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Meredith Holt, Published October 06 2012

InDepth: Domestic violence | Myths about domestic violence persist

FARGO – You don’t have to be a woman living in poverty with an alcoholic to be affected by domestic violence. Many women can’t “just leave.” Abuse is everyone’s problem, and it could happen to you.

Erin Prochnow says she’s seen a cultural shift toward greater awareness of domestic violence, but the YWCA Cass Clay executive director says there’s still work to be done.

Social services staff, law enforcement and others involved continue to combat persistent myths, misperceptions and assumptions about the problem.

Some of the most commonly held beliefs about domestic violence include:

“Domestic violence affects only women.”

Although an overwhelming majority of victims are women (85 to 95 percent, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), men are affected, too.

“We usually associate domestic violence with women who are battered, but that’s not always the case,” says Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes.

“Domestic violence affects only those of low socioeconomic status.”

Prochnow says domestic violence occurs in families from all racial, social, religious, educational and economic classes.

“Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate,” says Karen Carlson, YWCA Cass Clay housing director.

“Drugs and alcohol cause domestic violence.”

Although drugs and alcohol certainly are risk factors, they aren’t necessarily causes, says Daria Odegaard, education coordinator for the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead.

Many perpetrators have no history of substance abuse; similarly, many addicts have no history of partner abuse.

“Alcohol is a huge factor in domestic violence, but it’s not always present,” Ternes says.

“Why don’t they just leave?”

There are a multitude of reasons why domestic violence victims don’t – or can’t – leave their abusers (see right for more).

Odegaard says a woman who has been living with an abusive partner leaves him an average of six to eight times.

“It’s a long process, losing your identity in a relationship, and it’s a long process getting it back,” says Glen Hase, Cass County legal advocate for the RACC.

Additionally, Prochnow and Carlson say a victim is in the most danger when she leaves her abuser.

“Google the statistics – victims die all the time trying to leave their abusers,” Hase says.

“It’s none of my business.”

Last fall, the Fargo Police Department started a campaign called “It’s everyone’s business” to help change that “behind closed doors” mentality.

“We have to move past that stereotype and get everybody to understand that it really is everyone’s business,” Ternes says.

Whether it’s asking, listening or reporting, he says anyone and everyone is encouraged to do their part to help victims.

“It won’t happen to me.”

The truth is, it can happen to anyone, Hase says.

“There’s not one person that’s immune from being affected by domestic violence in one form or another,” she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590