By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
The stigma surrounding intimate partner violence is complex and comes from many sources. In one of our most recent research studies, we looked at the different sources of stigma, as well as the different components of stigma that victims and survivors often face. The sources we identified included the perpetrator, other people (e.g., friends, family members, and professionals), internalized stigma by the person himself or herself, and society. One of the ways that society perpetuates stigma against victims and survivors of intimate partner violence is through the media. One of the best ways to understand how the media stigmatizes people who have experienced intimate partner violence is by hearing how those media messages impact survivors. Today, we wanted to share reflections from a survivor who participated in our research on how the media perpetuates the stigma that surrounds abusive relationships.
This survivor—who faced very severe violence at the hands of a former boyfriend but managed to safely leave that relationship several years ago—shared that she believes that the media perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes about abuse. She said, “I think with newspaper and, or newspaper media, news media, and the movies, and again depending on what movie and that kind of thing …there’s kind of a strange idea that there’s something, that the reason that people stay in abusive relationships is because there’s something interesting about it or that it’s somehow, that they somehow want that, which is weird…I guess that maybe it comes from not knowing why, like ‘Why would somebody stay? Well, they must be getting something out of it,’ kind of thing. I don’t know if that’s where it comes from, but it seems like movies in particular seem to show women as kind of sending mixed messages about what’s okay or not okay. And that seems dangerous, in that it’s perpetuating this idea that what a person says isn’t really what they mean, and that sort of thing. And certainly, and I think, in terms of news media, people are often presented in a way that seems that women who are abused by a husband, or whatever, are fundamentally weak somehow. That there’s this kind of weakness, like an overwhelming weakness of not being able to cope with the world, or not being able to handle stress, or not being able to properly care for their children, or that sort of thing. That it comes down to a lack of strength or something like that, which also seems peculiar and dangerous in placing all of the onus on the woman in that way, which is curious and of course misguided.”
To really end the stigma around IPV, this survivor believes that these media messages need to change. She said, “I feel like books do that often, too. They make the abusers out to be monsters and they make the women, typically women, who are being abused as kind of weak and not real thinking. And I understand that, of course, we don’t want to be portraying the abusers as sensitive, thoughtful, insightful people. That wouldn’t be right, too. But at the same time there’s a lack of complexity or a lack of, like, fullness. Like, it’s not just that the person hits you, but doesn’t hit you every time you see him, like in every waking moment. There are other things, too, that make it, that add up to this whole, of being just confusing and, not being able to do necessarily what you know is the right thing to do.”
To challenge the stigma that surrounds intimate partner violence in society, it’s important that we learn to think critically about the messages that are conveyed in the media about abusive relationships. In addition, we need to listen to the wisdom of survivors to learn more about how these messages impact them and their willingness to seek help and share their stories with others. Let’s keep working together to end the stigma surrounding intimate partner violence so that we can erase the barriers that this stigma creates!