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According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, women who leave their abusive partners are at a 75% greater risk of being killed than those who stay. In 1996, 1,800 women in this country were murdered by their current or former husband or boyfriend. Many women stay for the simple reason that they fear they, or their children, will be killed or seriously injured if they do attempt to leave. Since a batterer is dependent on the woman he batters for his sense of power and control, he is willing to do anything to keep her from leaving—even killing her. Murder is the ultimate expression of the batterer's need to control his partner.

As Jann Jackson describes:1

There is an abundance of evidence that a woman stays with an abusive partner because she is unable to gain access to the safe housing, jobs, child care, finances, and legal protection needed to be safe and self-sufficient. Unlike victims of other crimes, battered women are legally bound, economically dependent, and emotionally involved with their assailant. It is difficult to escape when there is no safe place to go and there are insufficient financial resources to live independently.


Many judges are reluctant to sentence an abuser to jail or deny a father the right to visit his children. Thus, a woman who does escape often finds herself in continuing contact with the abuser during court-ordered visitation arrangements or because the abuser has simply tracked her to her new location.

Women often remain in abusive relationships because of simple economics. A woman with children who leaves an abusive partner is likely to face severe economic hardship. Battered women know this when they are making choices about their lives. Statistics show that in the first year after divorce, a woman's standard of living drops by 73%, while a man's improves by an average of 42%.

Women also stay because they love the person and believe he will change. One component in a cycle of violence is the remorseful phase where, typically after a violent incident, the batterer shows remorse, makes promises to change, and is charming and loving.

Other reasons women stay are: out of guilt ("I don't want to break up the family"); for the children ("the children need a father"); she made a vow ("marriage commitment is for better or worse"); religious beliefs ("divorce is against my religion"); embarrassment ("what will people think of me if they knew I married an abuser?"); or shame ("I couldn't make the marriage work"). A woman may also feel that she has no place to go or can't make it alone.

As stated above, there are numerous reasons women stay. The problem is really with the question. The question implies that the violence is the problem of the woman who is the victim of the violence, and that it is up to her to solve it.

"It ignores the fact that domestic violence is a crime and instead, insists that the crime victim walk away and forget about it. It transforms an immense social wrong into a personal transaction. At the same time, it pins responsibility for the violence squarely on the woman who is the target."2

We would never say to a victim of house theft, "Why did you leave your house to go to the movies?" or to a victim of purse snatching, "Why did you carry your purse down the street?" No matter whether the woman stays or goes, domestic violence is still a crime. We need to put the blame where it belongs—on the batterer—and replace the question, "Why didn't she leave" with "Why does he abuse?"


1"Understanding Survival Responses of Battered Women," Jann K. Jackson, Maryland Medical Journal, October 1994.

2"Why Doesn't She Leave Him?: It's Time to Put That Question to Rest," Ann Jones, Woman's Day, June 7, 1994.