When this question was asked at the recent bloggers’ forum on domestic violence, the consensus from the panel was that it basically summed up our society’s attitude to those caught up in the domestic violence cycle.
“Why doesn’t she JUST leave?”
Because there is nothing JUST about it.
Low self-esteem is common among abused women and I suspect it is the main reason they don’t leave. Abuse that lasts for years defeats you and annihilates your self-respect. In the end, abuse is the only thing you know, the only thing that is familiar and so you cling to it, because the unknown can seem too scary. You don’t believe you can make it on your own, you don’t know how and you don’t know where to go.
Leaving your tormentor can be a dangerous thing, to yourself and your children, if you have them. That’s the most dangerous time for anyone in this situation. The notion that his victim might leave, or has left, escalates the abuser’s craving for power and control to the point where they loose all rational thought and are more likely than ever to use extreme violence, against their victim, their children or themselves.
In some cases, like mine, the subject of abuse doesn’t even realise they are in an abusive relationship. Psychological and emotional abuse is so subtle and so insidious, that you’re like that frog sitting in a pot of water being heated up, not noticing the water temperature going up until you’re dead.
I was lucky to have people around me, who finally spotted what was going on and counselled me until I was able to see it for myself. The lies, evasions and manipulation were finally exposed, but even then my self-esteem was so low, undermined by my abuser, that I didn’t believe I could possibly survive on my own and was determined to hold on to him at all costs.
I’m not alone in feeling like this. Women in abusive relationships get to a point where they believe that nobody will ever want them again and that the person they’re with is the best that they are ever going to get. They believe that they don’t deserve any better. Often these women come from abusive homes themselves and believe that abuse is simply part of being in a relationship.
(Of course this wouldn’t happen if we taught our daughters that having a relationship is not the sole purpose of our lives.)
There are financial reasons women don’t leave. In cases where their partner controls all the family finances and is the sole breadwinner, the woman will not know how she could survive without money if she left. She might believe she doesn’t have enough skills to get a job and may not be aware of the support available to her from outside sources.
In some cases, she may be afraid of losing her lifestyle and sees the abuse as a price she has to pay to live the life she wants. Did you watch the Slap? There are real life situations like that.
I’ve also come across situations where the woman was completely misinformed about the legal and financial implications of separation and divorce. Her partner would continually tell her that she would be left with nothing if she left and that he would not “let” her take the children.
Some of us don’t have anywhere to go, especially as abusers are excellent at isolating their victims. We might not have close friends or family who would take us in, or at least we are led to believe by our abusers that that is the case. “Who will take you?”, “Where will you go?”, are the common questions barked at us by our abusers when we dare complain about the abuse.
Finally, shame figures highly on the list of reasons we not only don’t leave, but don’t even admit, to ourselves or to those around us, that we are living in an abusive relationship. We hide the abuse, we lie, to ourselves and others, and hope that tomorrow he’ll change. Because he constantly promises to change. Except that he never does.
Shame can be a huge factor for some of us. We all pretend we live these perfect lives and it can be extremely humiliating for some of us to admit even tiny imperfections, let alone the fact that we are being abused, that we are “allowing” ourselves to be abused, because clearly we should know better.
We don’t want to be seen as a victim, we don’t want pity, yet we desperately need help.
So, please don’t ever respond to the mention of domestic violence with “Why doesn’t she just leave?” It is not that simple and it creates a culture of victim-blaming.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call 1 800 RESPECT for advice and support. For further resources go to Safe Steps.
If you are, or see someone, in immediate danger, call the police.
Image courtesy of Marc Alperstein.