Why the Conversation About Domestic Violence Needs to Change
“Why does she stay?”
It's a question outsiders continue to ask about those in abusive relationships. The situation may seem black and white to many: If someone is assaulting you, then you should leave them. In reality, however, domestic violence is not this simple. Rather than ask “why does she stay,” we need to re-frame the conversation by asking "why does someone abuse a woman they claim to love?"
1 out of 4 women will experience domestic violence during their lifetime — a number that's likely even higher considering that as many as 70 percent of domestic violence cases go unreported — and women between the ages of 20 and 24 are at the greatest risk. Many are aware of the physical consequences of this experience: In fact, an estimated 38,020,000 women have experienced physical partner violence in their lifetimes and 1 out of 3 female homicide victims are murdered by their current or former partner. But there are also economic consequences — like the fact that 8,000,000 days of paid work have been lost annually as a result of abusive relationships — and psychological ones, like depression, anxiety, emotional distress, and poor health. It's hardly a problem restricted to the U.S., either: 70 percent of women worldwide will experience physical or sexual abuse by a partner during their lives
So why do women risk their well-being to be with partners who harm them? There are a variety of complex, intersecting factors. Many survivors grew up in abusive environments: They have witnessed this behavior since birth and consider it normal. Others internalize abuse, have low-self confidence, feel guilty and shamed and justify their partner's behavior by convincing themselves they deserved it. Survivors could be afraid of being alone, could have fallen deeply in love with their partner before the abuse started, or think it's temporary situation and that their partner will change. They could also be too embarrassed to admit the reality of situation and fear being seen as weak. They are often genuinely afraid of or threatened by her partner. Especially when children are involved, they may prioritize raising them in a two-parent home or be financially dependent on their partners. In fact, the number one reason domestic violence victims stay in abusive relationships is because they are financially dependent on their abuser and 98 percent of all financial abuse occurs in all domestic violence cases.
But despite the many reasons centered on survivors, we must not overlook why people abuse in the first place. While men are 15% of the victims of domestic abuse, the majority of perpetrators of domestic violence are men. Men who abuse usually have a history of violence: They tend to commit more crimes, have lower levels of education, be more introverted, and less conscientious than the average American man. Men who abuse may have had troubled relationships with other women, may have been bullied, had/have depression, or been isolated. They may regard their partner as an easy target for releasing anger and view violence as a means of gaining control. Also, abusers may have grown up witnessing other men abuse women and therefore believe it's normal, justifiable behavior.
Encouraging women to speak up, helping them build self-esteem and courage and providing them with resources is therefore important to decreasing domestic violence. But it's also essential to shift the conversation about domestic violence from remedying it after the fact to preventing it from occurring in the first place. Exposing everybody, but especially men, to workshops, activities, and classes that teach what it means to respect others from a young age is important. There should also be better policies and stricter consequences for those who commit these acts.
For more information on solutions to domestic violence, check out these standout anti-domestic violence organizations.
More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Feminism, Misogyny, Violence against women
More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexism, Domestic violence, Sexualized violence