Family Violence: Why doesn’t she leave?
Police in Australia are called out to a family violence incident on average once every two minutes
Every three hours a woman is admitted to hospital as a result of family violence
At least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner
Intimate partner violence is:
- the leading contributor to preventable illness, disability and death for women aged 15 to 44
- the single largest driver of homelessness for women
- a common factor in child protection notifications.
What is family violence?
Family violence is when someone behaves abusively towards a family member. It is part of a pattern of behaviour that controls or dominates a person and causes them to fear for their own or others’ safety and well being.
Violent and abusive behaviour can be:
- Sexual violence
- Emotional and psychological abuse
- Verbal threats
- Put downs
- Disrespectful behaviour in front of the children
- Withholding money
- Deliberately isolating someone from their friends and family
- Harming or killing pets
- Constant monitoring and regulation of everyday activities such as phone calls, social interactions and dress
- Blaming the victim for the behaviour
How women experience family violence
While every woman’s experience of family violence is unique, for many women experiencing family violence there is a spiral of increasing abuse (this could be physical, emotional, financial, or a combination), rather than a one-off incident.
Family violence often starts with an intimate partner’s apparent love transforming into controlling and intimidating behaviour. Over time, the woman is often increasingly isolated from friends and family by her partner.
Physical violence may not occur until the relationship is well established, or it may not occur at all. The abusive, violent and controlling behaviours create an environment of fear and constant anxiety in a place where women and children should feel safe and secure.1
Why doesn’t she leave?
I hate this question. It makes me absolutely livid and shows a lack of understanding of the complexity of family violence. The ignorance is widespread, in fact I once heard these words come out of a fellow midwifes mouth. Her attitude concerned me because it is healthcare workers like midwives that need to provide the opportunity for women to disclosure family violence and for us to respond appropriately to that disclosure. I will leave prevention of and responding to family violence to another post.
Here is a list of reasons women find it difficult to leave a violent relationship, from the Domestic Violence Victoria Website:
Increased risk of harm
- Violence often escalates when the woman is planning to leave or actually leaves, with an increased risk of assault, stalking and murder.
- Many family violence homicides occur during the separation period.
Barriers to accessing the system
- Women experiencing family violence may not know there are support services that can help them.
- Women may not know about the kinds of support available to them; they may feel that services won’t be able to help with their situation.
- Women may not have access to money and may not know where financial support is available.
- A lack of safe and affordable housing options means women may feel there’s nowhere to go.
- Lack of access to money or other resources.
- Having to leave her job if she needs to be relocated for safety.
Conflicting concerns and priorities
- Not wanting to disrupt her children’ lives, education, and links to family and community.
- Believing it’s in her children’s best interests to be close to their father.
- Continuing to care for her partner and hoping he will change. (Many women don’t want to leave the relationship, they just want the violence to stop.)
- For some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, the fear of putting their connections to extended kinship and family networks and to land at risk.
- For some women with disabilities, the fear of losing the person on whom they feel dependent.
- For some immigrant and refugee women, the fear of losing their residency entitlements.
- Wanting to avoid the stigma associated with being a single parent.
Social isolation and its effects
- Feelings of shame and guilt about the violence or believing it is her fault.
- Fear of being isolated or ostracised by her community.
- Difficulty making decisions because she has been cut off from friends and family, is exhausted, and/or lacks confidence in her own judgement.
So dear reader as you can see, there are many reasons a woman stays in a violent relationship. Leaving is complex difficult and downright dangerous at times.
Domestic (Family) violence is a crime and women are not responsible for the violence – the user of violence is solely responsible.
That said, rather than ask “Why doesn’t she leave?” one should ask..”Why doesn’t he stop?”