t hit back because they were raised not to hit girls.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, a discussion about the same-sex domestic abuse storyline in Fair City

Myth: Women aren’t as strong as men, so men don’t get injured

Reality: During the course of one 24 hour period, researchers asked heterosexual men who were admitted to hospital if they had been abused by their female partners. The researchers found 13% of 866 male patients were victims of intimate partner violence; 60% had been slapped, grabbed or shoved; 49% had been choked, kicked, bit or punched and 37% attacked with a weapon. Only 19% reported their abuse to police, and 14% required medical attention for their injuries. This was in one A&E, in one city, in one country. While females are more likely to receive serious injuries from bidirectional violence, male victims also get seriously injured.

Myth: Police and shelter reports give us the full picture of partner abuse

Reality: Police and frontline workers witness horrific crimes against women. However, police and shelter reports are biased towards only seeing female victims. Women report more to police, and bidirectional partner violence is perceived as male perpetrated when police are involved. Even when women were the aggressors, officers responded consistently with stereotypes and only arrested the man.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, a October 2019 report on how gardaí have yet to receive training on new Domestic Violence Act

In terms of shelters, there is only one organisation in Ireland that helps male victims. The rest highlight how only men are the abusers, ignoring over 40 years of data on the bidirectionality of intimate partner violence. Male victims are not recorded in shelter data because no one is even looking for male victims. If men aren't seen as potential victims, how can they be counted?

This is why researchers prefer to use scales like the Conflict Tactics Scale2. This is up to 16 times more sensitive than police reports in detecting all forms of partner violence. This is partly because it frames the questions as how partners resolve arguments, not if the actions are viewed as criminal. The scale also asks both partners to report both perpetration and victimisation, increasing reporting and accuracy.

Myth: you’re not really experiencing abuse unless you're hit

RealityIn previous year data, 13 to 20% of relationships have some form of violence, with 4 to 6% reporting severe intimate partner violence. The Conflict Tactics Scale2 assesses emotional/cognitive, psychological, physical and sexual (coercion) aggression (minor or severe) to get a more holistic understanding of violence. "Accused my partner of being a lousy lover" or "called my partner fat or ugly" are two examples that assess verbal and psychological abuse, the two most common types of violence people experience. While these may not be criminal or severe, they are abusive and harmful.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Tracy Porteous, Executive Director of the Ending Violence Association in Canada, on how so many men stay silent around violence against women 

Myth: Relationships with violence are the norm

Reality: All couples argue, but it is a question of how couples argue and resolve differences. While 50 to 60% of us will experience some form of intimate partner violence in our lifetimes, it is not part of a healthy relationship. It leads to chronic diseases and mental health illnesses with psychological abuse being more strongly associated with poorer health outcomes for men and women.

This is why it is crucial to look at the whole spectrum of abuse and not only physical violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, there are services that can help: AnyMan and Women's Aid offer support services for male and female victims, respectively.  


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ. If you have been affected by issues raised in this article, support information is available online