Today’s post is a long one. I knew I wanted to talk about this topic, but I didn’t realize that I would have so much to say. For convenient ease of reading, I will leave break up the post into three parts and you can come back and read another day, but the full length is available if you want to read it now.
Despite the length of the post, it does not even scratch the surface, because the topic is so complex and layered. However, I hope that in some way, it brings awareness and some understanding on why women remain in abusive relationships. Feel free to post a comment, ask a question and share on social media using the links above and beneath the post.
As a woman who lived with an abuser, one of the questions I’m often asked by people who I share my past with is, ‘why did you stay?’ I always strive to be honest and authentic in my response here on the blog—no matter the answer. In that spirit, I will share a few of the reasons why I stayed.
Truthfully speaking, I will admit that I honestly felt that he would change. There was a disconnect between the person I grew to love and then married and the man I shared my life, body and home with. They were not the same person. I’ve often said that I felt like he did a bait and switch on me. I didn’t believe it was possible for someone to pretend so well. When I later learned of the wounded past he kept secret, the anger, depression and violence started to make sense. It could not have just come from out of the blue. The past had come home to roost in the marriage.
I’m a firm believer that people can change for the better. We don’t have to remain on a self-destructive path. At any moment, we can decide that we want better and start working on betterment. With that thinking, I felt that with prayer, a willingness to change and help he would change. Of course, I now see the error in my judgement – after all, the person must desire change first. THEY must recognize that there is an issue that needs to be addressed and must be working towards this. THEY must be active in the process upon realization. THEY must first realize that there is an issue. THEY must want to change. It must begin with them. Until then, they will refuse help and never desire change and there will always be reasons to validate and justify their actions. Believe me.
I also felt a sense of obligation to ‘stand by my man’, having learnt of his struggles with abandonment and feelings of rejection in his childhood. I did not want him to feel that I too, was walking out in him just because I’d seen the worst in him.
In life you learn and you come to certain realizations. I’ve found that some people like their chains. They like to use past injustices and hurts inflicted by others as crutches to justify their behavior. With him, there was always talk of change and no commitment to the process along with a lot of blaming and regurgitating the past. The reality is that we all have our shit to deal with. Baggage, choices and things from the past can define us, arousing negative actions and ways of thinking within us. The majority of us make a conscious choice to take the high road. We don’t let past ills define us and set the course of our lives. We opt to live and be better. Do I carry this monkey of the past on my back or do I whip it and send it packing? For some people, carrying the monkey is easier because to whip it and set it free means that they must look within and sometimes it is so much easier to blame everything and everyone else.
Another reason I stayed was simply, where would I go? When we married, he moved into my house. Was I supposed to leave the home I built? To go where? To stay with whom? Who would really want to entertain me and all my drama? What I can tell you is this – people will always say leave but pressed with the opportunity to take in a battered woman and/or her children, they are very apprehensive to do so. Why? Because to them, that’s getting involved. They are afraid to get involved and to incur the wrath of the abuser or be seen as sticking their nose where it does not belong. It’s a chance that many do not want to take. Having said this it didn’t seem fair or right to me that I should have to leave my home and move into someone else’s, potentially making them uncomfortable. So, there you have it, one batted woman’s reason for staying.
According to Walker, nowhere is a woman in greater danger than in her own home. FBI stats show that battered women account for one quarter of all women murdered in the US each year. What I found to be most alarming is that most of the injury inflicted on women in America, was by their partners. Even more disturbing is that partner abuse far surpassed that of injury that resulted from rape, hijackings and even muggings combined! From the Caribbean perspective, we too have our stories to tell. Our societies are smaller but the story is the same. Sometimes I feel that the attitude to violence and poor treatment of women stems from the fact that we are, for the most part, strongly patriarchal societies. My generation has been the one to push change and challenge the status quo, but the strong male influence that exists from government, legal to religious and other areas of society, wield great influence.
In my grandmother’s generation, it was okay for a man to beat his wife and in my mother’s generation, people didn’t lose sleep over the man beating his wife next door. After all, the thinking was that the woman/wife was the chattel of the man to do with as he so pleased. This sort of thinking still exists and it often surprises me when I hear people vocalize it. It’s people of all strata of society. It’s not just the uneducated or the disenfranchised.
In 2012, four women died in the space of three months at the hands of men who they were currently (or at one time), romantically linked. For a small, close-knit society of just over 100,000, this is alarming. One of the victims was someone I went to church with and occasionally visited my home. If her death did not shock me, the violent, predatory way her former common-law husband and father of her son stalked her and then took her life, haunted me for weeks. It was truly gruesome.
Of course, not all women who suffer violence at the hands of their lovers die but they suffer in their own way, mainly emotionally, psychologically and of course, physically. I’ve shared some grim statistics, why I stayed and gave some insight into this subject people are uncomfortable discussing. From speaking with other women, here are some reasons why I think they’ve chosen to remain with abusive partners.
- Hope in illumination: Thinking that the abuser will see the error of his ways and change. They think that with the right counseling and therapy, he will change and become a better person. I believe that this sort of thinking stems from the fact that most people see others as inherently good and carry the potential to be a better person. They believe that once the abuser gets the right help, he can be ‘fixed’.
- Victim blaming and shaming: Victims are thought to be the cause of the abuser’s behavior, the fault of why he abuses. She is told that her actions or lack thereof is the catalyst for his violence towards her. Ex: you must have done something to make my son hit you. My son is not that kind of person. This is what ex’s father told me when I called him to tell him of the abuse. Victim blaming and shaming really gets under my skin because I can tell you this – when you live with a volatile person, who is like a time bomb waiting to go off, more often than not, you are always on eggshells, trying to be, for lack of expression, on your best behavior. Why? Because anything from a bad day on the job, to cooking a meal they didn’t want, can send them over the edge. That’s the fallacy about blaming the victim and shaming them. It never is about them. It’s all about how the abuser is feeling on the inside. With a culture of blame and shame, why would a woman even want to talk of her abuse much less escape it? If her partner, society, media, the church etc. constantly tell her, that she is the trigger, who can she escape to?
- Financial and economic security: This is when the abuser deprives the victim and their children economically or financially, (another form of abuse in itself), as a means of maintaining control. Examples include denying money for food, school, doctor visits etc. Mothers often sacrifice for their children and are willing to endure abuse if they think their children will not be deprived of essentials. This is especially the case if the woman is not employed or her wages cannot support the family on her own. She sacrifices herself for her children’s comfort and security.
- Fear of retaliation: Fear that the abuser will hurt her extended family, damage property, harm others or himself or cause her to lose her job by showing up on her workplace and creating violent displays.
- She knows no other norm: I think this is perhaps the saddest reason why some women stay. Some women have no form of advocacy in the home or society. They have internalized the belief that abuse is normal and acceptable. They truly believe that there what they experience is normal and part of the way the world works.
- She has no alternative: There are no women shelters, no family or friend that can or is willing to take her in and she is not in a position to finance a move. She is willing and desirous of escaping her abuser but no system or alternative structure is in place to allow her to make that change.
- No hope in the system: Sigh. I don’t even want to go there, but it must be said. Many of the people put in place to protect battered women often come to their positions with little education, misinformation, indifference, biases of sufferers and abuse. It is often reflected in how they address issues. Some simply don’t give a damn and in the execution of their duties, they re-victimize the victim. Case in point – when I went to court to file for an order of protection against my husband, this was supposed to be handled in private chambers in a family court setting. Imagine my dismay when the magistrate opted to address this in the open, packed court. All my dirty laundry was aired. All my secret shame became open for the community to know. I was deprived of telling my story as this magistrate did it for me. I was subjected to much embarrassment and taunting after this got out. The legal system in place to protect me failed and the saddest thing about it is that by reading out and discussing the matter in court caused my ex to be more bitter and vindictive towards me, because he too was embarrassed. The full order was not even granted. A double whammy.
I’m not psychologist or professional in the field. I’m simply a victim and survivor who is striving to be an agent of change in her own small way. There needs to be much more conversation on this topic. I know this simple blog post does not remotely begin to explore this topic as there are so many layers involved. Un-peel one and it presents more layered questions, arguments, challenges and hypotheses. Any conversation about domestic violence is complex, but worth having because it can enlighten, bring understanding and hopefully meaningful change.
I also hope that I’ve also dispelled a common belief that the victim likes or wants to be abused, because it makes her feel loved. It’s a common shutdown when used in conversations around domestic violence by people who are close-minded. I recently attended a workshop where the topic of domestic violence came up and it really upset me when I heard someone at the policy making level use this as a reason why women stay. Not only was it simplistic, I felt that it showed how uninformed and insensitive she was. A heated conversation arose and I stormed out of the room in tears. The statement broke the damn as there were past and present victims in the room and this statement hit a nerve. People started sharing their story and there was a meltdown in the session.
Beating makes me feel loved and wanted. If my man does not beat me, he does not love me. What a load of bullshit and a cop-out. It infuriates me each time I hear this statement bandied around as the reason why women stay. The question should not be why women stay. It should be how we can make them safer. Simply asking why doesn’t she leave, I feel, attaches some blame to the women because of the way the question is often posed, or the tone in which it is asked. This is a complex and multifaceted question that cannot be simplified by making the woman feel culpable for her situation. I wish more people would ask why do men abuse? Then we would be a bit closer to getting some deep thinking and hopefully coming up with ways of addressing abusive tendencies.
I’ll get off my soapbox now and wrap things up here. Much of the figures mentioned here, especially on the US situation were taken from my own personal research and a reading from Lectures on the Psychology of Women. It’s an interesting and deeply illuminating piece written by Geraldine B. Stahly, Professor of Psychology at California State University at San Bernadino. If you want to know more, I recommend you get the book or research her studies.
Carlana Charles is the visionary and editor-in-chief of FemmePowered. She is a womanist, writer, speaker, story midwife and facilitator of meaningful and engaging conversations. When she is not working in or on FemmePowered, she can be found resting, baking, reading or scribbling furiously in her journal whilst sipping wine or coffee, sometimes both at the same time. She is currently working on her first book and hopes to release it in September 2018.