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Angels of Hope and Freedom: Domestic Violence Resources

Why do Women Stay?

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Why Do Women Stay In Abusive Relationships?

The Barriers To Leaving
  • Negative responses from community, police, courts, social workers, etc. Fear of involvement in the court process; she may have had bad experiences before. 
  •  Fear of the unknown. "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't." 
  •  Fear and ambivalence over making formidable life changes.
  • "Acceptable violence". The violence escalates slowly over time. Living with constant abuse numbs the victim so that she is unable to recognize that she is involved in a set pattern of abuse.
  • Ties to the community. The children would have to leave their school, she would have to leave all her friends and neighbors behind, etc. For some women It would be like being in the Witness Protection program--she could never have any contact with her old life.
  • Ties to her home and belongings. 
  •  Family pressure; because Mom always said, "I told you it wouldn't work out." or "You made your bed, now you sleep in it."
  • Fear of her abuser doing something to get her (report her to welfare, call her workplace, etc.) 
  •  Unable to use current resources because of how they are provided (language problems, disability, homophobia, etc.) Time needed to plan and prepare to leave.
Situational Factors
  • Economic dependence.
  • Fear of greater physical danger to themselves and their children if they attempt to leave. 
  •  Fear of emotional damage to children.
  • Fear of losing custody of children.
  • Lack of alternative housing.
  • Lack of job skills.
  • Social isolation resulting in lack of support from family or friends and lack of information regarding alternatives. 
  •  Fear if involvement in court processes.
  • Cultural and religious constraints. 
  •  Fear of retaliation
Personal Beliefs
  • Parenting, needing a partner for the kids. "A crazy father is better than none at all."
  • Religious and extended family pressure to keep the family together no matter what.
  • Duty. "I swore to stay married till death do us part." Responsibility. It is up to her to work things out and save the relationship.
  • Belief in the American dream of growing up and living happily ever after.
  • Identity. Woman are raised to feel they need a partner--even an abusive one--in order to to be complete or accepted by society.
  • Belief that marriage is forever.
  • Belief that violence is the way all partners relate (often this woman has come from a violent childhood).
  • Religious and cultural beliefs.

From the Women's Rural Advocacy Programs

Emotional Factors
  • Fear that he will commit suicide if she leaves (often he's told her this). 
  • Denial. "It's really not that bad. Other people have it worse."
  • Love. Often, the abuser is quite loving and lovable when he is not being abusive.
  • Love, especially during the "honeymoon" stage; she remembers what he used to be like.
  • Guilt. She believes--and her partner and the other significant others are quick to agree-- that their problems are her fault.
  • Shame and humiliation in front of the community. "I don't want anyone else to know."
  • Unfounded optimism that the abuser will change.
  • Unfounded optimism that things will get better, despite all evidence to the contrary.
  • Learned helplessness. trying every possible method to change something in our environment, but with no success, so that we eventually expect to fail. Feeling helpless is a logical response to constant resistance to our efforts. This can be seen with prisoners of war, people taken hostage, people living in poverty who cannot get work, etc.
  • False hope. "He's starting to do things I've been asking for." (counseling, anger management, things she sees as a chance of improvement.) Fear that partner will change.
  • Guilt. She believes that the violence is caused through some inadequacy of her own (she is often told this); feels as though she deserves it for failing.
  • Responsibility. She feels as though she only needs to meet some set of vague expectations in order to earn the abuser's approval.
  • Insecurity over her potential independence and lack of emotional support.
  • Guilt about the failure of the marriage/relationship.
  • Demolished self-esteem. "I thought I was too (fat, stupid, ugly, whatever he's been calling her) to leave.".
  • Fear that the partner is not able to make it alone
  • Ambivalence and fear over making formidable life changes
  • Lack of emotional support--she feels like she's doing this on her own, and it's just too much.
  • Simple exhaustion. She's just too tired and worn out from the abuse to leave.

All too often the question "Why do women stay in violent relationships?" is answered with a victim blaming attitude. Women victims of abuse often hear that they must like or need such treatment, or they would leave.

 

Others may be told that they are one of the many "women who love too much" or who have "low self-esteem."

 

The truth is that no one enjoys being beaten, no matter what their emotional state or self image.  A woman’s reasons for staying are more complex than a statement about her strength of character. In many cases it is dangerous for a woman to leave her abuser. If the abuser has all of the economic and social status,leaving can cause additional problems for the woman. Leaving could mean living in fear and losing child custody,losing financial support, and experiencing harassment at work.

 

Although there is no profile of the women who will be battered, there is a well documented syndrome of what happens once the battering starts. Battered women experience shame, embarrassment and isolation.

 

A woman may not leave battering immediately because She realistically fears that the batterer will become more violent and maybe even fatal if she attempts to leave; Her friends and family may not support her leaving; She knows the difficulties of single parenting in reduced financial circumstances; There is a mix of good times, love and hope along with the manipulation, intimidation and fear; She may not know about or have access to safety and support.

 

(from the NCADV)

This is the wrong question. The questions we should be asking are, “Why do assailants terrorize and torture their partners? Why do men (the vast majority of assailants) beat women? Why does the community allow battering to continue?”

 

There are incorrect assumptions underlying this question. Many battered women do leave. Shelters are usually full. Some battered women stay for a short period of time. Almost all battered women try to leave. People believe that if battered women REALLY wanted to leave they could just get up and go. At least 70% of all assaults occur after the woman has tried to leave. One-half of all battered women who are murdered are murdered after trying to leave.

 

SOME BATTERED WOMEN STAY BECAUSE ASSAILANTS USE PSYCHOLOGICAL TERRORISM, ISOLATION, SEXUAL ABUSE, AND THREATS AGAINST THEIR CHILDREN, ECONOMIC METHODS, AND BRAINWASHING TECHNIQUES TO KEEP THEM IN VIOLENT RELATIONSHIPS.

 

SOME BATTERED WOMEN STAY DUE TO SEXISM (UNEQUAL TREATMENT OF WOMEN); they can't find a job. They can't find a job that will support their children. They can't afford childcare. They can't afford a lawyer, which means no divorce, or restraining order. They can't afford as good a lawyer as their partner, so they may lose their kids if they leave.

 

SOME BATTERED WOMEN STAY BECAUSE THERE IS NO PLACE FOR THEM TO GO. Shelters do not exist everywhere. They are often full.

 

SOME BATTERED WOMEN STAY BECAUSE INSTITUTIONS ARE HELPLESS OR UNWILLING TO OFFER THEM PROTECTION OR ASSISTANCE. Police don't arrest. Police don't enforce restraining orders. Courts give custody of children to assailants. Courts dismiss charges. Prosecutors don't authorize charges. Institutions believe the assailant. Doctors ignore the abuse, or provide tranquilizers for "her nerves”. Religious leaders put keeping the family together above physical safety for women and children.

 

SOME BATTERED WOMEN STAY BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT GIVEN ACCURATE INFORMATION ABOUT BATTERING. They are told that alcohol or drugs causes battering and that getting the assailant to treatment will stop the violence. Getting therapy for themselves will help. Couples counseling or mediation will help. Therapy for their assailant will help him to get better. They are co-dependent and as soon as they break out of their dysfunctional patterns the violence will end. That it would be better to have a violent husband than non-male role model for the children.

 

SOME BATTERED WOMEN STAY BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE WHAT WOMEN HAVE BEEN TAUGHT TO BELIEVE (GENDER SOCIALIZATION). They may believe that they are responsible for their family and that violence is their failure. Women must be nurturing, caring, and self-sacrificing. They put their partner and children's welfare above their own. They must help their partner get well. They are "enabling" his behavior, and by her changing, he will change. They are only a good, normal person if they are married, with a man, and in a family.

 

SOME BATTERED WOMEN STAY BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE WHAT MOST PEOPLE IN OUR SOCIETY BELIEVE ABOUT BATTERED WOMEN. They may believe that battered women imagine, exaggerate, deliberately fabricate, or initiate the violence. Battered women somehow provoke or are to blame for the violence. All battered women come from poor, uneducated, minority backgrounds. Their partner just has a problem controlling his anger, or that stress or unemployment problems have caused the battering.

 

SOME BATTERED WOMEN STAY BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE WHAT THEIR ASSAILANT IS TELLING THEM; such as You're crazy and stupid. No one will believe you. I know the judge he won't put me in jail. The police will never arrest me. You’re the one who needs help. You’re hysterical. It’s not serious. You’re not really battered. If you leave, I’ll get custody because you'll have abandoned the kids and me. If you leave, I'll find you and kill you. I’ll kill your family, your kids, and your pets. You’ll never escape me.

 c. 1991. The Domestic Violence Project.