“Why do you stay? Why don’t you just leave?”
[Note – I have referred to the abuser as a man and the victim as a woman to simplify the language, although it can just as easily happen the other way around.]
One of the most common questions people ask when they hear that a woman is being beaten by her partner is “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
The truth is that it’s just not that simple.
I spent 5 years as a virtual house prisoner where my every move was controlled. Yet surprisingly the relationship only showed signs of physical violence right at the end.
By the time a relationship becomes physically violent, so much has happened that not only does it put her in a state where she puts up with it, but also where she believes it’s normal, and where the partner feels it’s acceptable too.
Domestic violence is never really about violence. It’s about power and control. The abuser uses many more subtle means to control her, and only resorts to physical violence when all else has failed.
There are several types of relationship abuse: social, economic, psychological and sexual.
This is where the partner isolates her from her friends and family. He moves her away from her home, and makes it difficult for her to see her friends. In my relationship Gary took me 12,000 miles away from my family and friends in Australia to London.
Often there is a very logical and reasonable reason for the move, for example for work or a change in jobs.
Moving house isn’t always necessary though, he can also make it difficult for the woman to socialise, by getting grumpy or jealous when she tries to spend time with friends and family. He might be very rude or embarrassing if they are out together, or he might let her know how much he dislikes her friends. As it becomes more difficult or impossible for the woman to maintain a network of friends, she becomes increasingly isolated. She has no one to turn to. She has no support network.
Economic abuse is where the partner’s spending habits keeps the woman or both of them broke. He will set things up so that she has no access to money, and is financially dependent on him. It may be that he forbids her from working or refuses to do any childcare when she’s working. He will control all the finances so that she can only spend money with his permission.
Psychological abuse is the constant drip of criticism which erodes her self-confidence. Eventually she will believe she is worthless and that she is truly lucky to have even him. Her attention becomes entirely focussed on his happiness, at the complete expense of her own.
Sexual abuse doesn’t actually mean rape. It means control of the sexual relationship. He decides when, where, if, how often, how you make love and he certainly decides how much pleasure you do or don’t get out of it.
Sexual abuse frequently takes the form of withholding intimacy or sex. This can be used as a punishment.
This can be very harmful for a woman because thinking that she isn’t desirable to her partner also damages her self-confidence. She may end up feeling undesirable, unwanted and unlovable, as well as unworthy and undeserving. It also damages her sexual energy, which is a vital aspect of her inner strength and resolve. It was much later on a shamanic training that my teacher explained that a woman gets her inner strength and power from her orgasm. “Women must reclaim their orgasm”. Extreme as my experience might seem, from the work I now do with women it isn’t uncommon.
In the end, she has no friends or family to turn to for support. She has no means of supporting herself financially. She has no confidence and believes that she is stupid, wrong and no one else would have her. She has so energy or power and believes she is undesirable.
If he can’t control her with all those forms of abuse, if she still shows any spark of life or independence or fight, by daring to question him for example, that’s when he hits her.
Most abusers never need to hit the woman because she will have been so well trained to comply.
And that is why she stays.