Imagine having a conversation with your friends about someone who is being abused, either physically or emotionally, by their partner. Would they say something along the lines of ‘Why don’t they just leave?’ or ‘I would never let someone hit me, I’d leave!’ More importantly, how many of those friends sitting round the table with you were the victims of domestic abuse, but would have never admitted that?
The majority of victims of domestic violence wouldn’t confess to being abused by their partners. They choose to keep it a secret, which is not difficult to do as domestic violence happens mainly behind closed doors. Abusers solely choose to target their partners, children or family members. Why? The reason being is that only their loved ones will accept the abuse and they will not abandon them.
Abusers wouldn’t hit their boss or a colleague as they know that they wouldn’t just accept it. Their reaction to the abuse would be different from the reaction of their family members; they would either retaliate or walk away in disgust and desert the abuser. This selection of targets of abuse confirms that abuse is a choice, despite the abusers repeatedly claiming that they ‘lost it’ or were ‘out of control’. However, their actions indicate that they are actually in control of their abusive behaviour. Therefore, abuse is not an accident. It is an intentional act. An act that happens only at certain times and places with only certain people being targeted by abusers.
Nevertheless, breaking free from an abusive partner is not simply a matter of walking out the door. Imagine you are that person who has been abused for years and your partner has successfully isolated you from your family and friends in order to gain control over you. The abuser knows that if you told anyone the truth they would encourage you to leave. Therefore, isolating you from everyone in order to sustain their dominance and power is critical, even if you wanted to leave, by the time you made that decision there might be no one to turn to.
Therefore, victims can’t just grab their suitcases and leave. First of all, where are they going to go? Staying at their friend’s or parent’s house is not always an option that is available and if it is the victims might not want to choose it as that would mean telling others that the person they were sharing their life with was abusing them.
So why don’t they want other people to know? One of the main reasons why the victims decide to keep the abuse a secret is that they believe that it was their fault. They feel that they deserved what was done to them as they may have provoked it in some way. Another reason is that the victims might feel ashamed of having chosen the wrong person, and therefore they choose to hide their abusive relationship. Equally, culture plays an important role in keeping the abuse a secret. Victims decide to remain with their abusive partner for fear of bringing shame upon their family or for fear of being judged by others.
Victims of abuse often stay in abusive relationships because their partners give them false hope that they will change. Abusers often express remorse or guilt after the abusive event and promise that the abuse will stop. As a result, people who are on the receiving end of the abuse choose to stay as they believe the abusers when they promise to change. They hope that the assaults will eventually end and their dream of a happy couple or family will come true.
Economic control of abusers is another reason for staying. Often, the victims can’t simply afford to leave and so they stay trapped in abusive relationships. Victims might not have the money to support themselves as their abusive partners made sure that they have become financially dependent on them.
Fear is another factor. Abusive partners frequently threaten to hurt the victim’s children, family or friends. The fear of not knowing what their abusive partner might do to the victim’s loved ones stops them from leaving an abusive relationship.
Moreover, many victims choose to continue a relationship with their abusive partners because they don’t want to ‘break up’ their family. They don’t want their children to grow up in a single-parent family as they believe it’s essential for their children to have both parents. However, growing up in the family where one of the parents is abusive could have even more damaging effect on their children than growing up in an incomplete family.
It is clear to see that leaving an abusive partner is not that simple as getting up and leaving. There are many emotional, financial and social obstacles that these victims have to overcome.
Therefore, instead of judging the victims try to put yourself in their situation. Put the abuse aside and imagine leaving your partner. How difficult would it be to just get up and leave? And now imagine leaving someone who has threatened to hurt your family, children or friends. Imagine having no money or nowhere to go. Imagine having such a low self-esteem that you believe that you don’t deserve any better than to be in a relationship with someone who treats you badly. How difficult would it be for you to leave under those circumstances?