“Why didn’t she just leave?” “How could she stay with him?” These are the kind of questions that one hears when someone admits to being in an abusive relationship or when someone hears about a woman who wasn’t able to leave and either she or her abuser ended up dead. Understanding why women stay in abusive relationships or marriages can be hard. To many people it seems as simple as making the choice and walking away. But more often than not, the case is not that simple.
According to Psychology Today, 1 out of every 2 women will be in an abusive relationship at some point in her life. Think about that. That means that half of all women will experience abuse in a relationship. Women in abusive relationships can experience different types of abuse like physical, sexual, or emotional.
How is it possible that so many women find themselves in harmful relationships? The answer is complicated. Many abusers don’t show their true colors until the woman already believes they are in love. Others create an environment in which the woman feels trapped and isolated. There is no straight forward answer as to how women get in these relationships, but it happens, and it happens often.
Along with all the misconceptions about how a woman finds herself in an abusive relationship, there seem to be just as many misconceptions about the “type” of woman who finds herself in one. Simply put there is no “type”. Abusive relationships know no race, ethnicity, size, society, age, or economic status.
So it’s happening and it’s happening everywhere. This still doesn’t explain why women stay, or why they don’t get help. If only it were simple and easy. But the thing to understand about domestic violence, or any kind of abuse in a relationship, is that it is a cycle, a cycle that is perpetuated by fear, dependence, isolation, and culture, among others. Many of these women fear for their lives or the lives of their children, they fear being alone, of being unwanted, shunned. Some women become dependent financially on their abuser and literally have no means of starting over. Sometimes their culture influences how they feel about the abuse, some cultures look the other way, and in some cultures violence is a norm and accepted. One of the biggest reasons that women stay is that they don’t realize the support out there for them and the options available to them, so they stay. While to someone who has never been in a situation like an abusive relationship, there is simply no way to understand why a woman would stay or go back, but to anyone who knows someone who has gone through abuse or been through it themselves knows that it is not simple or easy.
One way that is being used to try to help people understand the patterns of abuse in relationships and what the women go through is the Battered Women’s Syndrome (BWS). BWS is a model developed by Dr. Lenore E. Walker, which is used to “describe the mindset and emotional state of a battered woman.” According to Walker’s model, and the RAINN website, there are four major characteristics of a woman who is suffering from the syndrome:
1. The woman believes that the violence was or is her fault.
2. The woman has an inability to place responsibility for the violence elsewhere.
3. The woman fears for her life and/or her children’s lives.
4. The woman has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.
While the model is not fool proof and by no means explains all that a woman goes through it is a place to start and is often used as an educational tool used to help raise awareness of “the impact that domestic violence can have on women.”
The model is a good start in understanding what some people find unfathomable, staying in an abusive situation, but what really needs to happen is people need to understand that domestic and dating violence and abuse are problems and that victims need support and non-judgmental people to help them when they are ready to leave. So whether or not you can’t understand why they were in the situation or why they went back or why it took them a while to leave, the bottom line is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is getting women out of these situations, raising awareness about the problems, educating men and women about healthy relationships, and putting a stop to abuse.
If you or someone you know is in a bad situation there is help out there. You can contact the Michelle Kroner, Victim Services Adjudication Advisor at 816-235-1652 or firstname.lastname@example.org or the UMKC Police at 816-235-1515 (or 911). Some other resources are available on our website: http://www.umkc.edu/endviolence/resources.asp