First published in 2012
This isn’t my usual takedown of male upholders of the patriarchy. It’s one that’s filled with facepalming and irony. I mean, it was just the other day I wrote about the importance of supporting women who are in abusive relationships, trying to leave abusive relationships, or fresh out of abusive relationships. See, the “Women who make excuses and stay” may have hit me harder than usual. I suspect, from McFadden’s subsequent tweet, he tweeted out of a mixture of anger and misunderstanding. I mean, to the outsider, you wonder why women stay, why women make excuses. There’s no end of reasons. All of which are down to the abuser. So, in a simple, easy to read list, here we go. (If you think of any more, add them in the comments)
- Blame: It’s common for the blame to be misappropriated onto the victim of abuse. As mentioned in my above linked post, it’s not uncommon for people to ask the abuser what they may have done to upset the abuser. It’s simple. The abuser doesn’t act out of anger, he acts out of a desire to control his victim. However, the abuser knows that it makes him appear (slightly more) favourable if he can blame the victim. After all, acting out abuse for a desire for control comes across as pretty shitty. (Understatement). But if he’s struck his victim, and laid it on “dinner being ruined”, “talking to your (male) friend”, “answering back”, he tells the victim (and anyone that asks) what she should have done differently. The victim then begins to believe if she walks on eggshells, and avoids the “triggers”, things will change. Things don’t change. The abuser just finds different excuses.
- Denial: I can’t speak for every victim/survivor of abuse, but I suspect I can speak for a large number. The first time your abuser hits you, it doesn’t seem real. You don’t understand where it came from. After all, he’s been Prince Charming, right? Wants you all for himself, has told you he couldn’t live without you… You don’t realise he’s been doing all the things that make up abuse all along, so you convince yourself it was a “one off”, while he’s telling you it won’t happen again.
- Lack Of Support: Last year, on average, 230 women were turned away from the refuge system due to a lack of space. Often, housing women trying to escape abuse can mean placing them in refuges miles away from any support network. But even before then, there’s the problem of trying to call Women’s Aid. I was lucky that I was never fully restricted to the house, except for when Dom hid my keys. But in the refuge system, I met women who had been denied access to a phone, unable to phone the National Domestic Violence Helpline, or even the police. Even those who had been able to phone had had to sneak out of the house to do it in private (I’d used “going to Tesco” as an excuse the day before I left Dom). But even then, you can’t always get through first time. The lack of refuge spaces saw women placed in Bed and Breakfast’s, with no real support, or sometimes unable to reach help at all.
- Lack Of Finances: I had, like many other women, every penny controlled by Dom. As a barmaid, earning around £900 a month, Dom would ensure I had £200 to get through the month with; through this, I had to pay bills, buy food, buy electric… The rest, Dom would keep for himself, and spend on beer, vodka, anything he wanted. Before I knew of the refuge system, I believed I couldn’t afford to leave. After all, I was always broke, struggling to make ends meet. It never occurred to me I could survive, financially, outside of abuse. Even for those who do not face financial abuse know they’ll face being the sole payee for everything, and wonder how they’ll make ends meet.
- Children: We have this preoccupation with two parent families. How many times have you heard the phrase “Stay together for the kids?” Blink 182 even have a song of the same name, right? We’re told children function best in two parent families, and we get told that children, especially boys, need a male influence in their lives. All of this builds up to a troubling sense for any mother planning to leave an abusive relationship. Society has already told her that lone parents are failing their children. Add to that, abusers often use children to target the mothers, the abuser’s victim. A common tactic is for the abuser to threaten the victim with custody; a tactic I remember from Dom, who regularly told me that, should I leave, he’d make sure I never saw our son again. Other abusers will try and turn the children against the mother, meaning that should the mother attempt to leave, the children will voice dissent at the idea of leaving with the mother. For a lot of victims, leaving the abuser means they have to face the possibility of losing their children.
- Fear: Long before I left Dom, I was aware of the fact that leaving, or attempting to leave, Dom would be dangerous. He’d admitted once, that, after she’d left him, he’d put a brick through his ex wife’s window. And sadly, I was already no stranger to his death threats; within the first ten months of our relationship, he’d threatened to stab me twice; he’d tried to kill his best friend for offering me comfort after another of Dom’s assaults, and told me that if I ever tried to leave him, he’d hunt me down and kill me. Women don’t leave abuse because they’re scared of the consequences if they get caught trying to leave. They’re scared of the consequences if they do leave. Hell, four years on, I still think I’ve seen Dom in the streets, and that’s enough to scare the hell out of me. We know leaving our abuser is the most dangerous time in our relationship. That’s why we look for the right time to leave.
We don’t stay because we’re “just as bad.” We stay because a number of factors coerce us into staying with our abuser. Factors our abuser carefully puts in place.