Perpetrator’s behavior Escalating violence, stalking, harassment, hostage taking, threats against children; promises he will change
Lack of safe options Housing, jobs, healthcare, schooling, information, etc.
Lack of community support for victim Pressures to stay in relationship, religious/cultural values, family/children, victim blaming attitudes of community
Victim overwhelmed by the immediate Physical and psychological trauma
Victim ambivalence Hope, love, attachment to positive qualities of relationship.
Why Victims Stay
Prepared by Anne L. Ganley, Ph.D. for the Family Violence Prevention Fund
Fear Fear dominates the lives of most battered women who daily live with uncertainty about their life and safety. The battered woman knows that any circumstances or small incident could trigger the abuser’s violence. This tremendous fear and anxiety paralyzes the woman, subjecting her to further domination and dependence. The overwhelming tension and uncertainty often permeates other areas of her life, whereby she becomes insecure in daily tasks. She does not leave the batterer because she is paralyzed by fear and anxiety.
Anger All victims experience anger at some level about the situation they are subjected to. Some women will be able to locate the source of their anger, expressing it directly at the assailant. Others, however, internalize the anger, allowing it to turn inward, which results in guilt and self-blame. Repression of anger often leads to depression in which the woman feels a loss of control over her own emotions.
Guilt Many battered women internalize the traditional sex-roles that hold women responsible for the nurturance, well-being and harmony of the family or relationship. Blame is directed at the woman for all family conflicts and “marital problems.” She eventually believes the abuse or battering is a result of her own inadequacy as wife, mother, or lover. Women are taught that the violence is a result of their failure to meet the man’s emotional needs. Women, thus, feel responsible for the abuse and violence and, consequently, search for ways to change their behaviors and responses to reduce the frequency of violence. Women may not consider the possibility that, no matter what they do or how they try to change, the abuse will continue.
Isolation Most battered women are isolated from friends, family members and sources of support. These women isolate themselves because they are too ashamed to admit they have been battered. They are forced to sever their friendships to avoid the daily disguise of their injuries and emotions. In addition, many batterers actively maintain the woman in an isolated state to ensure his domination and control. More than often, the batterer will not allow his wife to work, visit friends or keep family ties. He may threaten to harm family and friends if she goes to them for help or tells anyone about the abuse. As a result, the more isolated a woman becomes in her own home, the more dependent she is upon the man.
Acceptance of the violence Many women have been socialized to accept the attitude that men hold the right to use physical violence against their wives or lovers as a means of punishment, discipline or merely to demonstrate superiority. Societal religious messages teach women to passively accept the violence as part of one’s role and duty in a relationship. Many women have witnessed abuse against their own mothers who tolerated violence all their lives. Other battered women experienced physical abuse by their fathers. Hence, they learn that violence is socially acceptable inside the home (reinforced by television, police responses, laws, etc.). In addition, the man’s family frequently justifies his abusive behavior, relating it to job stress, anxiety or alcohol. His family and friends attempt to hold the relationship together, pointing to the violence as evidence of his need for nurturance and care. Also, alcohol has been consistently used as an excuse for violent behavior, shifting the blame for violence from the man to the effects of alcohol.
Emotional dependence Often women remain in a battering relationship for a long time because they are emotionally dependent. Traditional women’s roles confine sources of self-respect and identity to “appropriate” performances of traditional sex-role prescriptions. Hence, the husband remains the exclusive source of approval and emotional support. Women’s identities are established on pleasing and nurturing others (especially men), while denying their own need for self-nurturing and assertiveness. In addition, batterers establish this dependence by the fear, isolation, and depression he inflicts on her through the abuse.
Economic dependence Economic dependence traps many women in abusive relationships. Many battered women who do not hold a paying job perceive themselves as incapable of living independently. Often in violent marriages, the husband controls all the finances and secures the family property in his name only. He keeps his wife ignorant of the family income, merely allotting her a weekly allowance. Many believe that, regardless of the woman’s emotional state, the degree to which she is economically dependent ultimately determines whether or not she will attempt to break the relationship and establish an independent existence.