Advocates Against Family Violence

Why She Stays - Why She Leaves

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The victims of domestic violence cannot be categorized into any one category.  Battered women come from all different backgrounds, mixed cultural groups, a wide range of ages, races, religions, educational levels, socioeconomic groups and are seen in hetrosexual and same-sex relationships.

Most of the time, the victim has a history of being physically and/or emotionally abused by her partner.  Although, the abuse may be only tracked through hospital and/or police records.  The victim may not share the abusive history with family members or friends because of the embarssement of being in this particular situation or to protect the abuser from having to explain his actions (in some situations leading to more abuse on the victim).

Battered women usually have very low self-esteem.  Through repeated physical abuse and systemic emotional abuse, the feelings of powerlessness and worthlessness get even worse. The victim takes on an attitude of "Learned Helplessness" which ultimately breaks down the victim because she is unable to change her life circumstances; so she compromises and begins to justify and live with the abuse and the hands of her abuser. 



Guilt: Women often automatically accept blame for their own victimization.  Many women will say "I asked for it", or "I provoked him".  Society, also, typically holds women responsible for the emotional well-being of the family.

Emotional Dependence: She may have learned to rely on him for everything, giving her no experience with independent decision making.  She may have low-self-esteem, doubts she can meet her children's needs.  She may fear the legal system and feel that laws cannot help her. This is especially true if she is an immigrant with no legal papers to stay within the United States.

Learned Behavior:  If she came from a home where women were not respected, then, she accepts her situation as normal.

Traditional Value System: She readily accepts the idea that "a woman's place" is in the home.  This is based on the belief that the man should always be the head of the household; therefore, she may want to protect the image of her husband and family.  Religious and cultural beliefs may also keep her in her marriage.  She stays because of the children, may feel that any father is better than no father, or the social stigma of divorce may also be a factor.

Depression: Many women internalize their anger and may be evidenced as depression.  Depression may make her feel as though she has no energy (either emotional or physical) to battle with it or stand up for herself. She may even feel that if she reacts at all she will kill him and has become afraid of herself as well.

Isolation:  The mate frequently keeps her from having friends, because they will reinforce her self-worth.  She may also be unaware of her options.

Fear:  Typically, battered women experience constant agitation and anxiety that border on panic.  The batterer often threatens to kill her, her children or her family members.

Embarrassment or Shame: For having allowed someone else to treat her that way or because she believes she made him do it; because she is not good enough or she may have done something wrong to have angered him.

Love:   The victim may hope for a change in the abusive behavior. The victim may think she can help him quit battering, or may believe he is sick.  The only change she wants is the relationship is not to be abused.  (Click Here for a more indepth discussion on Addictive Love)

Learned Helplessness:  Once it is believed that we have no control over what happens to us, it is difficult to believe we can ever again.  This concept is important in understanding why battered women do not attempt to free themselves from a battering relationship.  She becomes passive, compliant and submissive.  She does not realize she has the right not to be abused. (Click Here for an indepth discussion on "Learned Helplessness Of Abused Women")

Victimization Process:  Often, a woman has no idea during courtship that the man will batter.  The first reaction is disbelief, shock, hurt and anger.  He may promise never to do it again.  She loves him and wants to believe him.  It continues because rarely does battering end after only one violent episode.  The woman becomes powerless, without hope.  She has no self-confidence; paranoia may develop.  She believes law enforcement and judicial officers will not take her seriously.  Any attempts to consult authorities are seen as a threat and she fears she will be hurt for her attempts.  She becomes physically and emotionally paralyzed.  She accepts abuse as a part of her life; she has given up.



Fear: Her anxiety may rise to a level that may mobilize her into action if she thinks another beating episode may be fatal.

Motherly Instinct:  When the batterer has begun to outwardly abuse the children, either sexually or physically this may give her the emotional energy to act.  If the children have started to also abuse her, she realizes she must remove them from the abusive situation sooner rather than later.  She may also come to the realization that if the children are abused, someone may report this to the authorities and she may have to leave in order to keep her children.

Support:     A friend or family member offering help may give her courage to leave.  Even hearing of the help of a shelter on the radio may give her the social approval she needs as well as giving her an option.


Domestic Violence Definitions

Battering:  Repeated use of physical and emotional abuse to dominate or control another.  This control is in the form of verbal, emotional and/or physical abuse; which goes beyond one's safe place.  This control can manifest itself in domestic violence, child abuse, racism, prejudice of any alternative like style, unethical and manipulative communication or other forms of abuse.

Denial:  People learn to distance themselves from intense pain in whatever way they can, thus crazy behaviors and/or denial are almost always responses of self-protection against abuse.  This protection often keeps those who might question or help distance. 

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