Author: Kaella Mouangue
Curiosity, wonder, incomprehension – judgement. These are the feelings that anyone who has never experienced IPV is likely to express when told that a victim chose to stay in a home of violence, at the mercy of their abuser (Rios 2015).
There is a myth that IPV is simple. That in IPV, there are victims of violence and then there are perpetrators. That victims are weak. Perpetrators are evil. And victims are impatiently waiting for their abusers to look the other way so they can run. However, in most situations that involve human interaction, nothing is ever that simple. There are many sound reasons as to why non-pathological individuals can be led to choosing to stay in an abusive household, explanations for them getting stuck – imprisoned in their suffering. And most often, these reasons do not include the simple lack of willpower (Rios 2015).
For those of us who have experienced it, we can understand how complicated things can get when love is involved (Buel 1999). Love is passion, love is affection, love is a million different things. For many, love is choosing to make a commitment to living with someone, to building life with someone. In marriage, lovers choose each other and promise to remain present in good times and in bad. As the relationship evolves, partners learn to deal with miscommunication, disappointment, disillusions. They get jealous, insecure, upset. For many, it is not always an easy experience. There is a struggle, but there is also compromise to counterbalance it.
We tend to think that when violence arises between partners, it means that love is dead. Studies have demonstrated quite the contrary however – that outbursts of aggression in couples usually represented a manifestation of very strong feelings and emotions (Neal and Edwards 2017). Unsurprisingly then, victims of IPV often struggle to turn their backs onto their life partners. They are forgiving: “It won’t happen again,” “she got carried away but she loves me,” “to be fair, I had made him upset. Maybe I deserved it?” (Buel 1999).
Children and Self-Negation
Sometimes, children lie at the heart of a couple’s social capital. Oftentimes, being a parent is the most significant variable weighing in on a victim’s decision of whether or not to leave an abusive partner (WHO 2012). This relationship can go both ways: Having children can represent a major drive in motivating a parent to leave the danger that their partner represents. On the other hand however, children can also be a major deterrent, particularly when they are young (Buel 1999). As long as they are not the target of abuse themselves – and left visibly unaffected by what has taken place between the partners – there is a high chance that the abused parent will stay. Here, they may not want to upset their child’s development, or because they know they are not in a position that guarantees they would get custody of the child in case of an effective separation from their partner (Buel 1999).
Social Capital and Social Expectations
Even when love is no longer present in the relationship, other factors can hold victims of IPV from leaving their abusers. They might contrast what they have built jointly with their abusive partner for example, with their willingness to leave. Friends, family, sometimes even co-workers: an entire social web that couples slowly knit together over the years. IPV victims fear they could lose it all were they to choose to leave (Buel 1999).
Social standing can also be the source of hesitation for victims to leave their partners. They may fear that people will expect them to justify their apparently sudden change of heart. They may fear the rejection of their relatives if they tell the truth (Rios 2015). For victims of sexual abuse, psychological abuse and male victims, these concerns are particularly relevant, as the reactions to their revelations tend to be less understanding than when it is physical, visible violence that victims experienced.
Finally, fear of insecurity is one of the main reasons why victims often choose to stay with their abusive partner despite wishing they could just walk away. Economic or material dependency are the most perverse chains of IPV, as they are incredibly hard to overcome for people who cannot find material support in relatives (Kim and Gray 2008). And numbers speak for themselves: A Northwestern University research report states that between 22-57 percent of homeless women in the USA named IPV as a factor that led to their homelessness, thus demonstrating that IPV victims are extremely vulnerable to financial and housing security when they choose to leave (Withers 2018).
Every victim’s context is different, every victim’s story is different. Let us therefore change our curiosity, wonder, incomprehension and especially our judgement into empathy – to prevent victims from having to fear humiliation in the first place.
Buel, Sarah M (1999). “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, aka, why Abuse Victims Stay.” Colorado Lawyer 28(10/19).
Kim, Jinseok and Karen A. Gray (2008). “Leave or stay? Battered women’s decision after intimate partner violence.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 23(10): 1465-1482.
Neal, Angela M. and Katie M. Edwards (2017). “Perpetrators’ and victims’ attributions for IPV: A critical review of the literature.” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 18(3): 239-267.
Rios, Carmen (2015). “Stop Asking Already: 6 Reasons Why Intimate Partner Violence Survivors Stay in Their Relationships.” Everyday Feminism. At https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/why-ipv-survivors-stay/.
WHO (2012). “Intimate Partner Violence.” World Health Organization. At https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/77432/WHO_RHR_12.36_eng.pdf;jsessionid=514ECEC4B64E67867386EB88F564E5FA?sequence=1.
Withers, Mellissa (2018). “A Vicious Cycle: Domestic Abuse, Homelessness, Trafficking.” Psychology Today. At https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-day-slavery/201805/vicious-cycle-domestic-abuse-homelessness-trafficking.