I stayed in an abusive marriage for 11 years because I was afraid.
Today’s media soundbite is shocking to me. “Why didn’t she leave?” As though it were her fault that she was married to an abusive man and caught in the cycle of abuse. If people are so curious then why don’t the just do a little research and ask. Time to stop blaming the victim folks.
Why doesn’t she leave?
Uneducated (but willing to learn)
Today a particular couple is in the spotlight. The only reason this couple is making headlines is because the man is being punished financially for his abusive behavior. This is just one couple, but I assure you that this is not an isolated case. This is happening in so many homes every single day. One in four women will experience domestic violence within her lifetime. The statistics are staggering and these are the cases we know about. Most women don’t report their abuse. Did you know that almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner? That domestic violence results in more than 18.5 million mental health care visits each year? That the cost of domestic violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services? That domestic violence victims lost almost 8 million days of paid work because of the violence perpetrated against them by current or former husbands, boyfriends and dates last year? This loss is the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs and almost 5.6 million days of household productivity as a result of violence. Finally, there are 16,800 homicides and $2.2 million (medically treated) injuries due to intimate partner violence annually, which costs $37 billion last year.
So, why didn’t she just leave? Why didn’t I just leave?
Please feel free to insert your mother, sister or daughters name here because it very easily could be anyone. If this can happen to me then it most certainly can happen to you. What you need to understand is that domestic violence systematically breaks down a persons sense of self. It doesn’t start with a knock out in an elevator. It is much more seductive than that. It creeps in slowly and knows how to bend and manipulate the mind of a person who is truly trying to love. Simply put, it is a “mind fuck”. We have seen kidnapping victims fall into life with their abductors and fail to run away when presented with a clear opportunity. When you are living in the middle of a situation like this, there are so many factors that prevent you from leaving, but the main underlying issue is often Stockholm syndrome (trauma bonding). This suggests that the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be perceived as a threat. This is also known as survival to the abused.
Allow me to give you some bullet points on some of the reasons why:
- No self-worth & depression
- Afraid of escalating violence if the police don’t intervene and help you.
- Threats of harm to you and your children if you leave (extended family and pets too).
- No access to leave.
- Your ability to cope is completely caught up in the dysfunctional situation and so you pray for the storm to pass.
- No outside support
- Financial dependency
- Religious beliefs
- etc. etc. etc.
What people don’t seem to understand is the cycle of violence pulls a person in much like a riptide does in the surf.
It takes hold of you and before you realize that you are being pulled out too deep and with too much force; you are already way out in the water and over your head, exhausted, terrified, with no safety net, and no clear way out. You panic. I have seen this happen time and time again, and I have lived it. You are supposed to swim parallel to the shore and out of harms way. You know this, but yet as you get pulled under you panic and in this moment you can’t think in a straight line. Many people drown every year in riptides. Many women die at the hand of their abusers every year.
I come from an educated upper middle-class family.
My parents have been married for over 50 years. This kind of thing doesn’t happen to women like me or so I thought. Like I have said before, if this can happen to me it can happen to you, your sister, your mother, your daughter, or a friend. Domestic Violence does not discriminate against gender, religious, race, or socio-economic lines. It is ruthless and it is far reaching. Domestic violence is a generational cycle. It is taught by the parent and passed down to the child who in turn marries and repeats the whole scenario. While domestic violence can happen to all people the likelihood of it being a woman is far higher. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year and 85% of domestic violence victims are women.
Social gender roles, economics, traditions, and religious ideals contribute to this perpetuating cycle.
The recent video is a public display of brute force on an unsuspecting victim. Never forget that this is a violent act on a woman by a man who is supposed to love and care about her enough to want to marry her (or is it “own” her?) Imagine what it must be like for her at home if he is so free to dole out his punches in public like that? Too bad for him that she didn’t get right back up and that the cameras were rolling. My question to the greater public is “What did you think domestic violence looked like?” The answer is that it looks just like this and it continue to look just like this right down to her statement in the news apologizing for her part in the ordeal. It continues with her posts to social media asking why people are turning this into such a media circus and crucifying her husband. She will continue with the script and by the grace of God maybe, just maybe one day she will get out alive. Maybe she can break the cycle.
If you ask a survivor about the cycle they will not only tell you how it worked for them, but how it felt, and how it still feels years after they have fled to safety.
Why did I stay? I was terrified that my ex-husband would follow through on his threats to kill me, our children and members of my extended family. Imagine that burden? Knowing that your mother and children were in harms way. Knowing that a person can hate you so much that they would derive joy from watching you suffer over the murder of your own children? This was and is still very much my reality. Yes, I know it is a hard pill to swallow, however what you must know is that it isn’t always just easy to walk away. You need to have a plan. You need support, a place to go, and you need to be prepared for your abuser to not let go. Exiting the relationship is the most unsafe time for a victim. As the abuser senses that they’re losing power, they will often act in dangerous ways to regain control over their victim. Stalking is a very real part of the aftermath of domestic violence and one of the reasons that so many women return home after they have left. On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good. I still must live in the shadows with my children in the attempt to stay out of harms way. I had to give up a lot to survive. Freedom is not something that I take lightly. The next time you hear someone say, “Why didn’t she just leave?” Think of me and what I have written here. I hope that I don’t have to expand on all the bloody details to get people to listen and heed my warning:
This can happen to you.
**Note: I cannot use a photo of my face due to safety concerns due to domestic violence.