Several years ago, graphic footage of Ray Rice abusing his partner Janae circulated on media outlets everywhere. Rice was vilified by the public, and subsequently released from his contract by the Baltimore Ravens. Despite this, much to public surprise, Ray and Janae were married just one month later. Later conversations regarding the issue involved bystanders asking why Janae stayed despite her then-fiance’s shocking abuse.
It’s a question nearly every domestic violence survivor has heard at some point in their recovery. “Why didn’t you just leave?” For those who haven’t experienced abuse, the issue may seem clear cut: if somebody is physically or emotionally abusive, you end the relationship.
But for women who have experienced domestic abuse, the question is far more complex, and the answers are even more complicated. Leaving an abusive relationship is often an emotionally devastating, and sometimes dangerous task--and furthermore, domestic violence is a bigger problem than most realize.
One in four women will be the victim of domestic violence at some point during their lifetime. In fact, some treatment centers indicate that injuries from domestic violence are the leading cause of injury among women, and are “more common than automobile accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.” Victims often struggle with overcoming mental health issues and are more likely to suffer from a barrage of other health concerns, including PTSD, stockholm syndrome, stroke, and alcohol abuse. Their children are just as likely to experience the negative effects, as an estimated 40 percent of children in the United States are exposed to violence.
Why do women risk their well-being to maintain relationships with people who harm them? As was highlighted in previous posts, there are a variety of intersecting factors which might affect a victim, including stockholm syndrome, guilt, fear, dependency, finances, or family pressures. But asking why victims stay in abusive situations is the wrong way to approach a painful and complex issue--one which places the responsibility on the victim, rather than the abuser.
“When we solely focus on whether a survivor stays with or leaves their abusive partner, we place all the responsibility on the survivor rather than holding an abuser accountable,” Chai Jindasurat, the Program Coordinator of the Anti-Violence Project told ThinkProgress. “Intimate partner violence is about power and control, and leaving can be an extremely dangerous and frightening option for survivors.”
Though certainly a well intentioned question, asking why women stay with their abusers reinforces the idea that victimized women are responsible from removing themselves from abusive situations, rather than inquiring why men abuse them in the first place. Instead, as a society, we should be asking questions that place responsibility back to the abusers. As the National Network to End Domestic Violence points out, “A better question is, Why does the abuser choose to abuse?”