By Olivia J. Scott, Senior Writer, Woman to Woman Blog Talk
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If you or someone you know is in an abusive marriage or relationship, hard as it is, the only option is to leave! Unfortunately, for many women it is not that simple. In the meantime, these women are often made to feel responsible for the abuse and violence.
What is more disturbing is the ease at which some blame the woman for domestic violence committed against her, often without understanding the myriad of factors and issues at play. Ironically, women are more often the ones who are quick to cast blame. Without accepting that women are to be blamed, relevant questions are: What about the man? Should his actions be overlooked, justified, condoned?
When persons find out that a woman suffered lengthy periods of domestic abuse and violence, often the first question that comes is, “Why did you stay with him?” There is no one or clear answer to the question, and, as Psychologist Lenore E. Walker, Battered Woman pointed out way back in the 1970’s, there are “complex psychological and sociological reasons,” which help explain why women stay. As relevant as the question “Why does she stay?“ may be, we have to be careful about what we ask or say in such sensitive situations. It can do more harm than good. Asking such questions can suggest that the woman either enjoyed or thrived on the abuse and is to be blamed for what happened to her. Obviously, if she didn’t like it she would leave, right? Or, is her self-esteem that low? Those are often not the reasons why a woman chooses to stay. In fact, I won’t even regard it as a choice, since often times she is staying against her will. Looking on from the outside, for example as a relative or friend, we must understand the effects of our words and actions towards the abused woman. We can make the situation worse by our approach without realizing it!
Until you are in that woman’s shoes, you will not know, as she may put it, “how hard it is to leave and how difficult it is to stay.” It’s like being “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
Don’t get me wrong, this article is not meant to encourage women to stay in abusive relationships nor is it meant to justify why they do not leave. The purpose is to highlight key reasons why some women stay and, perhaps more importantly, to caution victim-blamers. As a person on the outside, the key role is to support, not to judge and blame. Blaming the woman even after she quitted the violent relationship can also have adverse effects.
Some things victim-blamers and people generally should understand
- Victim-blaming can breed dangerous consequences for the victim, e.g., cause her to lose self-esteem, and ultimately stay in her situation in fear of being further judged, humiliated, embarrassed, and isolated by those to whom she tells her story. Make no mistake, victims need help and a safer place to stay. But, your duty is not to add salt to her wounds. If she stays on, she can eventually wind up badly injured or dead!
If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, you must also understand that abusive relationships don’t start with violence. One expert pointed out that abusers slowly gain control over their victims by first isolating them in manipulative ways, such as asking them to stay home and spend time with them instead of going out with friends. Over time, the victim’s friends stop reaching out to her. The same kind of manipulation works to push away the victim’s family. Eventually the psychological manipulation turns to physical violence. By then, the victim has usually been in a relationship with her abuser for a long time. It’s hard to judge the decisions a victim makes to survive. But people nonetheless jump to victim-blaming with ease.
Also, victim-blamers often don’t understand that abusers work to break the victim’s self-esteem. Even though victim–blamers know the abuser is the villain, they will still jump to the conclusion that a woman who stays with such a man is clearly a fool—one who chooses to condone the situation.
“Blaming women for causing men to batter them has resulted in their shame, embarrassment, denial, and further loss of self esteem. The batterer feels justified in his violent behavior because society says it is really the woman’s fault, not his. It perpetuates his notion that he should beat her up because she did something to make him angry. What gets lost in this victim’s precipitation ideology is the fact that such violence is not acceptable behaviour.” (Walker)
Be non-judgmental. Instead, try to understand the issues and why the woman stays without directly seeking answers from the victim herself. Think about it and ask yourself what obstacles might prevent her from leaving her partner. Does she love him? Is he the father of her child/children? Does he control the finances?
Why some women stay
There are a number of reasons that can explain why many women feel forced to stay in their abusive relationships. Some common reasons are:
- Lack of resources
- Responses by services and authorities
Lack of resources
“He is the breadwinner and I don’t have money to take care of myself and children” is a common answer to the question, “Why stay?” When she does not have the financial resources to leave she doesn’t, as she often fears a lower standard of living for herself and children. Statistics show that many abused women are those who are:
- Unemployed and/or don’t have their own property;
- Have had their cash or bank accounts cut off by the abuser;
- Have at least one minor child;
- Fear losing joint assets and custody of their children, etc.
Responses by authorities and services
The police, clergy, and social workers have duties to deal with domestic violence. The question is how effective are they in dealing with them? Unfortunately, in some countries or states, police may sometime treat incidents of domestic violence as mere “domestic disputes” or a “private matter,” rather than as serious crimes in which one person is physically assaulting another. Fortunately, many if not all U.S states strive towards a zero-tolerance approach to domestic abuse and violence. As an option, a restraining/protection order can be obtained to prevent further physical contact/abuse by the abuser, but such orders are not a guaranteed shield against a repeat of violence.
Tradition can be good but sometimes it can be our worst enemy. Suggest divorce as an option or the way out of her violent relationship and the victim will almost always look at you as if you’re crazy. Paranoid about saving her marriage—sadly at all cost, she may accuse you of wanting to break up her marriage. Blame it on tradition. Society is so skewed in its thinking that it sees and measures a woman’s worth by her ability to ‘keep a man’; that women are responsible for making their marriage or relationship work; and therefore if it fails, they have failed.
At the end of the day, breaking off the relationship is usually not an option for many of these women—well, at least, not a simple option, especially when children are involved or if the victims are financially weak. As a last resort and by the time she could muster the courage to cut her losses, she would have already lost a lot of herself.
Remember, support NOT judge and blame. “By perpetuating the belief that it is rational to blame the victim for her abuse, we ultimately excuse men for their crime…The violence will only cease when every person, man or woman, stops defensively rationalizing and begins to understand just how such acts come about in our culture and why they continue.” (Walker)
Women, you have an even greater responsibility to stand up for your fellow women.
Why do you think she stays? We welcome your comments below. Let us know what you think.
Coypright, Woman to Woman, All rights reserved. Repost, July 26, 2010, first posted May 18, 2010