Moving beyond asking, “Why does she stay?”

     Recently a newspaper in a neighboring county reported on a severe domestic violence incident which included charges for assault by strangulation, assault inflicting serious injury with a minor present, cruelty to animals, and communicating threats.  While the incident is recent and evidence is still being collected, I’ve noticed that while most commentators on the story have focused on the tragedy of the crime, sympathy for the child, and the cruelty shown to a defenseless animal, some commentators have chosen to focus on blaming the victim.  “Don’t these women ever learn?” one commentator wrote.  “They need to lock her [the victim] up for stupidity”, another posted.  Domestic violence is tragic and far too prevalent, affecting around 1 in 4 women.  It is neither rare nor endemic to any particular group, but it most certainly is a crime.  To question a victim’s intelligence shows a lack of understanding of what the victim is experiencing and puts the blame on the victim.  Why does she say? Here are a few questions we should ask ourselves:

     Who earns the money?  If the abusive partner in the relationship is the primary earner, this can make leaving difficult.  Who owns the home?  If the victim leaves, where can she go?  People question why a victim pleads with a judge to drop charges.  What happens if the abuser goes to jail and loses his job? Where is health insurance going to come from?  Rent money? Food? Let’s explore this further; how has he threatened her in the past if she ever leaves?  Abusers rarely stay in jail long, even if the victim fully cooperates with law enforcement. She knows he’ll be released at some point and due to everything she has experienced, she is probably much more afraid of him than of law enforcement or the court system.  The most dangerous time for a victim is when she chooses to leave her abuser, and it’s never a choice made lightly.  Domestic violence is about power and control and when the abuser feels like he has lost control over his victim, he may use his power in violent, lethal ways to regain that control over the victim.

     It makes us feel safer, like our world is more rational and comprehendible, when we believe a victim in an abusive relationship can simply walk away.  Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.  Leaving a violent relationship is a process that can take years and requires great courage from the victim throughout.  Instead of asking the question “Why does she stay?” can we instead ask the question, “Why does he abuse and how does he get away with it?”  Let’s put the blame squarely on the shoulders of perpetrators of relationship violence and work to find ways that our justice system and communities can cooperate to ensure that we hold offenders accountable for their actions.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, rape, or sexual assault, please contact our 24 hour crisis line at 704-481-0043 for support and information, or visit us online at


3 responses to “Moving beyond asking, “Why does she stay?”

  1. Excellent explanation as why a battered woman stays in an abusive relationship. I hope that this helps readers understand the complexities involved in an abusive relationship. It’s about power and control–the blame needs to be place on the abuser,and I hope the justice system will evolve to where perpetrators are hekd accountable for their abuse.
    Betsy Wells

  2. There are so many factors involved with domestic violence and it’s sad to see that in this day and age there are still people out there that think it’s as easy as deciding to walk away. You covered many of the reasons that it’s just not that simple. I would add another aspect is that an abuser carefully spins their web. Abusers know that in order to get away with abuse they have to isolate, so they begin to slowly alienate their victim from the very people that could help them. Abusers convince victims to stop communicating with friends and family, often, before any abuse ever occurs. They convince them that what they are going through isn’t really severe enough to be abuse…I’ve referred to this as the “myth of severity”. Often abusers are smart enough to go just far enough (at first)…a bruise here, a carefully placed strangulation mark in turtleneck weather…things that don’t require Doctors or hospitals being involved, so in their world if you didn’t need to go to the hospital you weren’t really abused…and this is the thinking that surrounds the victim. The victims have been alienated from their family and friends, the only allies they have are often the abuser’s family….who are also likely to have lived in a cycle of abuse. Abusers families protect the abuser, even downplay the abuse and offer the same excuses the abuser himself uses. It’s not fair to assume the victims can just leave, it’s not just the physical abuse that keeps them there, it’s very much the mental abuse as well. Victims may try to reconnect with their own families. They feel foolish for falling for the abuser’s lies or might even think their family won’t believe that it’s really that bad. This is the reality of abusive situations. The combination of mental and physical abuse makes the victim doubt themselves, their worth, their ability to see reality, and loose their ability to see the way out. I know this because I was once there and thankful that I was able to get out.

  3. I am on the social service end of working with individuals with educational, employment and financial needs and counseling. If is so easy to wonder why the so many abused women we encounter don’t just leave so I appreciate so much this article and the additional comments left by Betsy and Cherie.

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