Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse and coercive behavior that may include physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, economic abuse, and spiritual abuse1. Domestic violence plagues every community- regardless of age, race, socioeconomic status, religion (including religious appearance and prominence in the community), culture, and gender. Power and control are the underlying purposes of the abuser to maintain his dominance and control over his victim. The abusive behavior is not random or an anger management issue; it is intentionally asserting his dominance over his intimate partner through any form of violence. An abuser does not essentially assault friends, colleagues, or supervisors but consciously decides to abuse his wife2;3.
The adverse effects of domestic violence affect society at large. It impacts our elderly, children, women, men, and the economy; victims of intimate partner violence lose a total of eight million days of paid work each year4. Children living in an abusive household have a higher chance of being in abusive relationships as either the abuser or the victim and may have adverse health issues later in life because of the trauma5;6. Victims and survivors may also experience post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, physical ailments, lack of energy, self-hate, and low confidence, amongst many other physical and emotional problems7;8. One in four women experiences some form of domestic violence in their lifetime and is the leading cause of homicide death for women9. Although the abuser can be either a man or a woman, over 75% of domestic violence is committed by men3.
Three Reasons Why Women Stay
Even though continuing to stay in abusive relationships has many adverse effects, there are, however, many barriers preventing women from leaving. One of the barriers to leaving the abusive relationship is economic insecurity1. Women who do not work outside the home due to being the primary caretakers of their children, being homemakers, following their intimate partners’ demands, or any reason will not have their own money to utilize in times of crisis. Many women do not have the skills or the education to obtain employment, yet, even those who have paid employment, the batterer may have control of their salaries. By not having money, women cannot afford housing, food, and other necessities to survive independently. Being financially dependent on the batterer immobilizes women in abusive relationships from creating and maintaining a safe and healthy life away from the abuse. Having little or no money, women may not have many viable options but to stay in abusive relationships.
Children are another reason women stay in abusive relationships3. Many women feel that it is essential and in the best interest of their children to be raised in a two-parent household, regardless of whether it is abusive or not. Additionally, if a woman does not have money, she cannot financially support her children by providing housing, food, and essentials, if she were to leave with her children. Many abusers are also abusive to their children; by staying in abusive relationships, many women may feel some control over protecting their children.
Moreover, the socio-cultural structure perpetuates gender-based violence. In a patriarchal society, male dominance over women is the norm; hence, men who abuse women in a family setting justify using force or violence to maintain their power and control10. Cultures that follow patriarchal traditions do not consider domestic violence a crisis but rather a personal matter or issue and have, to some extent, normalized abusive practices; therefore, few or no discourse condemns the abuse11. As a result, women in abusive relationships may be unaware of their fundamental human rights to feel and be safe in their own homes. Because of cultural beliefs, many women may be ostracized from their communities for abandoning their womanly duties as the primary caretakers of their children, their household, and their husbands if they leave. Also, many women may be unaware of available domestic violence programs or services to get assistance, or there may be a lack of resources and services available in their community to get the needed help3. When women do not feel supported by their communities due to cultural beliefs and practices, it impacts their decision to stay in abusive relationships11.
Three Reasons Why Women Leave
Leaving an abusive relationship is a process as, on average, it takes a woman seven times to leave the relationship12. Despite the greatest violence often occurring right after leaving the abusive relationship13, women are still determined to start a new life based on safety and well-being. Every woman’s reason for leaving is different depending on her circumstances, the types of support available, and her mindset. One of these reasons is the realization that what she is experiencing is abuse and recognizing that it is a problem14. She becomes open to researching and educating herself about her situation, which propels her to assess the relationship’s advantages and disadvantages. Once she decides that she does not want to live with the abuse any longer, she evaluates her options of leaving by putting a plan of action into motion.
When the abuse escalates over time, it becomes more noticeable and more intolerable15. As the frequency or intensity of abuse increases, she reaches a turning point, understanding that he will not change and her situation will only worsen. This turning point motivates her to make changes in her life16 to stop the abuse by leaving. Further, women with a support system are more likely to leave abusive relationships14. At times, her support system, either a family member, friend, or domestic violence advocate, helps her recognize that she is in an abusive relationship, works with her to assess her options, and helps her to develop a safety plan to leave. Her support system also offers emotional, financial, or any other form of assistance during this difficult time that the abused woman needs. The support empowers her to regain control of her life and reassures her decision to leave.
What should you do?
Every individual deserves to live with dignity and respect, especially in their own home. It’s important to understand that the abuse is not your fault and that you don’t have to go through this immense difficulty alone. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or domestic violence advocate. What can you expect from a domestic violence advocate? Knowing that you are the expert in your life, an advocate will not tell you what to do or how to live your life but will work with you in whatever capacity you want and need assistance. An advocate will offer a non-judgmental and compassionate ear, work with you to assess your circumstances, and offer you support, information, and resources so you can make an informed decision about your life. By law, advocates must practice confidentiality, so you can rest assured that your experiences will not be shared with anyone. There’s no shame in reaching out for help.
To speak to an advocate:
NISA Helpline: 1-888-275-6472
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233, SMS: Text “START” to 8878
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Malalai Olomi is a writer, teacher, domestic violence advocate, and HR professional. She graduated from the University of California, Irvine with Bachelor’s degrees in Social Ecology and Women’s Studies. Through her activism, she aspires to educate about injustices whilst giving voices to the oppressed. She enjoys spending time with people who inspire her to be the best version of herself.