Because it is the first of the year, WRC has decided to devote our next series of posts to what we call "DV 101". This will probably become our New Year's routine, as new readers find our blog and want to learn more about the basics of domestic violence. The material that we will post here over the next few weeks is taken directly from our volunteer training manual, and we encourage you to post any questions that you may have in the comments section.
Today's topic: Why women stay and why they leave
Many people not involved with an abusive partner say that if their mates ever harmed them they would leave. Many women living with abuse remember the same resolve. Why do they stay? Why might they go back? Why do some women permanently separate from an abusive partner?
There are serious factors that weigh on a women’s decision to stay or leave. This is the man she loves, or has loved. This man may be the father of her children. Ending an intimate relationship is very difficult, even more so when self-confidence has been eroded by abusive words and actions. Women report that the following factors influence stay/leave decisions:
Hope for change. Many abusive mates become remorseful after inflicting violence. This contrite behavior may include promising never to hit again, agreeing to seek counseling, reminding his partner of how hard he works and the stresses that he is under, and acknowledging his love for her in meaningful ways. Since women often build their lives around their relationships, they hope for change.
Isolation. Many women living with domestic abuse lose their support systems. The person using violence may isolate their partner, as much as possible, from the world that exists outside the relationship. For example, she may be prohibited from using the telephone and the computer, getting the mail, working, attending worship services, and socializing with friends and family. People who use violence to control their partners are often highly possessive and excessively jealous. They may believe that they “own” their wives/girlfriends and are entitled to her exclusive attention and absolute obedience.
Societal denial. Many women experiencing abuse fear that no one will believe that their husbands or partners are violent. Most people who use violence to control their partners keep their tyrannical behavior behind closed doors. People who use intimate partner violence are not “all bad”. They may, in fact, be charming and even kind some of the time. The positive aspects of these individuals are often the only characteristics visible to the outside world. Women experiencing intimate partner violence often discover that people and agencies in the community may trivialize the impact of the violence. She may conclude that since no one seems to understand the seriousness of her situation, they will not support her efforts to free herself from the violence.
Barriers to leaving. Many women who are experiencing intimate partner violence try to leave their violent and controlling partners. Frequently, abusive partners create numerous obstacles making leaving difficult, if not impossible. Many threaten to try to get custody of the children, to withhold support, to interfere with her employment, to advise prospective landlords that she is not credit-worthy, to turn the children or family against her, to kill her or other family members if she leaves, to commit suicide, or to escalate his violence in other ways in an attempt to hold her in the relationship. When women leave violent partners they are often threatened and stalked. Many stalkers are successful and follow through on their threats to injure or kill.
Belief in a Family Violence Intervention Program. Women experiencing domestic violence are often reluctant to leave the relationship when their partners enter an FVIP. Women may believe that the changes and transformations that they have been hoping for are finally on the horizon. However, FVIP providers and victim advocates agree that there is no guarantee that any intervention program will result in a safer life for the victim of violence.
Dangers in leaving. Many women who experience intimate partner violence know that leaving their partner is not a safe option. Women are at a 75% greater risk of being seriously injured or killed after they leave. Even with an extensive coordinated community response to the crimes committed against women by male partners, it is still extremely difficult and dangerous for some women to escape the tyrants who keep them as possessions and prisoners.
Economic autonomy. Despite the risks and barriers, many women leave violent partners and they are eventually safer because of doing so. In these situations, the most likely predictor of whether she will return to the violent relationship is her economic viability.
Leaving is a process. Most women leave and return to violent partners many times. Her trial “runs” teach her what to expect regarding the reactions and responses of family, friends, institutions of faith, community based agencies, law enforcement, and the courts. She may also be learning to manage her grief and sense of loss as she faces the harsh realities of her current situation. Some women leave when dependant children grow old enough to leave home. Other women stay in violent relationships until they finish school, or save enough money for a new start.
This information is adapted from an article written in 1990 by Barbara J. Hart, Esq.