Probably the most frequently asked question that I or anybody else who works with domestic violence is asked would be: “Why don’t battered women just leave?” It’s a good question, with lots of answers, but before I get into the many reasons why she stays, I would like to pose the more appropriate question which is: Why does he abuse? As I stated earlier, there are many reasons (some of them very good reasons) why battered women stay in the relationship, but I have yet to hear a single good reason why a batterer abuses. We should take the responsibility off of the victim and place it where it rightfully belongs which is on the abuser.
So why does she stay, when it seems so obvious that she should leave? FEAR
The abuser threatens to kill her, hurt her, or get even with her if she leaves. Statistics show that most domestic homicides happen when a woman is in the process of leaving or has just left her abusive partner.
He threatens to take the children and tells her she will never see them again. Batterers are 50 percent more likely to petition the courts for sole custody of their children and they win 70 percent of the time.
A woman will often stay in the relationship to protect her children. Even if the abuser does not gain sole custody he will probably be awarded 50/50 placement with them or unsupervised visitation and she fears for their well being while they are alone with him.
When a woman leaves an abusive relationship, her standard of living is reduced by 50 percent or more. She may not have been in the work force for many years; she may not have had access to savings or checking accounts; she may not have a car and can’t afford to buy one. When a woman finds the strength and courage to leave, she soon finds out she can’t afford to support her family and ends up going back. The abuser often uses the court system by bringing motion after motion and until eventually she exhausts all her financial resources on attorney fees. She may not even be able to afford an attorney and fears she will lose custody of her children. If she flees with her children she is breaking the law and will most likely be prosecuted.
She may not have anywhere to go. Abusers very often isolate their partners from family and friends and even from work. Sometimes family members are unsympathetic. She may fear for the safety of family and friends who offer to help her as the abuser may have threatened to retaliate against them as well. Family and friends may not believe her because he’s always such a “nice guy” around them, or he’s told them that she is mentally unstable and that he’s very concerned about her condition. There may not be a shelter where she lives, or it may be full.
Some women have very strong religious beliefs. She may believe she is breaking her vows if she leaves the marriage. Or she may be totally committed to the relationship and feels she is responsible for making it work out for herself and for the sake of the children.
She loves him. There are good times as well as bad times. When times are good she will hold on to the hope that someday it will always be like that. She believes that if he quits drinking, or gets a better job or when the kids grow up he won’t be as stressed and the violence will stop, after all he is always very sorry after an incident.
These are just a few of the reasons why she stays. And the fears are very real. As I stated earlier, leaving an abusive relationship is a very dangerous time. Every year women and children are murdered after they had left or were in the process of ending an abusive relationship. Woman often do lose custody of their children to their abusers in court. Women do go to jail for fleeing with their children. Approximately 1/3 of all women with children in homeless shelters cite domestic violence as the main reason for their homelessness. She feels trapped.
Why does she stay? I know why she stays. Why does he abuse?
Please call HELP of Door County, Inc. at 1.800.91.HELP.1 or 920.743.8818 if you are a victim of domestic violence.
This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence Team.