(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 12 January 2011)
Just before the “Break the Silence, Stop the Violence” rally last November, I was on television almost daily to promote the rally. As a result, many people would come up to me and tell me their thoughts on the subject of domestic violence. I was more than a bit surprised by the number of women who would insist that if a woman marries a man who she knows is violent or stays in a relationship with a man who is violent – then she deserves the violence.
Do women who stay with abusers deserve the abuse? Let me say up front that this is the wrong question to start with, the questions we should be asking are: Why do assailants terrorize and torture their partners? Why is it that the vast majority of batterers are men and the vast majority of survivors are women? Why does society allow the abuse to continue?
However, for the sake of addressing this widespread belief – that the woman asked for the abuse – let’s list some of the many reasons why women stay in abusive relationships. Many believe that if an abused woman really and truly wanted to leave an abusive relationship, she would pack up her things and go. However, this conclusion ignores the environmental barriers that prevent women from leaving the abuser.
The following information is by Susan G. S. McGee and located on www.stopviolence.com:
Separation Violence – Many, perhaps most, people believe that battered women will be safe once they separate from the batterer. Batterers may, in fact, escalate their violence to coerce a battered woman into reconciliation or to retaliate for the battered woman’s perceived rejection or abandonment of the batterer.
Psychological Terrorism – Some battered women are held prisoner in their own homes. Assailants use psychological terrorism and brainwashing techniques to keep them in the violent relationship.
Hope that he can change – If he can be cured, she reasons, then the violence will end and their relationship can resume. However, most experts believe that a man must be violence-free for two to three years, before marriage counselling is safe or appropriate. All women want the violence to end; many do not want the relationship to end.
Cannot afford justice – Some battered women are forced to stay because they cannot afford to pay the legal fees to separate from the abuser.
Battered women stay for their children – Battered women fear that their partner will get custody of the children.
Some battered women stay because there is no place for them to go – Shelters do not exist everywhere. They are often full. Most women cannot find or afford safe housing. They become stuck in emergency shelters, unable to find a place to live.
Some battered women stay because they are not given accurate information about battering – They are told (by professionals, family, friends and the batterer) that alcohol or other drugs cause battering. Women then endlessly attempt to modify their behaviour only to watch the violence worsen. They are sent to mediation or couples counselling, and told that if this does not work out, it is their fault.
Some battered women stay (for varying lengths of time) because their assailants deliberately and systematically isolate them from support – People who are in trouble need support. They need the aid of family, friends, co-workers and professionals to weather the crisis and make the best decisions for themselves. Assailants commonly force their partner to account for every minute of their time.
Some battered women stay because they believe in love and they still love their partners – This is often one of the hardest phenomena for people who have not been battered to understand. However, many people have been in difficult relationships or jobs that they knew they should leave, but either couldn’t, or needed time to be able to depart. Love is glorified in our culture.
Some battered women stay because they believe what their assailant is telling them, such as – You’re crazy and stupid. No one will believe you; You’re the one that’s sick. You need help. You’re hysterical; I know the judge; he won’t put me in jail; The police will never arrest me; It’s not serious. You’re not really battered; If you leave, I’ll get custody because you’ll have abandoned me and the kids; If you leave, I’ll find you and kill you. I’ll kill your family, your kids, and your pets; You’ll never escape me.
Drugs and Alcohol – Some battered women stay because they are addicted and their addiction prevents them from taking action on their own behalf. Some battered women stay because their assailant encourages or coerces them into using alcohol or other drugs, and/or sabotages their recovery.
Some battered women are trapped in battering relationships because of sexism (unequal treatment of women) – Barbara Hart: “The most likely predictor of whether a battered woman will permanently separate from her abuser is whether she has the economic resources to survive without him.” Women do not have economic resources equal to or approaching men. The poverty rate in female-headed households is much greater than that of married families.
Some battered women stay because institutions are helpless or unwilling to offer them protection or assistance – In every institution, there are those who are allies to battered women and actively search for ways to be helpful. Others are well intentioned, but have no training or knowledge about domestic violence.
Some battered women stay because they believe what women have been taught to believe about both women’s roles and men’s roles (gender socialization) – Gender stereotyping and enforced adherence to it play a major role in battering. Certainly, girls are taught to be passive, to smile, to be nice, to be accommodating, to take care of others and to be sensitive to others needs. Beyond “teaching”, our culture actively punishes girls who violate those rules. The facet of gender roles that directly contributes to domestic violence is the concept of entitlement. Men are taught entitlement. Men are trained to believe that they are entitled to the attention and services of women. When men don’t get these services, some may try negotiation, some pressure, and some may leave their partners. Some men choose to use violence to obtain those services.
Some battered women stay because they are afraid that if they try to leave, they or their children will die – They should fear death. Battered women are in real danger.
These are just some of the reasons why we cannot say that women want to stay in abusive relationships. They do not “ask for it.” Women do not ask to be abused, but are often trapped in abusive relationships and cannot see a way of escape. It is then our responsibility to help these abused women to find a way to a happy and safe life outside of the reach of violent and abusive hands.