Myths reinforce stereotypes and contribute to a general climate of violence. It can be useful to think about the “social functions” that myths provide, in order to understand the power of myths. For some people, believing in myths about gender-based violence allows them to feel safe: it helps them to believe that gender-based violence does not happen very often or that it only happens to a certain “kind” of person. Myths can allow people to maintain a belief that we live in a just world by suggesting that someone can protect themselves from violence by not doing certain things or going certain places.
Myths also inform society about who is considered worthy of protection from violence and who is not. Additionally, myths place blame on someone who has experienced harm, by suggesting that it is their fault, that they could have or should have done something to prevent the violence from occurring, or by minimizing the impacts of violence.
In reality, myths about violence maintain silence and protect people who commit harm. Myths can make someone who has experienced violence feel isolated, wrong, unsure or unworthy. Myths can prevent people from accessing support, reporting violence or speaking up in the face of violence. Myths maintain a culture of violence and place responsibility for violence on the people who have experienced it instead of those who commit violent acts. Myths also normalize oppression and inequality by suggesting that someone deserves the oppression they experience and also ensure that there are people in society who are seen as deserving of experiencing violence and those who are seen as deserving of freedom from violence. More often than not, these divisions are along gender, race and class lines – divisions of power, who has power and privilege and who does not. Myths encourage violence against people who are made to seem less than deserving of freedom from violence.
Myths are dangerous, damaging and dehumanizing. Much of our prevention work seeks to dispel myths and educate people about the reality of gender-based and other forms of violence and shift the way that society thinks about who is deserving of freedom from violence. Everyone deserves to live free from violence.