According to the internet, there are two domestic violence-related issues that pervade American society. It is well known that domestic violence affects at least one in four women and about one in seven men. So, the first issue is that domestic violence exists and affects many millions of our friends and family members. The second issue is that a great many of our friends and family members fabricate allegations of domestic violence.
Did that last sentence give you pause? Google “false reporting domestic violence” or a related term and you’ll find an endless number of websites, primarily belonging to attorneys, offering help with these supposedly rampant false accusations. The sheer number of these websites suggest that a significant number of people, primarily women, lie about domestic violence. There are also men’s rights groups and father’s rights groups that offer assistance with these seemingly common allegations as well.
It’s not easy to find actual statistics about false allegations because the web is so saturated with information about defending yourself from them. Actual studies on this topic are buried within expensive academic journals. Within the domestic violence advocacy community, it’s generally accepted that the percentage of domestic violence cases involving false allegations are very low. Trained advocates recognize red flags, injuries, and other adverse effects of domestic violence. They become skilled at recognizing inconsistencies. They are wary of deception.
In the state of Washington, false reporting is a crime that can be considered a gross misdemeanor, a class C felony, or a class B felony. There are legal consequences for lying, so if someone does fabricate an allegation, it can boomerang on them. Being convicted of a crime is costly, may deprive one of their rights and job, and certainly affects their standing in society. It can mean the loss of a job, income, financial support, and children.
What reasons could there be for someone to take this risk? The justifications lawyers for the accused offer are the same many people offer when someone they know is said to have committed domestic violence:
- She wants attention
- She wants to be a victim
- She’s mentally ill
- She’s an addict
- She has a personality disorder
- She’s sleeping around
- She wants revenge
- She wants to destroy him
- She wants him to lose his job
- She wants all their money
- She wants financial support
- She wants custody of the children
- She doesn’t want to be exposed as the actual abuser and pay the price
- She wants leverage in the divorce
- She’s jealous, unbalanced, vindictive, etc.
The paradox here is that when a victim of domestic violence stands up for themselves and is ready to leave the relationship, they may want nothing more than to simply get away from the abuser. Additionally, a victim’s life is never in more danger than when they choose to get away. At that point, the risk of homicide goes up 75 percent. Many victims leave with next to nothing, walking away from their pets, belongings, housing, and even children to get to safety. It is said that a majority of homeless women in the greater Seattle area are homeless because of domestic violence. Obtaining a court order and reporting abuse to the police may be the only chance she has to find safety or stay alive. It can be a pause button that provides a window of time for escape.
When it said that “many” people, namely women, lie about domestic violence, the definition of domestic violence being used needs to be scrutinized. In common conversation, domestic violence may mean that someone has physically harmed another. We may hear someone say, “I never laid hands on her.” Churches may want to counsel a couple so that they will “reconcile” if the violence isn’t leaving black eyes and broken bones. Yet domestic violence can be emotional, financial, sexual, and psychological in addition to being physical. It often begins as emotional or psychological abuse before escalating to a physical level. It is a progression of boundary violations that can and does become fatal.
When someone “lies” about domestic violence, does that mean that they didn’t experience physical violence? In other words, if a victim was terrorized by weapons and death threats, or had the car and the checkbook taken away, are they not a real victim and therefore a liar? If they were sexually harmed, is that not considered domestic violence if they were married to the person causing harm because that person is “entitled” to sex? Just how narrow is the definition of domestic violence among proponents of this wildly popular theory that many women “lie” about it?
Domestic violence may also not be considered “true” domestic violence when a victim recants their story or charges are dropped against the accused. Victims recant for many reasons. They may recant because:
- They are afraid of further abuse, especially when they reside with their abuser
- Their life has been threatened
- They feel victimized a second time by having to testify in court
- They may lose their income
- They will face or lose a child custody battle
- The abuser has promised it won’t happen again
- The abuser agrees to seek help
- The abuser sucks them back into the cycle of violence, specifically the honeymoon phase
- The abuser gaslights them, convincing them that they were “messed up” when they made the report
- The abuser convinces them of their love and commitment
- They will lose friends and family
- The victim’s family has been threatened
- They’re afraid pets or children will be hurt or killed
- They don’t have an advocate to guide them through the legal process
- There may not be physical injuries to help prove the abuse
When we discuss domestic violence, we often lead with “start by believing” and advise that the first question a pastor, church, employer, teacher, or other involved party needs to ask is “is she/he safe?” The immediate concern should not be whether the relationship can be saved, but whether those involved are physically safe. We should not assume that the victim is damaged, crazy, seeking attention, or otherwise “incapable” of telling the truth. We should take every allegation of abuse seriously and provide proper resources. We should refer victims to experts. We should assume that someone claiming to be a victim is telling the truth and is not risking their reputation, job, life, or family to get attention or revenge.
This widespread myth that many more Americans falsify claims of domestic violence than actually do does much to harm credible allegations. “A lot of women lie” is repeated so often that it is accepted as fact, yet not one of the hundreds of sites skimmed for this blog post contained a single study proving that. Until solid evidence that millions are lying is given by those who profit from defending people against “false accusations,” we should assume that when someone asks for help, they truly need it. If your organization has data that speaks to this matter, please feel free to share it in the comments section below.
©2020 Christian Coalition for Safe Families