Raising Awareness- Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships
The prevailing myth that persists about domestic violence, even in today’s society, is the notion which is implicit in the question “Well, why doesn’t she just leave him?” that the abused woman is to some extent responsible for her own misfortune.
Many people still hold on to the belief that men are only violent when they are provoked or encouraged in some way. It stands to reason, according to this argument, that women deserve to be abused. Others maintain that women who stay in violent relationships must enjoy being abused. Worse than promoting ideas like these, society is guilty of ignoring the subject of domestic violence altogether as “a private matter between man and wife.”
Violence Toward Men
Although male victimization is an important issue that needs to be addressed, it is of significance and worth remembering the disparity between male and female physical strength and the unequal power context in which domestic violence occurs. Evidence shows that the use of violence by men toward women is of a much more widespread and serious nature than violence used by women toward men, which renders the abuse of women a priority issue.
According to a study carried out by UNICEF, up to half the female population of the world is subject to domestic violence. Evidence points to the fact that the abuse of women is both a national and a worldwide crisis.
So… why do so many women put up with it?
Staying in an Abusive Relationship: Emotional and Practical Reasons
Emotional considerations, such as the shame and embarrassment of being an abused woman was one of the most significant reasons according to Live Science. In order to access help, a woman must expose the nature of her relationship and invite the criticism of others. Many women have also come to believe, erroneously, over the years that they are causing their partners’ violence and that it is a justified punishment. As such, self- blame stops them from recognising that they are the victims of crimes committed against them and seeking the help that they deserve.
Fear of her partner’s reaction often stops a woman from leaving an abusive relationship. Indeed, one study found that women are particularly at risk after they leave their husbands/partners and know that leaving doesn’t necessarily end the violence anyway. As McWilliams and McKiernan point out, “The reason why it is expected that a woman would leave the violence is simultaneously the reason why she does not.” She may have been threatened with being killed many times and, having seen all too often what her partner is capable of doing to her, she knows that these are no idle threats.
She may still have feelings for her partner and, having already invested considerable time and effort in the relationship, believes that with a little more effort on her part, she can make him change. Her fantasies may be fuelled by her partner’s promises and profuse apologies during the “honeymoon period” which she wants desperately to believe and which create the right psychological conditions for her to do this.
Practical concerns, especially when women are financially dependent on their partners, often mean that leaving a violent partner is tantamount to choosing a life of poverty. An abused woman may also have no one to turn to either because she is isolated geographically or, having left her partner many times before only to return to the relationship to try again, she finds that she no longer has the support of family and friends.
Battered Woman’s Syndrome
Very often, the abused woman, broken down by continual emotional wear and tear over the years, lacks the confidence required to lead an independent life and to put into practice all the changes that that would entail. She may be suffering from depression or, what Hilberman and Munson termed as “battered woman’s syndrome,” which is characterized by passivity, paralysis, numbness and a pervasive sense of helplessness and despair. Such feelings reflect not only the fear of another assault, but the constant struggle to control her own anger and aggressive impulses toward her partner which she is unable to express without fear of reprisal.
Women stay in abusive relationships for a variety of emotional, practical and even physiological considerations. Making the decision to leave or end an abusive relationship is, for most women, a long and difficult process. Often they will leave several times before they are able to end it altogether. It needs to be recognised that the decisions made by these women will change the course of their lives. Saying “Why don’t you just leave?” to an abused woman is not useful at all because it shows little regard for her concerns and fails to grasp the complexity of the situation that she finds herself in.
Stopping the Cycle of Violence
Domestic violence affects most people, if not directly, then indirectly. The impact that it has on children, who are frequently witness to these assaults, in terms of their sense of security and the normalisation of unacceptable behaviour, is a serious concern because of the potential that it will lead to the inter-generational transmission of violence.
In order to stop the cycle of violence, however, it is necessary to stop “blaming the victim,” reinforcing in the minds of abused women that it is their own fault that they are being abused, thoughtlessly branding them with the stigma that they are “weak,” “stupid,” “bad” or “unstable” in addition to the traumas that they endure. These women need support and encouragement and their reasons for remaining need better understanding if they are to find the courage to put an end to their violent relationships. More information about ways you can end domestic violence can be found here.