Why They Stay

Most women will experience physical abuse at some point in their lives, and most assaults of adult women occur at the hands of an intimate partner. But once it happens, the options for most women are few—and bad.

shutterstock_151887428-638x425Intimate partner violence is about power and control, and leaving can be an extremely dangerous and frightening option for survivors.

In 1999, law professor and domestic violence survivor Sarah Buel offered up 50 obstacles to leaving, most of which remain unchanged. She points out that the end of the relationship can be just the start of the most serious threats. A battered woman is 75 percent more likely to be murdered when she tries to flee than if she stays.

Welfare is the major safety net for single moms, but its monthly benefit levels are far below living expenses for a family of three. In a study of Texas abuse victims, the number-one reason cited for returning home was financial, Buel writes.

In a cruel twist, the women who have the least access to resources are the most likely to be victimized: One study found that men who refused to give their partners money were almost 10 times more likely to be abusive than men who allowed their spouses to help manage household earnings.

Legal aid and emergency housing are also scarce. Many shelters have months-long waiting lists and lack translators.

Often, inept local officials perpetuate the problem. A massive recent investigation by the Charleston Post and Courier in South Carolina found that the state’s domestic violence epidemic partly stems from a legal system in which “a man can earn five years in prison for abusing his dog but a maximum of just 30 days in jail for beating his wife or girlfriend on a first offense.”

Some victims face cultural forces that urge “standing by your man” or giving the children a father. Others have such low self-esteem that they don’t see themselves as destined for or worthy of something better. Victims might think they deserve it, as Janay Rice hinted at a press conference in which she expressed regret for “the role she played in the incident.”

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