Most people don’t understand why a woman won’t leave her abuser. To outsiders, it’s obvious that if she left him, her troubles would be over. If only it were that simple. What you think will turn her world rightside-up may be what she thinks will turn her world upside-down.
A woman who is abused by a partner, former partner, or other intimate relation is systematically demeaned by her tormentor, beaten down physically or emotionally or both. His objective is to make her believe she has no worth, no power, nor anyone’s respect.
He convinces her that she needs him.
After practicing in this area of law and representing victims of abuse, I haven’t grown jaded– but I have grown wise. When I see on the news that a woman has been murdered I often think domestic violence, depending on the circumstances. When I see the murder-suicide of a woman and a man, I almost always think domestic violence. I hate that I am rarely wrong.
There is no always or never. There is no all or none.
WHY WON’T SHE LEAVE HIM?
A woman is most in danger of being killed by her abuser when she threatens to leave or leaves. Maybe she doesn’t know that, but she’s been threatened, she’s been warned, and his threats stay with her every second of every day. An abuser may threaten to kill her, their children, her family members or friends, himself, or any combination of these. She believes he will carry out his threats. Many men do. Or they may say they will kill a pet, another potent threat.
A woman may fear that she, and her children if she has them, will become homeless and have nowhere to go, no money for food or shelter, no way to survive without her abuser, who typically is in control of every aspect of her life, most especially finances and keeping her financially dependent on him. Domestic abuse has no socio-economic boundaries, though, and a woman may be a professional with her own substantial income. Still, he may threaten to ruin her financially, and her fear that he will follow through may be well founded.
A woman may believe that her children are not in danger of being harmed, while she herself is in great danger. But she may fear that if she flees for her own safety she will be legally abandoning her children and she will not get custody of them, which is not necessarily true. (Most states have abandoned “custody” in favor of more neutral terms that do not imply that children are property one parent has control of.) Many factors are at play, and actions a woman takes after she leaves are important. Anyone who is in this situation should seek advice through their local domestic violence shelter, or the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, www.ncadv.org.
Many women who are abused self-medicate with drink or drugs, numbing themselves because they can’t or feel they can’t physically escape. An abuser may use this against a woman and tell her she will never see her children again. A woman who has been brought this low will believe it, though courts routinely find that abusers are more harmful to children, even when the children are only witnesses to abuse.
A woman may believe for her own reasons, societal reasons, or religious reasons that children are better off in a household with two parents. She may not know that for her children to witness the abuse is far more harmful to them than for them to be children of divorce. She may not know that staying makes it more likely that her son/s will become abusers and that her daughter/s will internalize abuse, thinking that what happens between her parents is normal, and will later be in and stay in an abusive relationship.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Let’s be aware all year.
And sometimes, she won’t leave him because she loves him. And he tells her he loves her. Even if that’s true, he doesn’t love her more than he loves himself.
His love is not the answer and neither is hers, because if either were, there wouldn’t be a problem.
Sometimes a woman is being abused, but her friends, family, clergy, or all three don’t acknowledge it. Pressure is put on her to “make it work,” for whatever reason the friend, family or clergy member gives. It could be because a woman who hasn’t been physically abused may not show signs of injury on the outside and her inner wounds are not acknowledged, but there are many other reasons.
Don’t be part of the problem, friends and family.
If you know someone who is suffering abuse, who has told you she’s suffering abuse, or you suspect is suffering abuse, be compassionate. Be caring. Don’t tell her what to do; talk to her and listen. Offer your help, but understand that to leave or not to leave is her decision. Respect it. And tell her you respect her.
Acknowledge the pain and turmoil she is in, most especially the emotional turmoil. If she doesn’t leave him, don’t give up on her leaving him. Give her love, respect, support, and time. It’s going to take all of that. Are you willing to commit that much to her? Do you value her that much? Her belief that others will take her seriously, will let her make her own decisions, will respect her, listen to her, and believe her empowers a woman. He has had power and control over her. You can help her gain it back. Empowerment is the transformative intangible that enables her to leave him. You can be a part of that.