“Why doesn’t she leave?” It’s a question that is asked of me on a daily basis. It would seem a very simple answer would suffice for such a simple question… but it isn’t so easy. One answer to this questions is: She does leave. We serve hundreds of women in our shelter every year that have left, plus there are thousands more in our outreach programs.
I often find myself answering that question with another question, “Why does he stay and continue to beat her?” But that’s not really an answer.
To ask “why doesn’t she leave?” puts the focus on the victim and blames her. It says “if you leave, the abuse will stop and all will be well.” I don’t think people mean to blame the victim when they ask that question, but that is what is happening.
To begin to understand the answer to this question, we have to know why the abuse is happening in the first place. Domestic violence is about power and control. When power and control is lost or diminished (such as when she leaves the relationship), then increased methods of control are employed. These methods are increases in violence, threats, and stalking, all done in order to get that control back.
There are many reasons why women will stay, but in my entries over the next 2 weeks, I will focus on just six of them.
The first and foremost reason a woman will stay in a dangerous relationship is FEAR. Very logical, well grounded fear based on threats that have been made that he will kill her, he will kill her children, he will kill her family members or their beloved family pets if she tries to leave.
We have heard horror stories from women who have experienced these threats coming into reality as they have attempted to escape. The next time you hear about homicides in the news (and you will… on average, three women are killed in our country everyday by their abuser), listen and see if they say “ex-husband, ex-boyfriend or estranged partner”.
The most recent story can be found in our local news. The kansascity.com headline dated 11-19-09 reads:
"Jury convicts KC man of killing his baby son's mother". Justin Bennet (23) was convicted of first degree murder and armed criminal action for killing Keona Johnson by stabbing her more than 30 times. Keona did leave and she paid the ultimate price for leaving—her life—and her son is now left without his mother.
Many women leave and find themselves in more danger than when they were in the relationship. Sometimes it’s safer to stay and navigate the known danger, when leaving means navigating through the uncharted territory of increased threats and danger.
Women often tell us that at home at least they knew what to expect. They could read the warning signs and plan their actions based on those signs. When they are no longer in the home, they are in the dark and do not know how to plan for what is coming at them because they can’t see it.
Women who leave are at greater risk for being stalked. With the new technology that has come out in recent years, stalking of victims is more intense, easier to do and the fact that it is happening is easier to hide.
We have added technology to our safety planning with women. We make them aware of the possibilities of GPS devices having been planted in their cars, and of stalking technology on computers and in cell phones. The terror, trauma and danger that can result from stalking are tremendous and have major implications on how safe she feels, and how safe she really is.
Sometimes it just comes down to money. I have talked to many women who have said, “I am faced with ‘do I stay and feed my children, or do I leave and have no way to care for them?’”
It saddens me to think that those are the choices women are faced with. This is even more prevalent in these very difficult economic times. Finding a job, paying rent, keeping food on the table, and keeping their children clothed are all very real issues that battered women face when they make the decision of whether to stay or to leave the relationship.
Next week (posting 12/3), I’ll conclude with three more reasons she doesn’t leave: children, emotions and love.