On average each year, women experienced 572,032 violent victimizations at the hands of an intimate, compared to 48,983 incidents committed against men” (Domestic violence statistics, 2006). In addition, although women in general are less likely to be victims of violent crime than men, they are five to eight times likelier to be abused by an intimate partner (Domestic violence statistics, 2006). One statistic tells how serious this is: “31,260 women were murdered by an intimate from 1976-1996” (Domestic violence statistics, 2006). And another tells how widespread it is: 31% of American women, that is nearly one-third of all women, report that they have been physically or sexually abused at some point in their lives by either their husband or boyfriend (Domestic violence statistics, 2006). Perhaps the most disturbing finding in all of this is the 75% of all domestic violence occurs after the couple has separated: “One study revealed that half of the homicides of female spouses and partners were committed by men after separation from batterers” (Domestic violence statistics, 2006).
Although too many women are abused each year by their intimates, it is surprising how a large number will put up with the abuse due to traditional thinking, lack of resources or due to the authority response.
Women who are being battered are actually safer if they stay with their abuser than if they try to leave him, which may be one reason why they choose to stay. But there are other reasons, reasons which have to do with the way a violent and abusive man can undermine a woman’s courage and self-esteem, leaving her depend on him even as he continues to assault her.
The following is a touching story from a friend of mine who was a victim of domestic violence for quit sometime. I will call her Jennifer (not her real name).
I was in an abusive relationship for three years and didn’t know how to get out. It was more verbal, less physical, but the verbal abuse tore me down and made me feel absolutely horrible about myself and my self-esteem began to fade. The beginning was great, he was great, then alcohol became a factor, his cocaine habit became more often, which made his anger grow stronger, and all we did was seem to party; there was not much of a relationship. We moved to Dallas, big mistake on my part, because I knew how he was before hand. When we moved to Dallas, the abuse grew, he hit me for the first time, spit in my face, and verbally tore me down so bad, and I tried to commit suicide. The night I downed a bottle of Excedrin PM, he found me by the toilet, dragged me by the arm to the side of the bed and left me there in my own vomit. I woke up dizzy, confused; with a horrific stench of vomit all over me. But I continued to stay… Why? I was afraid of what he would do to me and how my family would react. I left him the day after 4 of July, only because my father called the cops to our apartment after he heard us fight over the phone. Before the cops arrived, I imagined over and over on how I would tell them everything and hoping they would drag his ass to jail. But I froze, telling them nothing as I stood weighing 99 pounds, lethargic, stressed, and mentally drained with a cut lip from him hitting me late 4th of July night. After getting out of the relationship and thinking about it, the victim says that she stayed because of the verbal abuse made me feel like nothing, I was so used to the abuse I didn’t no anything else; I no longer had self-esteem. I cut off my family and friends, because he told me they thought I was a piece of shit and he was the only one I had and that cared about me. I lost myself completely; completely lost the person I was, my soul, spirit, and all sense of trust for anyone. Even after 1 year he was constantly inside my head, screaming at me; seeing his face full of anger, hate, and disgust towards me; deeply penetrating my mind, giving me constant nightmares for years to come. Nightmares so surreal, I could smell him, feel his hand against my cheek as he swung it against. I could taste the blood oozing from the wound inside my mouth. Once I finally moved back home, but even there I couldn’t let go. I called him and he called me and we kept talking to each other. It was my family who finally helped me out by getting me into therapy. Once I was there I was able to talk to someone who understood and who was totally objective. The therapist didn’t know me personally so there wasn’t that barrier there. She was a professional who listened and let me pour it all out. Once I began to talk about it, really talk in detail, I began to understand why I’d stayed with him for so long. It was simple: I was scared to death. After I stopped calling him he became angry, started to threaten me and my family, threatens to send someone to kill me, called me at work and would scream at me all cocained up. This went on well over 2 years after we split and it still haunts me until this day that I will run into him again. But from this terrible experience I’ve become a much stronger, better person, and understand now why women stay in these abusive relationships. I was the one that used to judge and couldn’t understand why they would stay; and I thought it would never happen to me. But it did, and now I’m telling the story.
What this narrative tells us is that this woman’s abuser played on her emotions. He convinced her she was worthless and didn’t know her own mind. He also managed to convince her that no one liked her—not her family or friends—so that she systematically cut them off. This is the same type of behavior that is found in cults, who insist that their members drop all connections with the outside world. The narrative also reveals that the woman reacted as she did because she was in a “typical” abusive situation and reacted as most women do. “Abused women experience isolation, shame, embarrassment, and humiliation,” all of this was described by the woman above (Domestic violence, 2009).
Among the reasons women don’t leave are the fear that the men who are abusing them will become even more violent; their family and friends may not support them if they decide to leave; there are periods when the relationship works well; and they may not know where to go for help (Domestic violence, 2009). Women typically stay in these terrible relationships for reasons that fall into one of three categories: “lack of resources”; “responses by services and authorities” and “traditional thinking” (Domestic violence, 2009). Under “lack of resources” are factors like having children; not having any marketable skills; and not having their own money (Domestic violence, 2009). These factors tie them to the abuser because he is also the provider. Under “responses by services and authorities” are things like responses from police that treat abuse as “disputes” rather than crimes; and clergy who are trained to “save the family’ rather than to stop violence” (Domestic violence, 2009).