Sometimes I feel we have belabored the question, “Why doesn’t she leave?” But, it just seems this question will never go away. Quite personally, I find myself being annoyed and put off by the fact it is still asked so frequently, especially by those who have very little if any understanding of domestic violence. Victims or struggling survivors are put into a situation where they feel they have to defend themselves against the violence being perpetrated upon them. This should not be! I don’t hear many people asking the question, “Why doesn’t he stop abusing her?” To shift the blame to the victim is ludicrous and unacceptable. I don’t suppose we will ever know how many victims we lose each year to suicide, because they cannot handle the ridicule, criticism or blame that is cast upon them, rather than the one doing the harm. It seems likely that unless there is a note left behind explaining their reason for taking their own life, it will be dismissed as “mentally ill” or the like, rather than “Victim of domestic violence.”
For the record, let me remind you of some of the reasons why she doesn’t leave:
- “If you try to leave, I will kill you. If you try to hide from me, I will find you and then I will kill you.”
- “If you ever call the cops, especially if they put me in jail, I will find you and cut you to pieces.”
- If there are children involved, the victim, their mother, is cognizant of the fact they need food, clothes, a roof over their head and a warm bed to sleep in every night. She cannot imagine uprooting them from their school, their friends or their community. Going to a shelter is not a viable option in her mind.
- “Just try to leave. You see that dog lying over there in the floor? You go, she dies.” If you have seen the list of red flag warnings for potential domestic violence, you will know that one of the first threats by a perpetrator is harm or death to the family pet. I cannot begin to tell you how many times my children would insist to stay simply in order to keep their pets safe.
- A woman left with the constant fear of having her intimate partner show up at work and causing a scene. Her first consideration is that it could cost her job. Without a job, whether or not she has children, there are still bills to pay, she must find a place to live, there’s gas and insurance for her vehicle and the list goes on. If he has threatened to come to her workplace and kill her, she also carries the guilt and fear of coworkers being harmed, or worse, killed.
- Imagine the embarrassment of having to explain to your administrator that you have been battered and abused and it became necessary to obtain an Injunction for Protective Order. The standard procedure is to provide not only a copy of the Injunction, but also a photograph of the perpetrator to an office director or supervisor. Many of us work in a large building where there is a receptionist at the front desk covering for many offices. She deserves to know that if an individual walks inside the door and is known as being dangerous, her first action should be to seek help immediately. Buzzing the victim that she has a guest could be calamitous.
- “Try to leave me and after I finish killing you, I’ll be sure and take out the rest of your family.”
- “I will kill us all before I will allow you to take my children away from me.”
- “How are you going to make it on your income alone? And who do you think is going to want you with a kid(s) in tow?”
- “Look how much weight you have gained. Any other man is going to find you disgusting. It’s all I can do to look at you.”
- The perpetrator will threaten the victim by telling her that he will disclose their dirty little secrets to her family—secrets she has been fighting for years to keep hidden. She is ashamed, she is ridden with guilt not only for having kept the secret from her loved ones, but for what she sees she has become.
The statements and comments made in these bullet points are just the tip of the iceberg. If you are still wondering why she doesn’t leave, perhaps you could read some of the blog posts on this website. There are also links where you can do more research to get a better perspective of domestic violence and the effect it has on its victims, as well as what I call the collateral damage—the children.
Let me close by sharing a brief story that a victim brought to me as she was seeking help, trying to get away from her abuser. She was married to a very high ranking, well respected leader in their church. He was an Elder. While they sat in the pew on Sunday mornings, smiles were pasted on their faces. They would have been the last couple within the entire congregation someone would have thought was “having problems.” It was not uncommon for something to set him off shortly after the service, and upon arriving at home he would proceed to beat her. Being assured everything was confidential, she approached her pastor asking for help. She wanted to leave him. The pastor reassured her divorce was not acceptable, as it was not Biblical. She begged for help, showing the bruises and spilling her guts as to what she had been living in for years. He only reiterated, “God hates divorce,” so it was out of the question. The pastor made it abundantly clear he would not and could not help her in the situation. His explanation, which this writer finds mind-boggling, was that if he took her side, her husband would feel alienated. Given that he was one of the largest tithers in the congregation, he would probably take his money to another church. She left feeling completely broken and alone.
In a matter of weeks she had no recourse than to go to the courthouse and obtain a restraining order. I’m sure it was difficult to sign, given she had a broken arm in a cast. As it works, the initial restraining order usually expires within just a few days, and the return hearing is scheduled so that the accused can be served and, if they prefer, retain and attend with counsel. The victim, given her situation, was staying with a friend, had no money and therefore could not afford to hire an attorney. The day came for the return hearing. To her shock and amazement, she looked up to see her husband stepping off the elevator, accompanied by the pastor and two deacons who were there to support him, along with his attorney.
Now, would you like to ask again, “Why doesn’t she leave?” Really?
Carolyn S. Hennecy is a survivor of child sexual abuse and domestic violence. She works diligently as a keynote speaker and advocate, as well as offering victim services through her writing, consulting and spiritual advisement. Be sure to visit Carolyn on Facebook.