Why didn't she just leave?
This is a question often asked about women who are in abusive relationships. Having worked with victims of domestic violence for several years, I know that many women do leave, give up their jobs, homes, and risk a great deal to "start over" and eventually live more peaceful lives. But I also learned that leaving a violent partner can put women at greatest risk for escalating violence.
Over the years experts in the area of domestic assault have shown us that most murders occurred when a woman had left, was attempting to leave or in the process of divorce. Thus it became crystal clear that some women stay because they're afraid of being killed or they see no options and don't know where to turn particularly in small rural communities.
In listening to women who were victims of domestic violence, I found out that many loved their partners but wanted the abuse to stop and believed their partner would change. Many of the women had children and did not want to take their father away from them. Most children want their parents to stay together no matter how bad things are at home.
In spite of verbal, physical and emotional abuse sometimes there were good and happy times. Many women feel judged; shame, embarrassment and fear that in leaving their abuser they will be blamed for not making things work out. (Ever hear the story about the woman with the black eye that ends with "Wow, I wonder what she did to deserve that?")
Though this has changed a lot, the churches' response to domestic violence has not always been very helpful -- in some cases women have been told to go home and try to be a better wife.
Many women don't have money to pay rent and deposits, much less have a car or telephone to look for a job. She may have been prevented from ever getting a job or an education. How does one support a family on a minimum wage job, which includes most of the job market in rural areas?
Leaving an abuser is often a long process and requires careful planning. I've often heard people say that "I wouldn't tolerate being treated like that. I'd be gone." Well, it's just not that simple.
The obstacles to leaving are many and I could elaborate but I believe it is critically important to acknowledge domestic abuse as a crime; it is wrong to harm another person. We need to stop gossiping so much about what the victim did or didn't do -- as the saying goes, "There's no excuse for domestic abuse."
We need to look at why some people feel they have a right to hit, threaten and intimidate someone they profess to love. How can we stop this behavior and see to it that offenders are held accountable? A major predictor of juvenile delinquency is a child witnessing domestic violence.
The majority of people in prison today were abused as children or witnessed domestic abuse in their homes. We have more people in prison than any other country, including communist China.
In the new millennium, isn't it time we started learning how to treat those we say we love?
Here are some suggestions:
-- Don't laugh at jokes about hitting girls and women or that demean them sexually. Talk to your sons and daughters about lyrics which you may object to in popular music and discuss it with them.
-- There are many angry, lost young boys these days; they need our time, attention and affection as much as girls do. Hug your sons, too.
-- If you hear a fight going on at the neighbor's and fear someone may be hurt, call the police. You may save someone's life.
-- If a friend or neighbor confides in you that they are being abused, support them by telling them no one deserves to be abused and that you are concerned about their safety. Learn about resources in your area so you can offer a phone number or information.
-- Encourage your church or club to speak out against domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.
-- Support shelters, crisis lines, crisis nurseries and safe homes by volunteering and giving money or supplies which may be helpful to them.
(The author is former Todd County coordinator for services to victims of domestic violence at the Hands of Hope Resource Center, Long Prairie.)
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