Why does she stay?
*Female victims of domestic and partner violence
Linda S. Smith, MS, DSN, RN, CLNC
Professor and Director, Associate Degree Registered Nurse Program,
Idaho State University
"Husband suspect in city killing. Police say a 25-year-old man is suspected in the death of his 26-year-old wife who was bludgeoned (in the head) to death. The man is scheduled to appear in court this morning and police said they would seek first degree murder charges."
Homicide is one complication of domestic and partner violence. Other complications are the more than two million abused women* each year seeking medical help for injuries. She may be stabbed, kicked, pushed into fires, thrown through glass, or downstairs, strangulated (called throttling), and raped.
Results of these violent crimes are seen everywhere -- in clinics, hospitals, schools, churches, community centers, and psychiatric departments. Healthcare professionals see the results and the complex costs for persons, families, and communities. Sadly, ever more cases of abuse are surfacing.
Battered women are found in all socio-economic groups and all education levels. They are partners of postal clerks, physicians, ministers, construction workers, policemen, bankers, and mechanics. It may be hard for friends and associates to believe he* could be doing the things she describes.
Jane Doe is an example. “Jane” was admitted to the orthopedic unit of a hospital having suffered compression fractures of the lumbar spine after jumping out of a second story window. When Jane’s husband beat her with everything he could find, Jane jumped to escape his attack.
Why does she stay?
Importantly, abused women often wish to see an end to the abuse but not necessarily an end to the relationship. Therefore, the question, "Why does she stay?" is complex. Often perpetrators have isolated female victims from friends, family, employment, money, and education. Abusers may become pathologically enraged.
One of the most dangerous times for her is when the perpetrator knows or suspects that the woman is going to leave. He will perceive her leaving as his own loss of control – that is often when the lethality of the abuse escalates. The average woman will try to leave seven times before she effectively separates from the violent perpetrator. But each time she returns, she puts herself in great danger. Perpetrators will do whatever it takes to keep their victims from leaving.
Victim and perpetrator often have grown up in an atmosphere of abuse -- learning violence first hand. This “training” may contribute to the woman's feelings of low self esteem and acceptance of abuse as a way of life. Abuse is compounded by a lack of resources and the woman's own feelings of responsibility for holding family and relationship together. Fear and intimidation increase by threats such as, "I'll kill you and the kids if you don't do as I say." “If you try to leave, I’ll find you and kill you.” “You are too stupid and ugly to be able to do anything on your own.” Alcohol and other drugs may give perpetrators yet another excuse for unacceptable behavior. Also, victims may turn to alcohol or drugs in attempts to medicate their mental and physical pain.
Helping the female victim
Abused women may not be able to remove themselves from a domestic or partner violence situation without help and support; victimized women may return to the abuse because they can’t find resources to sustain their leaving.
Five common behaviors used by perpetrators:
1. Physical abuse such as kicking, hitting, strangling, using a weapon;
2. Sexual abuse such as forced sexual activity
3. Psychological abuse such as threatening/humiliating the victim by saying "I'll take the kids," or "I'll kill myself;” name calling; forcing the victim to perform humiliating acts
4. Isolation such as preventing victims from seeing or talking to certain people such as shelter advocates, family, or friends; monitoring mail, phone calls, mileage, and daily activities; slashing tires or keeping victims from transportation, employment, education
5. Intimidation: such as physically intimidating without actually causing bodily harm; injuring or killing pets; destroying prized possessions
If allowed to continue, violence often escalates.
Support from the entire community is essential.
All persons have the right to physical and psychological safety. Unfortunately, assault behavior is occurring everywhere. If you or someone you love is experiencing violence, please get the needed help. For more information, contact the National Domestic Violence Hot line at http://www.ndvh.org/ or calling 1-800-799-SAFE but if you fear retaliation, do not use your home computer; access this link on a “safe” computer system such as at your local library or school.
*Though this article focuses on female victims of partner violence, the author recognizes that women may be perpetrators as well as victims and men and boys are also victims.