Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why She Stays

Many people who have not been abused by an intimate partner often say that if their partner ever abused them they certainly would leave. Remaining in or returning to an abusive relationship may be a rational survival mechanism. Domestic violence victims are not always passive. They may attempt to protect themselves through a variety of mechanisms short of leaving. Below are some of the reason victims choose to stay or return to an abusive relationship.
Commitment to the relationship. There are serious factors that weigh on a victim's decision to leave. The abuser is the person the victim loves. This makes leaving the abuser especially difficult where violent episodes are followed by periods of affection and positive attention. The abuser may be the father/mother of the victim's children. The victim may want to end the violence, but also preserve the family relationship.
Lack of self-confidence. Ending an intimate relationship is almost always difficult, but even more so when the victim’s self-confidence has been destroyed by abuse.
Believes the myths about domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence may assume that violence in an unavoidable part of life. Victims may also blame themselves for the violence.
No place to go. There are more animal shelters in the U.S. than shelters for battered women and children. Domestic violence is the cause of half of the homelessness in America's women and children.
Hope of change. Many abusers are remorseful after abusing the victim. This contrite behavior may include promising never to hit again, agreeing to seek counseling if the victim promises not to leave, reminding the victim of how hard the perpetrator works, pointing out the incredible stresses under which s/he is operating, acknowledging the wrongfulness of his/her violence to the children and asking their help in stopping it, and demonstrating his/her love for the victim in meaningful ways. Since victims have often built their lives around the relationship, they hope for change. When the abuser acknowledges the error of his/her ways, when s/he breaks down and cries and concedes the need for dramatic change, hope is often born anew for the victim.
Isolation. Many victims of domestic violence do not have a support system. The abuser has isolated them. For example, the abuser may prohibit the victim from using the phone, may humiliate him/her at family gatherings, may insist on transporting him/her to and from work, or may censor his/her mail. Abusers are often highly possessive and excessively jealous. They believe that they own the victim and are entitled to his/her exclusive attention and absolute obedience. The abuser knows that if the truth is known about his/her conduct, support persons will encourage the victim to leave the abuser. Therefore, abusers isolate victims in order to sustain the power of violence.
Societal denial. Victims of domestic violence fear that no one will believe that their partners abuse them. Abusers are often ingratiating and popular and keep their terrorizing and controlling behaviors within the family behind closed doors. The victim knows this and it compounds his/her fear that no one will believe them. Victims of domestic violence also discover that many people and agencies in the community trivialize the impact of domestic violence. For example, doctors may prescribe Valium for coping, ministers may recommend more accommodating behaviors, and therapists may advise better communication with the abuser. Victims conclude that if others do not understand the seriousness of the violence, they will condemn the disruption caused by leaving the relationship.
Abuser's threats. Even when the victim decides to leave, the abuser may threaten to seek custody of their children, to withhold financial support, to interfere with the victim’s employment or housing, to kill other family members, to commit retaliatory suicide, or to escalate the violence in an attempt to keep the victim in the relationship.
Dangers in leaving. Many victims believe that leaving is not going to make his/her life and their children’s lives safer. Many victims of domestic violence are killed by their partners after they have left the abuser. Leaving, itself, can be a dangerous process. Many abusers escalate their violence in order to coerce the victim into reconciliation or to retaliate for the victim’s departure. Leaving requires strategic planning and legal intervention to safeguard victims and their children.
Economic dependency. The most likely indicator of whether a victim of domestic violence will permanently separate from his/her abuser is whether s/he has the economic resources to survive without the abuser. Therefore, it is incredibly important that victims obtain support awards in protection orders and are referred to abused women’s programs where they can learn about other economic supports, job training, and employment opportunities.
Leaving is a process. Most victims of domestic violence leave and return several times before permanently separating from the abuser. The first time a victim leaves may be a test to see whether the abuser will obtain help or stop his/her abuse. The victim may leave temporarily in order to gain more information about the resources available to her before leaving the abuser permanently. Most victims of domestic violence do leave eventually. When victims stay, friends, family, and agencies in the community need to look to see what they are doing to hinder the process of leaving and make changes to facilitate leaving.
Retrieved from on June 18, 2008. provided by Living Well Counseling and Consulting, LLC