Why? Why Women? Why Women Stay
*Disclaimer: Men also experience domestic violence as victims, however, this article is based on the writer’s experience at an agency that predominantly served women.
As an advocate for women’s rights, I was unsure how to feel after learning that as a Social Work Intern, I would be working with women who experienced domestic violence. After sitting in session with my first client and hearing her story, I was overwhelmed.
I couldn’t help but question: Why would a woman stay? Why did she stay? I was livid. Didn’t a woman know that she doesn’t have to live like this?
During my undergraduate studies I learned about the “blaming the victim” theory, but in relation to race and minorities. I failed to recognize that in asking these questions, I was blaming the victim, I was blaming the woman, and perpetuating this ideology.
While my questions stemmed from an honest concern for her well-being, I was going about this the wrong way. First, I shouldn’t have asked “why do women stay?” I should be asking, “Why do they hurt women like this?” And secondly, I shouldn’t have this conversation alone.
I began to ask others, and I listened.
To my dismay, I learned that there are probably a million reasons why a woman stays in a domestic violence or intimate partner relationship. Here are a few of the most prominent:
She stays because of religious pressure: It would be a shame if I give up and not try make my marriage work. What would my family and church friends think of me? Till death do us part.
She stays because they have a family: I don’t want my children to grow up without a father. I don’t want them to be affected by a divorce, they love their father. Child Protective Services may take them away from me.
She stays because of financial insecurity: I used to work but once we got married and had kids, he pressured me to stay home with them rather than put them in daycare. I haven’t worked in years and don’t have money saved. If I decided to leave, how will I support myself?
She stays because of love: I love him, I know he is a good guy, I know he will change.
She stays because she wants to be his hero: He has a terminal illness/ an addiction/ a mental health illness, and know he treats me bad sometimes, but it only happens when he is high or drunk. If I leave him he will get worse. I need to help him get better. He needs me.
She stays because she is an immigrant: He has threatened me. He says if I leave him, he will report me to the authorities. If I leave, I will not be able to find resources because I am an immigrant. There is no help out there for people like me.
She stays because she is afraid to be alone: He has isolated me from my family and friends. I don’t even talk to them anymore. Who would help me? Who would believe me, he is so charming!
She stays because she thinks it is her fault: He only hits me when I make him upset. If I would have cleaned the house, he wouldn’t’ be mad.
She stays because she thinks this is normal: My parents always fought and my dad would sometimes hit my mom, and they are okay.
She stays because she knows other are going through worse situations: He forces me to have sex when I’m tired, but at least he doesn’t hit me. Things could be a lot worse, it is not that bad.
The list is not exhaustive. These are real reasons why many women stay in domestic violence relationships. In fact, on average, a woman leaves and returns to her abuser at least 6 times before she leaves for good.
So, what can you do if you know a woman in this situation? Validate her reason. Be there for her. Don’t let her think that she is alone. If and when she is ready, you can help her by providing the number to The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.
Written by Jeanette Lomeli