How often have you heard someone say, “Why didn’t she just leave?” when discussing a violent relationship. During the time I have spent treating both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence I have begun to understand the many reasons why she didn’t leave. Increasingly it seems amazing to me when a victim does in fact manage to break away.
This is what the women tell me:
- She is fearful that her partner will murder her and her children if she leaves. He has threatened this on many occasions and the mental/physical and emotional abuse she has been a victim of within the relationships has demonstrated to her that he is very capable of harming them. Statistically a women is more at risk when she leaves the relationship than at any other time.
- She is fearful that her partner will harm the family pet as he has often done this before, he knows that this is an effective way to manipulate her and make her stay. She is often unable to take the family pet with her if she leaves, especially if she is intending go into safe house accommodation.
- She feels that the police are either unwilling or unable to protect her and the kids. This feeling is the result of having multiple dealings with police who have been unsympathetic, or colluded with the offender in minimising the behaviour or have simply not believed her.
- She believes that her partner will discredit her and obtain custody of the children. She believes this because her partner is quite charming and many see him as a good bloke. He is very good at acting like the victim and he’s often painted her to others as a crazy person and a bad mother.
- She has tried to leave before but has been unsuccessful because of lack of support in the community or financial struggles. He stalks her, he manipulates her, he sends her gifts, he shows up at her house, he doesn’t pay child support, he makes it difficult, he ‘encourages’ her to come back, he says it will be different and she returns to the relationship. She has often not shared the extent of the abuse with family and friends because of embarrassment and a misguided loyalty so they encourage her to ‘work it out’ or ‘have relationship counselling’.
- She is not financially able to leave because her partner controls all of the incoming money.
- She has no support to help her leave because her partner has systematically isolated her from all of her family and friends, sometimes he has purposefully moved her away from her support network and they are now interstate or overseas.
- Her confidence is very low, her self-esteem is very low and her belief in herself is non-existent. She has been told for many years that no one would want her, that she is crazy, a slut, worthless, a bad mother, and ugly, fat and incompetent. She believes what she has been told and is now incapable of making the very difficult journey of breaking away from her abuser.
- She doesn’t want to move her children from the school they love, away from the friends they love, out of the house they have grown up in. She doesn’t want to leave everything she loves and owns behind. She knows that the only way to leave him is to move secretly into a shared safe house, with families she doesn’t know, owning nothing, knowing no one. She knows that if she doesn’t do this she is in grave danger.
- She still loves him. Still grieves for the dream that she had when they first met, of a house, some kids and a life together. Occasionally this man reappears. Usually after the abuse has happened. He says he’s sorry, he’s loving, he’s gentle and he’s kind. He promises to change. To go to counselling. He cries. She believes him, or wants to, and so she stays.
Let’s stop blaming the victim by asking why she didn’t leave and work together to stop this cycle now.
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Written by Shelley Jacks