Please note that Internet Explorer is no longer a supported browser so we cannot guarantee the integrity of our website when using it. Please use an alternate browser like Edge or Chrome.

Why On Earth Do Women Stay In Abusive Relationships?

Episode 3: Why On Earth Do Women Stay In Abusive Relationships?

Why don’t they just get up and leave? On the surface these are simple enough questions. However, the answers are much more complicated.

Often, they stay with an abusive partner generally, due to incorrect thinking. They become trapped by the false notion, that the domestic violence they suffer from is somehow their fault. They come to believe that if they had not done or said certain things, they would not have provoked him! They have often been told they deserve to be abused anyway. Before long, lies and reality become entwined to such an extent, that soon it is impossible for them to make a clear distinction between the two.

Mistakenly they often believe their love is strong enough to change their partner. It is as if they have temporarily forgotten that this same person continues to choose to be aggressive towards them. Things get hazy and they don’t always manage to see that this is wrong and will never be right under any circumstances!

Sometimes it is as simple as them thinking they won’t be believed if they told anybody. At other times they are so gripped by fear, that their abuser will harm and even kill them if they tell anyone. It is so easy for them to come to believe that they are the only one in the world that this could possibly be happening to!

Although the victim often spends majority of their time crippled by fear in the relationship, for them in many ways the ‘fear’ of the unknown is so much worse. The violence has become so normal to them, that they cannot even comprehend leaving the situation. They are just too afraid to take the necessary steps to change things, because of all the uncertainty that change would inevitably bring.

A good example of this is when they have become financially dependent. When they have no money of their own, and have always depended financially on the abuser, it is not so easy for the victim to separate themselves from the relationship and go somewhere else. Sometimes it is the sheer fear of the expense of starting all over, that forces them to stay put. They would have to get a new home, and basically start a whole new life! It is perhaps not easy to even comprehend, the possibility of having their own money, or the knowledge of managing their own money, especially when they have never had to do it before. The truth is, it is not easy to leave! If it was, victims would just get up and leave every single day.

It was also my experience in talking to the women at the refuge, that sometimes a woman would stay in a violent relationship for the sake of her children. If they ever did get the courage to leave, they were often riddled with guilt. They felt bad about uprooting and removing the children from the family home. Over time they had become so worn down, that they felt as if they were the one breaking up the family and taking the kids away from their father. Unfortunately for some, the guilt of this was just too much. It was made more difficult, especially when the kids tearfully continued to ask to see their dad!

Staying in a violent relationship, can be down to a victim feeling paralyzed by pressure from family members. This could be their own family or the abuser’s family. A good example of this is in the Asian culture where families (including in-laws), often all live together in one house. In this kind of scenario, the woman often feels as if she not only married her husband, but in fact married his whole family. Victims can therefore experience violent assault from their husband, as well as from family members. I know of women who literally lived as slaves in the home. When they got married, unfortunately they literally got much more than they bargained for.

Domestic violence never seems to discriminate. It can in fact be seen and experienced across the board. Apparently, it affects every background, culture, age group, religion, race as well as the educated and uneducated.

When I first started to work at the refuge, a few things really shocked me. In the first instance, I could not believe how common it was! Before that I did not realize it was indeed an everyday occurrence, and that so many people experienced it! The refuge I worked at was a very big one, and yet it was always full and operating at maximum capacity! In fact, sometimes sadly we even had no choice but to turn women away, after signposting them to where else they could get alternative help.

There are countless situations in which domestic violence can and often does take place. It can be found within intimate relationships between husbands and wives, (where either can be the abuser), boyfriends and girlfriends, siblings, parents, and children. There does not seem to be any hard and fast rules about when or why it happens. When it does take place, it has long lasting effects, usually successfully devastating the lives of the victims involved.

By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

“Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”