Why do victims stay in abusive relationships?
There are several reasons and theories. Some of these are real reasons even though people don’t understand them. I can explain the reasons women stay, but unless you’ve been in an abusive relationship, I cannot make you understand them fully. So the question remains: Why do domestic violence victims stay? There are lots of theories, some true, some not, but I’m going to speak to the ones I know from personal experience and those experiences of other victims. Victims are the only ones who can really say why they stayed. So what are these reasons? Is it because we’re weak or stupid? Some people think so. A friend of mine once told me only weak women end up in abusive relationships. When I pointed out that his sister is in an emotionally abusive marriage, though, he suddenly changed the subject. Hmmm, interesting. You gotta love the irony of someone who makes judgments about victims only to change the subject when they have to face that same judgment and point to someone they love. If it’s true for all victims then it’s true for his sister. He didn’t like when I pointed that out to him. Oh, well. Don’t judge the rest of us if you can’t handle when that judgement is used against you. I know, I’m mean.
Back to the question at hand. The many reasons victims stay include fear, belief the abuser will change, lack of support and/or resources, staying for the children, low self-esteem, and denial (what I call the “Prince Charming effect”).
“Prince Charming Effect” (aka denial)
Yes, I said the word denial. The fact is that love does blind us. We refuse to see a person for who they truly are after we’ve fallen in love w/him or her. Abusers know this and take advantage of it. They use what I call the “Prince Charming” method: shower their victim with affection, gifts, and undivided attention and then slowly pull off the mask under the guise of sincere worry or love. My ex-fiance used to get mad when I spent the night out with friends because he “missed me.” He made me feel sorry for him because he didn’t have any friends and only had me. By the way, that’s a huge red flag. When we first started going out I was getting ready to leave for college. We never actually had a “date” until I came home for Thanksgiving break. We talked almost every night over the phone, though. I could talk to him for hours. He was so sweet and funny and always had time for me. I absolutely loved it and fell in love w/him. I had been abused my entire life and finally found a good man who would take care of me. He was my prince, my knight in shining armor. And then he changed. Dr Jekyll morphed into Mr Hyde after we gt engaged. I didn’t want too believe it at first. I wanted him to be the “prince charming” I thought he was capable of being. I was in denial that I was in an abusive relationship even after I became scared of him. In fact, I never even admitted it until years later.
He is going to change or is capable of change
This stems from the very flawed belief that everyone is capable of change. The ugly truth is that only those who want to change are capable of it. Abusers don’t see anything wrong with how they behave. It doesn’t actually make sense seeing as how they only abuse people they “love” and know how to treat someone. We see this all the time in the public eye. Most abusers would never be seen as abusive outside the home and/or relationship. So it has nothing to do with the capability of treating someone good and everything to do with their choosing to abuse their intimate partners. They know how to put on the “good guy” act. The problem is it’s just an act; they take off the mask at home. As I mentioned above, abusers are amazing actors. No wonder their partners believe them when they apologize and promise to change. They do change. At first. And this is exactly how they reel their partners back in. However, it doesn’t last and the abuse is often worse than before because they are so afraid of losing their partner again. Therefore, they tighten the leash ever so slightly until they have control again. It’s kinda like that idea that if you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly turn the heat up, the frog will boil to death. He doesn’t notice because he gets used to the temperature every time it gets turned up. This happens with abuse. The victim doesn’t notice until it’s too late. From a friend:
“The first time it was because I believed when he said he would never do it again. The second time was when I found out I was pregnant and he promised he would change. Every time after that was out of fear. He threatened not only me, but my family as well”
Thankfully, she finally left and her boyfriend served jail time. She moved out of state so has not seen him since then, which brings me to another, and perhaps the most powerful reason to stay, FEAR.
Consider the following from a real victim (who shall remain anonymous for obvious safety reasons):
“Here is why I stayed for so long. My ex husband was a meth addict. He knew a lot of bad bad people and had me watched during the times that we were separated. He told me things like if he found me with another man he would kill that man, and then me and take the kids away. He called me clicking a gun in my ear and constantly knew of my every move. I felt stuck. at one point the fear of another being hurt due to me became unbearable. I went back only to get beaten again. the last time that I did leave for good, my husband told the dealers that I was a nark and they believed him. I was a walking target. it was unbearable. the stalking did not end after he remarried and moved on with his life either. only became worse as his wife was as terrible as he was. They found me and filed a false police report against me that could have ended everything that I have been working towards in my life. I was pregnant and engaged to be married. the report was that I was luring young men off of Myspace and lying about my age. of course this was not true, my fiancé was 27, not 17. and I was not allowing him to physically abuse my kids. the report was too much for my fiancé and he left me alone and pregnant at 6 months. I was forced to give that child up for adoption. the story still goes on and on to this day. I am in a victims protection called the A.C.P. they give me a fake address and my mail goes there. he found out that this was not my real address when my youngest son contacted him against our wishes, I feel lost and very alone most of the time. it is a very hard battle. thank you for hearing my story.”
That sounds like something out of a fictional book or movie, but it’s real. People don’t realize just how far some of these men will go to keep a victim. Stalking, harassment, threats, and actual physical assaults. A friend of mine had an ex boyfriend come after her with a gun. Luckily she was able to get in her car and drive away fast enough, but it doesn’t always end so well.
Almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner.14
In 70-80% of intimate partner homicides, no matter which partner was killed, the man physically abused the woman before the murder.1 (http://www.ncadv.org/files/DomesticViolenceFactSheet(National).pdf)
Let those statistics sink in. Scary, huh? That’s the real fear abuse victims have to live with, and the police don’t help. Remember Marissa Alexander? She was a domestic violence victim in FL earlier this year that got sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot in the ceiling when her husband chased her into a locked garage. He was never charged despite the indisputable evidence of past abuse and the protective order that Marissa currently held against him. She’s in prison for protecting herself. http://thegrio.com/2012/04/24/marissa-alexander-angela-coreys-other-stand-your-ground-case/
Also, consider the following story of a woman whose ex-husband killed her 3 children:
These stories are very real and very frightening for non-victims. Now, imagine actually being a victim inside of an abusive relationship. Is it any wonder they stay?
The most dangerous time for a victim is right after she leaves. Now let’s discuss the lack of protection the victim faces at this point.
In some states, restraining orders cost a lot of money (FL – $250 when I looked into it years ago) and NC used to charge for them as well. No contact orders, by the same token, are offered free in those same states but can only be obtained if you actually press charges and the state decides to follow through w/those or in custody cases. So what happens if you don’t have children or the money for a protection order? What happens if you can’t prove abuse, harassment or even stalking? Absolutely nothing.
The protective order is only a piece of paper, and many times the police either refuse or cannot enforce these orders (due to our laws surrounding criminals’ rights) unless the abuser actually physically attacks the victim (which, by my standards is far too late).
Stalking is not really seen as a real crime (even if it is technically on the books) or at most, it is a misdemeanor.
Some District Attorneys’ offices refuse to prosecute sexual violence crimes against wives and girlfriends (MD is one state that does this, when a friend of mine in MD tried to press charges on her ex-boyfriend who had raped her on multiple occasions, she was told by the local D.A. that MD doesn’t prosecute sex crimes unless it involves a stranger), thereby protecting abusers and giving them free reign to rape and terrorize their victims.
Family court judges will still award unsupervised visitation and even joint custody in some cases to violent men. How are you supposed to protect your children if your ex has unsupervised visits with them? You can’t as many women have found out, sometimes to deadly results. One blog I follow is that of Cappuccino Queen aka Hera McLeod. Her beautiful 15 mth old son, Prince, was drowned by his father during an unsupervised visit. Her story can be found at (http://cappuccinoqueen.com/?page_id=17). The Washington Post also covered her story http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-01-25/opinions/36546530_1_visitation-first-degree-murder-court-system.
And then there’s the horrific story of Josh Powell who went after his two sons, Charlie and Braden Powell with a hatchet after locking the social worker out of his house. Moments later, he set the house on fire with the children and himself still locked in. I still can’t get the image of that out of my head. Even though his wife, Susan, had been “mysteriously” killed years earlier, this extremely dangerous man had just lost custody of his sons to his former wive’s parents, and while he was the only suspect in Susan’s murder was still awarded visitation. This combination turned deadly for those 2 innocent boys on Feb 5, 2012.
For those who would question a victim’s decision to stay think of the stories above and the countless others of women who are murdered by their current and former boyfriends and/or husbands. Leaving an abusive relationship ALWAYS brings w/it a certain amount of very real danger. People outside of this violence can’t begin to imagine the amount of fear these men can perpetrate.
I watched my mom be beaten and terrorized, heard her being raped, and still did not know the fear myself until my own abusive relationship. I didn’t know why anyone would stay w/an abuser until I went back to mine. And why did I go back? Fear that he would hurt me or someone else. He had never threatened me or anyone else, except himself. He had threatened suicide on multiple occasions. I broke up with him over the phone while attending school in TN (he was in FL), and he went to my parents’ house w/a knife threatening suicide. If I had been there, I would’ve taken him back then and there. I did end up taking him back because when I went home for spring break he started harassing me and stalking me. It took only a couple days for me to take him back because I was so afraid of what he might do, and I didn’t trust the police to protect me. I found out later they wouldn’t have because the same thing happened the next summer, and I got the old line “we can’t do anything unless he hurts you” line. And so we spent the summer together, during which the abuse got worse. At one point, he even swerved his car a couple times while taking my sister and her husband to the bus station to get tickets for their departure the next day. I was in the front seat, and he swerved because I blocked him from reaching for his knife he kept in the glove box. He was threatening to kill himself, and I wasn’t going to let him. This whole scene occurred because my sister and I had gone to the movies w/a male friend and had gotten there late so decided to see the showing an hour later. My ex was furious. It’s understandable that he was worried, but the reaction was way out of line. And I refused to hold his hand after his angry outburst, which then led to the unfolding of the later events. Then there was the time I wanted to watch a movie rather than making out, and he got one of his swords and started stabbing the bed with it. I was lying on the bed, and he was barely missing me while I was telling him to stop. He didn’t care. I don’t remember what made him stop except I remember giving into him. We came close to having sex that night, and if he had wanted to, he could’ve forced me. I was a virgin waiting for marriage, and while he asked me to “make love” to him on at least 2 different occasions, I always ignored him and asked to go home. I was always afraid he would make me go to far (which he pushed me way further than I wanted to go anyway), and, while he never did, that fear stayed w/me and still stays w/me. I avoid where he might be at all costs while I’m visiting FL, especially since I now have a daughter. Almost 11 years images of him still haunt me and paralyze me with terror. And I was only with him for 6 months the 1st time and 5 months the 2nd time. I can’t imagine the terror of being in a longer relationship or living with the guy. The only thing that comes close is the night he was threatening to kidnap me. Fear is a very real and legitimate feeling considering the lengths some of these men will go to in order to keep their victims.
And yet, people still judge these women. It’s easy to say “just leave” when you’re not the one in the situation. I will close with this idea. Cosmopolitan magazine published a story covering domestic violence in their latest issue. They called it “Stop Calling it Domestic Violence. It’s Intimate Terrorism.” And you know what? It really and truly is terrorism.
There are other reasons victims stay, but I will be following up this post w/a part 2 because, honestly, I’m too emotionally drained to finish this and have been working on it for 3 days now to get to this point.
Remember, though, domestic violence is a hell of a lot more complicated than you might think.