A common question we are asked in respect to survivors of domestic violence is ‘why does she stay if the abuse is so bad?’.
To answer this question we re-frame it and ask people to consider ‘why doesn’t he stop the abuse? and ‘why doesn’t he leave?’.
To illustrate this it is helpful to consider what survivors of domestic domestic violence may lose and what they may gain if they leave.
|Chance for a better life||Status as a wife/ married woman|
|Hope||The ‘known’ certainty|
|Safety and control over life||Friends and family members|
|Improved health||Father (figure) for children|
|Life||Hope that things will work out|
Survivors of domestic violence are not a homogeneous group and their experiences are not all alike. Black and minority ethnic women’s experiences may be compounded by racism and discrimination, as may the experiences of disabled women and lesbians.
- many of the losses are are practical and material and most of the gains are abstract concepts
- the losses will be immediate and the gains will take time (usually 8 months to a year)
- the losses are more certain and the gains are only probable
- the most important gain of freedom from further violence has to be balanced against the fact that leaving is extremely dangerous – most women who are killed by their partners are killed in the process of separating or in the subsequent 2 months
- although women are often threatened by their abusers with the loss of their children it is relatively rare – but a woman will not be able to be certain if this until she has taken the risk, so the fact that it is unlikely will not give her much reassurance.
In the case of children:
- it is rarely their choice to leave anyway
- the abstract gains are often more difficult for children to grasp especially when balanced against material losses
- they may be angry or resentful towards their mothers for the losses they sustain, especially if they (as many children do) retain feelings of care towards their mother’s abuser.