Why doesn't she leave? 01.08.06
Whilst the risk of staying may be very high, simply leaving the relationship does not guarantee that the violence will stop. In fact, the period during which a woman is planning or making her exit, is often the most dangerous time for her and her children.
Many women are frightened of the abuser, and with good reason. It's common for perpetrators to threaten to harm or even kill their partners or children if she leaves.
Reasons why a woman may not be ready to leave:
- She may still care for her partner and hope that they will change (many women don't necessarily want to leave the relationship, they just want the violence to stop).
- She may feel ashamed about what has happened or believe that it is her fault.
- She may be scared of the future (where she will go, what she will do for money, whether she will have to hide forever and what will happen to the children).
- She may worry about money, and supporting herself and her children.
- She may feel too exhausted or unsure to make any decisions.
- She may be isolated from family or friends or be prevented from leaving the home or reaching out for help.
- She may not know where to go.
- She may have low self-esteem as a result of the abuse.
- She may believe that it is better to stay for the sake of the children (eg wanting a father for her children and/or wishing to prevent the stigma associated with being a single parent).
Women and children need to know that they will be taken seriously and that their rights will be enforced. They need to have accessible options and be supported to make safe changes for themselves and their children. Resources and support they will need to leave safely include: money, housing, help with moving, transport, ongoing protection from the police, legal support to protect her and the children, a guaranteed income and emotional support. If a woman is not sure if these are available to her, this may also prevent her from leaving.
Women may also seek support from family or friends and the quality of the support they receive is likely to have a significant influence on their decision-making. Sometimes women will make several attempts to leave before they actually leave permanently and safely. Regardless of her decision, it is important that the support a woman receives enables her to increase her and her children's safety regardless of the choices she makes about her relationship to the abuser.
It is vitally important that women are also supported while living with their abusers. If a womean feels that she will not be given ongoing support while she stays with her abusive partner, she is unlikely to seek help from the same person or organisation again.
How important is specialist support when a woman tries to leave?
Access to culturally specific or specialised support may also be an important consideration for women from BME communities, lesbians, disabled women, asylum seekers and women with an insecure immigration status. These women often face additional barriers to seeking help in the first place - such as physical barriers, language, poverty and discrimination. Specialised help and a range of mechanisms to make contact and receive support are available via Women's Aid and throughout the England-wide network of domestic violence services.
What happens when family or friends try to help a woman leave?
Women may reach out to friends or family for help. When they do so, they can experience a variety of responses, ranging from the helpful to the utterly dangerous. However well-intended their help, friends or family may simply not know how to deal with the situation and may not be aware of the professional support and the legislative rights available.
Do women choose violent men?
Women do not seek out relationships with violent men. Frequently, men who will become violent do not reveal this aspect of their behaviour until the relationship has become well established and often not until their first pregnancy.
The first incident of domestic violence occurred after one year or more for 51% of the women surveyed; between three months and one year for 30%; and between one and three months for 13%. It occurred in less than one month for only 6% of women (Walby & Allen, 2004).
Amongst a group of pregnant women attending primary care in East London, 15% reported violence during their pregnancy; just under 40% reported that violence started whilst they were pregnant, whilst 30% who reported violence during pregnancy also reported they had at sometime suffered a miscarriage as a result (Coid, 2000).
Are women who experience domestic violence 'helpless'?
The concept of 'learned helplessness' is now outdated according to our current understanding of domestic violence. It is a psychological theory that initially arose from animal behaviour research and was popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
Women living with and leaving violent men say that they want the violence to stop and are often actively engaged in trying to protect themselves and their children from it. They may also try a number of ways to cope with or get the violence to stop, including changing their own behaviour eg. avoiding certain situations or appeasing the abuser by complying with his demands.
In a study, ".. women were also found to be actively engaged in trying to deal with violence and seeking outside assistance with these efforts. These women were neither helpless or hopeless. While they did speak of the negative effects of living with violence, most had considerable strengths and held many positive views about themselves despite the harm and denigration they had suffered". (Dobash & Dobash, 2000).
Key statistics: Why don't women leave?
- Embarrassement & shame: A recent survey revealed that whilst 20% of women admit they have lived, or do currently live in fear of violence happening, more than half (52%) told researchers they'd be too embarrassed and ashamed to tell their friends, and 59% said they would not tell their families (YouGov, 2004).
- Risk of homicide: Women are at greatest risk of homicide at the point of separation or after leaving a violent partner. (Lees, 2000).
- Effect on children: 60% of the women in one study left the abuser because they feared that they would be killed if they stayed. A further 54% of women left the abuser because they said that they could see that the abuse was affecting their children and 25% of the women said that they feared for their children's lives. (Humphreys & Thiara, 2002).
- Effect of leaving: The British Crime Survey found that, while for the majority of women leaving the violent partner stopped the violence, 37% said it did not. 18% of those that had left their partner were further victimised by stalking and other forms of harassment. 7% who left said that the worst incident of domestic violence took place after they had stopped living with their partner. (Walby & Allen, 2004).
- Post-separation violence: 76% of separated women reported suffering post-separation violence (Humphreys & Thiara, 2002). Of these women:
- 76% were subjected to continued verbal and emotional abuse.
- 41% were subjected to serious threats towards themselves or their children.
- 23% were subjected to physical violence.
- 6% were subjected to sexual violence.
- 36% stated that this violence was ongoing.
- Child contact arrangements: In addition to this, more than half of those with post-separation child contact arrangements with an abusive ex-partner continued to have serious, ongoing problems with this contact (Humphreys & Thiara, 2002).
- Contact with outreach services: 46% ofwomen contacted outreach services for the first time when they were still living with their abuser; 90% of these women had since left the abuser (Humphreys & Thiara, 2002).
View the Domestic Violence FAQs (pdf) for full information on domestic violence.
View the Domestic Violence Bibliography (pdf) for references.