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Myths about violence

Our beliefs and attitudes are shaped by many influences and can be held without conscious thought. When we unpack the building blocks of our attitudes we can identify certain myths or false truths upon which our attitudes are based.  

Some myths can lead people to minimise or excuse violent behaviour. 

We can identify these commonly held but prejudicial myths and constructively question their influence on our attitudes, behaviours and our relationships. 

Prejudicial myths are dangerous because they influence how we think and feel about violence against women and their children.

These beliefs and attitudes then influence how we act when confronted with violent behaviour or how we respond when we hear about violence. 

Here are some common myths and why they are not true: 

MYTH 1: Men should make the decisions and take control in relationships…

FACT: "Violence is more common in families and relationships in which men control decision making, and less so in those relationships where women have a greater degree of independence."1

The belief that men and women have different roles or characteristics (whether in relationships or society in general) is known as gender stereotyping. International studies have shown time and again that belief in such stereotypes is one of the most significant predictors of violence. That is, individuals who hold such beliefs are more likely to perpetrate violence against women, and countries where gender stereotyping is more accepted have higher levels of violence against women.

We know that in societies where men and women are more equal in their relationships, and where they are not expected to play different roles based on their sex, violence is less common. Greater equality and more flexible gender roles give everyone more opportunities to develop to their full capacity.

MYTH 2: There’s nothing wrong with a sexist joke…

FACT: The most consistent predictor for support of violence by men is their agreement with sexist attitudes.   

Sexist jokes reflect and reinforce sexist attitudes. They excuse and perpetuate the gender stereotyping and discrimination against women that underpins violence.

If no one speaks up when a sexist comment or joke is made, it sends the message that this behaviour is ok. It can be difficult to stand up to someone using sexist language, so we’ve created some strategies that may help.

MYTH 3: Domestic violence is ok if the perpetrator gets so angry they lose control…

FACT: Violence against women is about something more than just losing your temper.2

There are no excuses for violent behaviour. Ever.

Violence is caused by an individual’s attitudes towards women, and the social and cultural influences that say violence is ok.

MYTH 4: Women could leave a violent relationship if they wanted to…

FACT: The most extreme violence, including murder, often occurs when a woman tries to leave a relationship. 

When it is assumed that a woman who is a victim of domestic violence stays by choice, blame is taken away from the perpetrator. 

This puts the responsibility for dealing with the violence on the victim, who might not be able to leave a relationship because she fears for her life or the safety of her children.

MYTH 5: If a woman is drunk or on drugs, she’s partly to blame for being raped…

FACT: You can’t legally give consent when you’re intoxicated. The perpetrator is always the only person responsible for sexual violence. 

MYTH 6: Men rape women because they can’t control their need for sex…

FACT: Sexual violence is an abuse of power. Men rape women because they believe women are possessions, not equals, and that they have a right to women’s bodies. Myths like this place responsibility on the woman and encourage more victim-blaming.

MYTH 7: Women are most likely to be raped by a stranger in a public place…

FACT: Both men and women are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know than by a stranger. 

According the Australian Bureau of statistics 15% of all women and 3% of all men aged 18 years and over have been sexually assaulted by a known person. This is in comparison to the 3.8% of all women and 1.6% of all men who had been sexually assaulted by a stranger.3

The stranger danger myth is one of the reasons that women are less likely to report a sexual assault perpetrated by someone they know. They may fear no one will believe them or that they encouraged the perpetrator in some way.

Once this myth is busted, women may be more willing to come forward and report a known attacker.

MYTH 8: Many women make false claims about domestic violence or sexual assault…

FACT: False claims of domestic violence or sexual assault are extremely rare.4

80% of women who experience current partner violence don’t contact the police about the violence.5

The same is true with sexual assault; 80% of women do not report sexual assault to police.6

Watch this video from VicHealth to see more examples of myths in everyday life.


1. VicHealth, 2014, p. 34
2. VicHealth, 2009
3. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2012
4. Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), 2013
5. ABS, 2012
6. ABS, 2006