Mythbusting in March - CEO Jo explores 'Why Doesn't She Leave?'

In my blog this month, as we mark International Women’s Day on the 8th March, I want to talk about one of the biggest myths and misunderstandings there is about domestic abuse - why doesn’t she leave? Why does she stay and put up with it?

March CEO blog why doesnt she leave

There are a lot of reasons why - and the reality is that leaving is hard, and leaving is dangerous, which I’ll discuss below - but a better question to ask would be ‘why does he do it?’.

We have to put responsibility where it truly lies. The reality of domestic abuse is that perpetrators make choices about their behaviour and only they are responsible for it. Domestic abuse is not inevitable in relationships - it is never up to a victim/survivor to fix the behaviour of a perpetrator. It’s not possible for them to do so. We all have the right to fall in love with someone, to make ourselves vulnerable to someone, with an expectation that they will treat us with respect and kindness.

Leaving is hard

Domestic Abuse is rarely only physical. It often includes elements of coercive control or financial abuse. The perpetrator might control all the money and all the household accounts and paperwork - he might have hidden birth certificates or important medical information.

Perpetrators are often popular, liked or respected - they can be very charming to get what they want. After all, if a perpetrator looked like a monster from day one of a relationship, no-one would get involved with them. The reality is that their behaviour changes slowly until one day the victim/survivor finds themselves in a situation that’s a million miles from the - often romantic, or ‘lovebombing’- early days. It's hard for them to believe that's what's happening and the perpetrator knows that the charming front they show to other people will make it easy to persuade the victim/survivor that no-one will believe them.

Perpetrators frequently isolate victim/survivors from friends and family and even work, over time. Abuse often includes verbal of physical behaviours designed to make them believe they ‘need’ the perpetrator, and that they can’t survive without them. They might challenge clothing that's being worn, events being attended, they might dislike certain friends orfamily members and nudge, nudge, nudge until that relationship is broken. They might tell the person they are abusing that the abuse is their fault, that no-one else would want them, that no-one will believe them, and that person, whose self esteem has been reduced over time, finds it easy to believe them. It’s also common for perpetrators to track victim/survivors, and to demand explanations for their movements. It can be exhausting to have to explain all the time, so sometimes it feels easier to stop doing things.

All of these things can add up to a situation where someone feels unable to do anything without being seen, they have no money to afford even a bus ticket, and they have no-one to turn to, and nowhere safe to go, anyway. They're trapped.

Leaving is dangerous

The Femicide Census makes it clear that leaving abuse is dangerous. 41% (37 of 91) of women killed by a male partner/former partner in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2018 had separated or taken steps to separate from them. Eleven of these 37 women were killed within the first month of separation and 24 were killed within the first year.

Research published in 2018 Dr Monckton-Smith reviewed domestic violence killings in the UK which showed an 8-stage timeline of events before a homicide takes place. To conduct her study, 575 homicide cases involving women killed by men (femicide) were identified using the Counting Dead Women database (Ingala Smith 2018). She found clear patterns that communities and professionals can spot – starting from early in relationship

We see this pattern repeat every year.

What can we, outside these relationships do to help?

At RISE we know that leaving is not as straightforward as it might look. We will never encourage anyone to leave until they have created a safety plan that works for them and their life. We will support those fleeing abuse to do so in the safest way possible at the safest time possible.

At RISE we never ask ‘why doesn’t she leave’. We remove the blame from her knowing she is stuck in a dangerous situation. We recognise that living with trauma caused by domestic abuse can make it impossible to think clearly or respond in ways that we, outside that trauma, might understand.

Rather than blaming victims for staying, let us all focus on providing support and resources to empower those people to make the changes they need in the best and safest way, for them.

If you know someone you think might be experiencing abuse you can help by sharing our Get Help page here.

You can help us support those fleeing domestic abuse by donating here.