Please note: throughout this article the term ‘victim’ relates to female victims of Domestic Violence, given that 95% of all victims of violence in Australia (Domestic Violence or otherwise) report that the perpetrator of the violence is male.
Why does she stay?
A question so frequently asked with respect to women who suffer from Domestic Violence at the hands of an abusive partner. The question itself reveals an alarming gender disparity in its very context. Instead, we should be asking about the perpetrator ‘Why doesn’t he leave?’ or better yet, ‘Why does he behave in such a way?’. Calling into question the behaviour of the perpetrator is certainly a more appropriate way to acknowledge the problem at hand. But alas, our society has not quite evolved enough in discourse to recognise the disastrous effects that ‘victim blaming’ questions reap.
Victims of Domestic Violence
In Family Law we represent victims of Domestic Violence on a daily basis. We therefore have a unique understanding about the various backgrounds that such sufferers come from.
The notion that female sufferers of Domestic Violence are unemployed women from lower socio-economic backgrounds must be rejected. The insidious nature of this epidemic knows no bounds and crosses all economic, racial, and social lines.
We commonly represent clientele who are frustrated by the constant judgement from their families and harangued by society with the question ‘But why did she stay’?. The question itself is so basic, for an issue that is so very complex to its core. Arguably, the community need to cease having such a puritanical view on the simplicity for a woman to leave a marriage.
Reasons women have difficulty leaving a relationship of Domestic Violence
Leaving a relationship of Domestic Violence is a minefield of difficulty, which is prefaced by the surreptitious state of this epidemic. Various reasons (among many) for women who have difficulty leaving Domestic Violence relationships are as follows:
While it may be simple for one to suggest: ‘but the children would be better off not being in a home where there is violence’, the issue itself is not so transparent. Many women fear their partner will turn violent toward the children if they try and leave, or that their partner will try and take the children from them.
In households where the male is the primary breadwinner, many victims feel a genuine fear for how they can survive financially when they have little to no access to money. This is particularly an issue when there are children involved that the victim has to support.
Perpetrators of Domestic Violence will often cut the victim off from their various social circles. This can make the victim feel alone and unsupported which results in the victim delaying to seek help.
Victims of Domestic Violence commonly suffer from an alarming lack of self-worth. Through the emotional abuse of their partner they have been made to believe that they are worthless and unable to cope without them.
Fear is a powerful emotion and one that perpetrators lord over their victims. Many women fear the physical ramifications if they leave a relationship or the emotional vitriol they will be exposed to. These fears are genuine and real. One only has to look at the alarming number of Intervention Orders a Family Lawyer will see across their desk within a year to know that Domestic Violence in all of its forms (physical, emotional, financial, psychological, spiritual) exists.
When is the best time for a victim of Domestic Violence to leave?
A victim of Domestic Violence will leave when she is ready and able. It must be understood that the victim may have to ensure things are in place (financial, social, emotional) before she can leave. It is not always a matter of a woman simply packing up her car and driving away, particularly when there are children involved.
It must be remembered that Domestic Violence can never be simplified and the victims of Domestic Violence cannot be pigeon-holed into the misunderstood boxes they are often put into.
So next time you ask or even think ‘why doesn’t she just leave?’, think again.
If you are seeking legal assistance please feel free to telephone Camille McDonald on 8447 4911. Camille McDonald is a Senior Associate in Family Law at Andersons Solicitors and the Vice-President of the Women Lawyers Association of South Australia.