Even now, domestic violence can be such a taboo subject that sometimes even the victim themselves don't realize that they are in an abusive situation. For instance, the recently-crowned Miss America Kira Kazantsev revealed that she has been a victim of domestic violence. She says that when it was happening, "I didn't even know it was happening to me. It took outside words and opinions from friends and family for me to realize what I was going through."
Domestic Violence continues to be one of the most under-reported crimes in the United States, but even as under-reported as it is, 25% of American women say they have been the victim of intimate partner violence. Men are also the victims of domestic violence; however, statistics show the rates are far higher for women.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined, and this same age group of women are more likely to be killed by domestic violence than by cancer or traffic accidents.
And yet, it still took more than two years for Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act after it lapsed in 2011. It seems as though sometimes that many in society are unwilling to help victims of abuse stand up for themselves, and more willing to blame them for not doing it alone.
The one question that is often asked of family violence victims is: “Why do/did you stay in an abusive relationship?” or “Why don't you just leave?” Sometimes it is an honest question. However, often it is spoken with an undercurrent of hostility or disbelief (i.e. “It couldn’t have been that bad” or “If you wanted to leave, you would have.”), sending a message that women who stay in abusive relationships are somehow to blame for their abuse. Some elements of our culture also send equally powerful messages that women are expected to fill roles in their relationships that keep them dependent on their partners. This combination of messages sets women up to feel ashamed, isolated and stuck.
The following list is a composite of views from women in domestic violence support groups. They were trying to answer the question: What keeps some women in abusive relationships?
A woman may fear her partner’s actions if she leaves.
- My partner said he will hunt me down and kill me.
- My partner will kidnap the children and disappear.
- My partner will spread horrible rumors about me.
- My partner will have me deported or report me to the INS.
- My partner will kill my pet.
The effects of abuse may make it difficult to leave.
- I’m nothing. I don’t deserve better.
- I feel paralyzed.
- I can’t face making decisions anymore.
- I was brainwashed to believe that I couldn’t cope without my partner.
- I am so used to life being this way.
- I’m more comfortable with what I know, than the unknown out in the world.
A woman may have concerns about her children.
- My children will blame me and resent me.
- The kids need a father.
- Children need a “real family”.
- My partner will kill the children.
- My partner will turn the children against me.
A partner’s attempts to isolate a woman may make it difficult for her to leave or get help.
- My partner doesn’t let me out of the house.
- I have no friends to call for help anymore.
- My partner doesn’t let me take English classes so I can’t communicate with anyone.
- If I ever tell anyone about this, my partner will kill me.
- My sister said I couldn’t come and stay with her anymore, after the last time…
- My partner said he or she would teach my friend a lesson if I go over there again.
A woman’s personal history may have shaped her attitude toward abuse in relationships.
- My father beat my mom – it just goes with being in a relationship.
- Getting hit isn’t the worst thing that can happen in a family – I know of worse things.
- I have seen a lot of violence in my country so violence has become normal for me.
- My parents never gave up on one another.
A woman may be deeply attached to her partner and hope for change.
- I believe my partner when he or she says that it will never happen again.
- My partner promised to go to therapy.
- I cherish the sex and intimacy.
- My partner is really loving towards me most of the time.
- My marriage vows.
- My religion.
- I love her or him.
Some women are taught that it is their job to maintain the relationship and support their partners, so they may feel guilty about leaving or feel they have “failed.”
- I will ruin his or her life if I leave.
- My partner will have nowhere to go.
- My partner will lose her or his job if I report this.
- My partner tells me the system does not support non-citizens.
- My partner will start drinking again.
- I will disappoint my family. I can’t admit my relationship is a failure.
- I have to take care of him or her.
- She or he wouldn’t hurt me if I were better at keeping up the house.
Women may be economically dependent on their partners or their partners may be economically dependent on them.
- My partner has all the money.
- I’ve never had a good job. How would I take care of my kids alone?
- I have no work experience in this country.
- It’s better to be beaten up at home than to be out on the streets.
- My disability does not enable me to work.
- I’d rather die than be on welfare.
- My partner forces me to work and then takes all my money.
- My partner charges up all my credit cards.
- My partner can’t work – he depends on me to support him.
This is just a small example of the complicated issues tangled up in domestic violence, from cycles of abuse, financial dynamics, family obligations, and lack of adequate funding for shelters for victims who want to escape. But to boil this problem down to someone’s decision to stay or go simplifies the obstacles that constrain the victim’s choices, and it ignores the real source of the problem. Just like rapists are responsible for rape, abusers are responsible for abuse. They’re the ones we should be talking about.
In response to the Ray Rice incident (after what many saw as attempts to sweep the incident under the rug), the NFL has announced a five year commitment to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and pledged funding for advocacy organizations across the country. The funding will be distributed to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). The funding allocated to NSVRC will support the state coalitions and local advocates that work directly with survivors of sexual assault.
The announcement from the National Football League acknowledges the importance of education around the realities of sexual assault and domestic violence as well as the need to challenge the culture of violence leading up to those incidents. Recent media coverage regarding violence against women among NFL players has contributed to an increased volume of calls to local and national sexual assault and domestic violence hotlines. Rape crisis centers across the state of Texas, including here in Amarillo, offer confidential sexual assault services free of charge.
If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation, please contact our 24-Hour Crisis Hotline: 806.374.5433 : Spanish: 800-799-7233 : Toll Free 800.749.9026
You can also contact us confidentially through the contact form below.