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The one question our culture often asks of victims/survivors of domestic abuse is: “Why do/did you stay in an abusive relationship?” or “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Sometimes the question is meant as an honest inquiry. However, often it is spoken with an undercurrent of hostility or disbelief (i.e. “It couldn’t have been that bad” or “You must have liked it” or “If you wanted to leave, you would have.”), sending a message that women who stay in abusive relationships are somehow to blame for their abuse.
Our culture also sends equally powerful messages that women are expected to fill roles in their relationships that keep them dependent on their partners. This combination of messages sets women up to feel ashamed, isolated and stuck. Some may feel that they have no real choices.
The following list is a composite of views from women in DAP Women’s Groups over the past several years. They invited us into their lives and helped us answer the question: What keeps some women in abusive relationships?
Note: Not all of these reasons are found in each case. A combination of some of them can often be found and can be compelling enough to keep a woman in the relationship.
A woman may fear her partner’s actions if she leaves.
- My partner said he will hunt me down and kill me.
- My partner will kidnap the children and disappear.
- My partner will take my passport and immigration papers.
- My partner will spread horrible rumors about me.
- She will “out” me at work or to my family.
- My partner will have me deported or report me to the INS.
- My partner will stop the processing of my Green Card.
The effects of abuse may make it difficult to leave.
- I’m nothing. I don’t deserve better.
- I feel paralyzed.
- I can’t face making decisions anymore.
- I was brainwashed to believe that I couldn’t cope without my partner.
- I am so used to life being this way.
- I’m more comfortable with what I know, than the unknown out in the world.
A woman may have concerns about her children.
- My children will blame me and resent me.
- The kids need a father.
- She will tell my ex-spouse or authorities that I am a lesbian so they will take the kids.
- Children need a “real family”.
- My partner will steal the children.
- My partner will kill the children.
- My partner will turn the children against me.
- She is the biological mother; I have no legal rights.
A partner’s attempts to isolate a woman may make it difficult for her to leave or get help.
- My partner doesn’t let me out of the house.
- I have no friends to call for help anymore.
- My partner doesn’t let me take English classes so I can’t communicate with anyone.
- If I ever tell anyone about this, my partner will kill me.
- My sister said I couldn’t come and stay with her anymore, after the last time…
- My partner said he or she would teach my friend a lesson if I go over there again.
- My partner hides my wheelchair so I cannot leave the house.
A woman’s personal history may have shaped her attitude toward abuse in relationships.
- My father beat my mom – it just goes with being in a relationship.
- Getting hit isn’t the worst thing that can happen in a family – I know of worse things.
- I have seen a lot of violence in my country so violence has become normal for me.
- My parents never gave up on one another.
A woman may be deeply attached to her partner and hope for change.
- I believe my partner when he or she says that it will never happen again.
- My partner promised to go to therapy.
- I cherish the sex and intimacy.
- My partner is really loving towards me most of the time.
- My marriage vows.
- My religion.
- I love her or him.
Some women are taught that it is their job to maintain the relationship and support their partners, so they may feel guilty about leaving or feel they have “failed.”
- I will ruin his or her life if I leave.
- My partner will have nowhere to go.
- My partner will lose her or his job if I report this.
- My partner tells me the system does not support non-citizens.
- My partner will start drinking again.
- I will disappoint my family. I can’t admit my relationship is a failure.
- I am afraid the deaf community will reject me.
- I have to take care of him or her.
- She or he wouldn’t hurt me if I were better at keeping up the house.
Women may be economically dependent on their partners or their partners may be economically dependent on them.
- My partner has all the money.
- I’ve never had a good job. How would I take care of my kids alone?
- I have no work experience in this country.
- It’s better to be beaten up at home than to be out on the streets.
- My partner won’t let me send any money overseas.
- My disability does not enable me to work.
- I’d rather die than be on welfare.
- My partner forces me to work and then takes all my money.
- My partner charges up all my credit cards.
- My partner can’t work – he depends on me to support him.
Our culture sends the message that a woman’s value depends on her being in a relationship. Women without partners tend to be devalued.
- My partner keeps me together. I’ll fall apart if I leave.
- I have to have a man by my side.
- I would be disgraced in my community and bring shame to my family.
- People will call me a whore, a whore, or sleazy.
- I’ll be an old maid.
- I’m afraid to be on my own.